‘The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole’ — Steve Vandiver

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Here’s a recap of day one of the water court trial over the implementation plan for groundwater sub-district #1 down in the San Luis Valley, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The plan spells out how the sub-district would replace injurious depletions from well users to surface water rights this year, the first full year of operation for the sub-district, which covers about 3,000 wells in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties.

Two of three anticipated witnesses took the stand on Monday: Steve Vandiver, general manager for the sub-district’s sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD); and Allen Davey, district engineer for the water district. Expected to testify today is State Engineer Dick Wolfe who approved the sub-district’s annual operating plan for 2012…

Tim Buchanan, attorney for San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association and Save Our Senior Water Rights, LLC, objectors to the sub-district plan, explained that since this was the first year for the operating plan he and other attorneys representing senior water users initially brought up every possible issue they thought might need to be addressed because they were concerned about being foreclosed from addressing them in the future if they did not.

He added the counsel for objectors and supporters have come to an agreement on general stipulations regarding most of those issues, but two remained as the subject of the abbreviated trial before Judge Swift this week:

1) Whether the sub-district’s amended plan approved by the water court in 2010 authorized the inclusion of augmentation plan wells.

Buchanan argued, “The annual plan must comply with the terms of the amended plan. The inclusion of the augmented wells in the amended plan is not an issue within the amended plan. The amended plan does not address that.”

2) Whether Closed Basin Project water is a logical source of supply to replace depletions caused by wells in the sub-district.

Closed Basin Project water was used this year to replace sub-district depletions. Buchanan said since the series of wells that comprise the project supplies were appropriated in 1963, they are extremely junior water rights to his clients’ senior water rights and were not an appropriate source of water to replace depletions…

Vandiver reminded the court of the sub-district’s goal to replace injurious depletions from the wells in the sub-district to surface senior water rights and stabilize the Valley’s aquifers. He outlined the sub-district’s historical timelines from the trial court’s decree in 2010 to the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the lower court in December 2011; the court order to begin assessing fees of irrigators in the sub-district; the acquisition of water supplies to cover depletions; and the development of first the sub-district plan and more recently the annual operating plan or ARP. When asked from whom he acquired replacement water, Vandiver replied “anybody who would listen to me.”

He said he was able to acquire transmountain water and negotiated one-year agreements from private individuals and entities, with future plans for permanent sources. He said this year he needed to obtain water that was readily available in a short time to meet the sub-district water replacement requirements. “The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole … eliminate injuries to senior water rights,” Vandiver said…

Vandiver also testified about the Closed Basin Project, a federal water salvage project operated by the RGWCD and Bureau of Reclamation. The project includes 170 shallow wells designed to capture water that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Vandiver testified that the project was constructed to help Colorado meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states, mitigate impacts of the project on wetlands, repay Colorado’s indebtedness and sell water to entities in the Valley if there was water available. The project is expected to deliver 11,500 acre feet of water this year. The sub-district is using 2,500 acre feet as a replacement water source this year.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

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