Gary Boyce dies

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From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee):

Gary Boyce, a flamboyant rancher whose attempt in the 1990s to export San Luis Valley water to urban markets sparked a battle over water that continues to this day, has died.

Friends of Boyce, who was 68 and died early Wednesday, remembered him as a self-made man who loved the land and attempted to market water from the historic land-grant Baca Ranch in order to endow a wildlife preserve.

“When they decided to sell the Luis Maria Baca Grant No. 4, Gary purchased it,” recalled John Lubitz, a Denver lawyer who knew Boyce for more than 25 years.

Backed by Farralon Capital Management, a San Francisco-based investment partnership, Boyce bought the 100,000-acre ranch, created by an 1824 Mexican land grant.

He proposed drilling wells into the deep aquifer beneath the Baca and pumping the water to the Front Range.

“His goal was to endow that ranch to create a wildlife preserve,” Lubitz said.

But Boyce had more than altruistic aims in selling water.

“Struck by the prospect of selling water at the prevailing rate of $4,000-$7,000 an acre-foot, Boyce announced that he and his Stockman’s Water Co., were ‘in the San Luis Valley to do business,’ ” according to “The San Luis Valley and the moral economy of water,” a case study included in “Water, Place and Equity,” a book that explores water policy.

The plan failed amid resistance from residents (many of them potato farmers), the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and environmental activists.

The Nature Conservancy later purchased the Baca ranch, and it is now public land that includes the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2014, Boyce launched another attempt to sell water from the Valley; he was still pursuing that plan at the time of death. “I assume his investors will still be interested in doing that,” said George Whitten, a former member of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s board.

Steve Vandiver, general manager of the water district, often opposed Boyce’s plans but considered him a friend.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Gary Boyce, a Crestone-area rancher who spearheaded two efforts to transport groundwater from the San Luis Valley, died Tuesday.

He was 68.

Boyce died following a battle with pancreatic cancer, said Gene Kirby, an office manager for the Boyce Land and Cattle Co. His latest effort to tap the groundwater beneath the valley came on behalf of Sustainable Water Resources.

The Denver-based company aims to pump up to 35,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater from the north end of the valley, over Poncha Pass and on to cities on the Front Range.

Spokeswoman Monica Mc-Cafferty said the company was deeply saddened by Boyce’s passing, but that it would continue to push its water project. “We don’t expect any changes on that front,” she said.

The company has unsuccessfully sought support from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and Saguache County, an effort that included mitigation payments of up to $150 million for schools and local governments.

It has yet to apply to the water court in the valley for the needed approval to move forward.

Boyce, who was born in Del Norte and spent part of his childhood growing up north of Monte Vista, grabbed the attention of his valley neighbors in the 1990s with his first proposal to export groundwater.

He called for pumping between 100,000 acrefeet to 150,000 acre-feet from underneath the Baca Ranch.
In 1995, Boyce and his financial partners purchased the 100,000-acre ranch from American Water Development Inc. after the latter group lost its court case seeking the right to develop its own export scheme.

Boyce’s scheme, commonly referred to as the Stockman’s Water Co. proposal, never made it to water court for the approvals it would have needed to move forward.

Nevertheless, his unsuccessful effort to get two statewide ballot measures passed to meter valley groundwater wells and to fine the pumping of groundwater from state lands in the valley stirred intense opposition from local water users.

While the export of valley groundwater has yet to materialize, an indirect legacy of Boyce’s efforts was the creation of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the designation of Great Sand Dunes as a national park by Congress in 2000.

Valley, state and federal officials pushed both moves, in part, to protect the valley’s groundwater and negotiated the sale of the Baca Ranch with Boyce’s partners.

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