The latest “Gunnison River Basin News” is hot off the presses from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Snow Melt Promises to Fill Reservoirs

While it is mid-July, when you look to the mountain peaks, you will likely see snowcaps – another reminder of the extraordinary winter Colorado experienced. We saw huge storms well into spring and cooler than average weather which kept snow on the ground longer than usual. In particular, cold temperatures in April and May helped boost snowpack levels to record highs. The snow and the resulting runoff is filling the reservoirs across Colorado.

As reported on The Denver Channel.com, “The snowmelt boost couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. There’s a big sense of relief this year that we’ve kind of rebounded.” The forecast center’s conditions map indicates above average water supply forecasts for reservoirs.

Say hello to FortheLoveofColorado.org #COWaterPlan

Click here to go to the website and learn about what you can do to help implement the Colorado Water Plan:

Everything you love about Colorado is connected back to water: kayaking, fishing, peaches, beer, the thriving economy. But the fact is, we’re using more water than the Colorado River supplies. Our population is booming. And snowpack, which feeds our rivers, has been below average all across Colorado most years since 2000. This year’s snowpack has been great, but it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to how much we’ll need. So in order to keep this amazing state a great place to live, work, and do business we need to support Colorado’s Water Plan.

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

Colorado has launched a public messaging campaign aimed at increasing public awareness of water scarcity as well as to promote the state’s water plan.

The campaign, For the Love of Colorado, was created to educate the public about water conservation, leaning on sobering facts and figures about the Colorado River.

For one, Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050. The campaign also notes that 80% of the state’s water comes from snowpack runoff, which could shrink by as much as 50% by the end of the century.

To avoid a slow-building water supply catastrophe, the state has drafted its own water plan — which integrates work done by Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other organizations — since 2005 to implement water management plans.

For the Love of Colorado is trying to push the water plan into the public consciousness, inviting residents to engage in the process and learn more about efforts to protect one of the most critical water supplies in the country.

OPINION: Support for ‘Demand Management’ Water Policies — The Pagosa Daily Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Air Wolfhound Flickr Creative Commons

Here’s a guest column by Matt Rice, Bart Miller, and Aaron Citron that’s running in The Pagosa Daily Post:

After 19 years of drought across the Colorado River Basin, we know that our state’s water supplies are vulnerable, and we can’t rely on fluctuations in the weather — or a season of above-average snowpack – for the water security we need.

We are using more water than we have. As our population continues to grow, we need to implement structural, far-reaching conservation solutions to support healthy communities, businesses, and ecosystems. Although snow has been plentiful this winter, last year’s drought devastated local businesses, communities, and fish and wildlife across the state. We can’t afford to forget the images from just months ago: firefighters dropping gravel and mud on wildfires because there wasn’t enough water in the rivers, a first-ever “call” because of record-low water on the Yampa River, farmers standing in dry alfalfa fields, outfitters unable to operate because of low rivers, and fish so stressed from warm temperatures and low flows that anglers were urged to stay away.

Governor Polis has already shown leadership in his commitment to funding Colorado’s Water Plan, which lays out a blueprint for addressing the risks and uncertainties of a continued dry future. In his State of the State address, Gov. Polis committed to providing bipartisan, sustainable funding for the plan, and pledged that his administration would do its part to implement the Plan. He commended the work of his predecessor, Governor Hickenlooper, but acknowledged that there is much more work to do. He also requested $30 million this year to help pay for the water plan.

We recently learned that the budget proposed to the Colorado legislature would cut this $30 million in proposed funding down to $10 million. This reduction primarily cuts funding to lay the groundwork for the implementation of a multi-state Colorado River strategy that will be reviewed by Congress this week. The conservation strategies envisioned in that process can increase our water security and introduce more flexible water management strategies to the benefit of all Coloradans.

To implement this program, all Colorado River Basin states will need to reduce their use of water for the benefit of the whole system. In Colorado, this “demand management” would be a voluntary and market-based approach to conservation. It would be a flexible, dynamic way to provide greater water security, with benefits for the entire Colorado River Basin. The program would pay willing water users like farmer, ranchers, industries, cities and towns to temporarily reduce their water consumption, thereby keeping more water in our rivers and reservoirs. Those reductions can result from temporarily reducing the number of acres under irrigation or switching to crops that use less water, or similarly instituting drought restrictions in cities and towns.

