San Luis Valley: Is Closed-Basin Project water a legal source of supply for groundwater sub-districts?

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Whether or not Closed Basin Project water can be used to offset injurious depletions in the San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district is a question resting with the Colorado Supreme Court.

If the higher court decides project water is not appropriate for that purpose, water management sub-districts would have to find about 9,000 acre feet of water from other sources, according to Steve Vandiver, general manager for the sub-districts ‘ sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Vandiver reported on the status of the sub-districts and associated legal action during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting this week in Alamosa .

“We are still waiting on the Colorado Supreme Court decision on the use of Closed Basin Project water for our depletions’ replacement,” Vandiver said. “Nobody knows when it will come out.”

He said the court held a hearing the end of September, and decisions usually follow within four or five months.

The sponsoring water district and its first and subsequently pending sub-districts are hopeful the higher court will allow the Closed Basin Project water to be used to replace depletions caused by wells in the basin (San Luis Valley), Vandiver said. He said if the court decides against that, it would double the amount of money that has to be spent to meet water replacement obligations and require another 9,000 acre feet of water to be acquired and stored.

“It’s a very critical decision ,” he said. “We still have to meet the requirements, whether or not we can use that source for replacing depletions.”

Opponents to the use of Closed Basin Project water for depletions maintain it is double dipping to use water from the federal water salvage project to both meet Rio Grande Compact obligations and sub-district depletions at the same time. They also argue that it would be inappropriate to use well water, which would always be junior to surface senior water rights, to replace depletions to senior rights caused by other wells.

Sub-district #1 has used Closed Basin Project to help replace depletions since 2012. Vandiver said this week that currently Closed Basin Project water is being used on a daily basis to replace depletions owed during the current annual replacement plan year, which ends the end of April. The next annual replacement plan for Subdistrict #1 is due April 15.

He said WildEarth Guardians filed a Freedom Of Information Act request for all documents regarding the Closed Basin Project since its inception, but he did not know what the group intended to use the information for.

Vandiver said the subdistrict likely to be completed next is Sub-district #2, covering wells in the alluvial system directly tied to the Rio Grande. It has the fewest number of wells and well owners. Many have already filed petitions to be in the subdistrict , and the sub-district’s working group hopes to finish the petition process by the end of this month and present their sub-district for formal approval to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board during its March meeting .

Sub-district #4 goes underneath Sub-district #2 and picks up all the confined wells, Vandiver added. Other subdistricts cover other areas in the Valley such as Conejos River, San Luis Creek and Saguache Creek.

Vandiver said all of the subdistricts are moving forward so they can be in place before the state rules and regulations governing groundwater come into force.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.

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