This multi-state program, including demand management, is premised on stabilizing the levels in the Colorado River Basin’s largest reservoirs, providing greater certainty that we will have enough water in dry times. Conserved water would then be delivered to Colorado’s water “bank account” in Lake Powell, supporting the health of our rivers along the way. These increased water-flows support small businesses, rural communities, the outdoor recreation industry, and river habitats as well as birds and other wildlife.

On March 19, seven Colorado River Basin states finalized their drought contingency plans (DCPs), setting the stage for a more secure water future. A key part of the DCP for Colorado is the opportunity to store saved water in Lake Powell. It’s now up to Colorado to create a demand management program and starting putting water into it. Colorado has an opportunity to start building the framework we need to protect our water, but we can’t do it without the resources and support to construct proactive conservation measure like our demand management program.

We know how critical it is to protect our state’s rivers, provide clean, reliable drinking water supplies for our communities, and preserve our agricultural heritage. Colorado has made some progress toward implementing the Water Plan, but further action and investment is urgently needed.

Authors of this essay include Matt Rice, American Rivers; Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates; and Aaron Citron, The Nature Conservancy.

2019 #COleg: Current version of SB19-207 (FY 2019-20 Long Bill) still includes funding for #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado lawmakers, citing lower revenue forecasts and competing needs, have dramatically reduced proposed funding for the Colorado Water Plan and Colorado River drought work, providing roughly one-third of what Gov. Jared Polis had requested in his budget for this year.

This year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency charged with overseeing the state water plan and developing the Colorado River drought contingency plan, said it would have $30 million to work with as a result of the governor’s request.

Of that, $20 million would be used to pursue work on a historic, multiyear initiative to find ways to reoperate reservoirs and voluntarily cut back water use to relieve pressure on the drought-stricken Colorado River. The rest would go toward grants to fund entities across the state that are working to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

But lawmakers aren’t required to honor all budget requests from governors, and Joint Budget Committee members said they would provide just $10 million.

That appropriation leaves intact the $1.7 million the Colorado Water Conservation Board had budgeted this year to do public outreach and technical studies for the drought contingency plan.

The rest, $8.3 million, will be used to fund water plan grants over the next three years and comes in addition to the annual funding toward water plan implementation that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been providing from its budget.

Even with the reduction, state officials said they are pleased that, for the first time since it was finalized in 2015, general fund money is being dedicated to the water plan.

Polis’ office said the new general fund allocation is an important step forward.

“There is always more work to do, but we are excited the JBC has provided unprecedented general funds to make progress toward the state’s water plan,” the office said in a statement.

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the reduction in funds is manageable. “The $1.7 million we had expected for this year is still there. And we have $8.3 million for the water plan. With that, we feel like we can still move forward.”

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Water Conservation Board formally approved the drought contingency plan effort and expects to begin recruiting people to serve on several public drought work groups this week…

Colorado water leaders have been pleading with the state to move quickly on the drought contingency plan to ensure there is some protection should Colorado and its neighboring states in the Upper Colorado River Basin be unable to meet legal obligations to deliver water to Arizona, California and Nevada.

This year’s task is to determine if there is an equitable way to cut back on water use, where and how those cutbacks would occur, how to measure the reductions and how to protect the environment, local economies and the legal rights of water users while the drought plan is in effect. Up to 500,000 acre-feet of the water saved through such efforts, known as demand management, could be stored in Lake Powell via the new seven-state drought agreement.

Despite the need for action, Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the enormity of crafting a statewide demand management plan requires that the state be prudent in data gathering and analysis.

“If you do the math on voluntary, compensated demand management, you know it will cost tens of millions of dollars a year to run. That is a frightening concept, but in a complex situation like this, where there are so many multifaceted components, you have to plan.”

Financing water projects in Colorado has rarely been easy, particularly in small, rural communities or when there is no clear connection to taxpayers. After finalizing the Colorado Water Plan in 2015, officials estimated the state would need roughly $100 million a year to fully fund it and help close the gap on water shortages the state is likely to face by 2030.

Four years later, though, little progress has been made on securing a permanent funding source, although several nonprofits, such as the Walton Family Foundation, together with the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee are exploring funding options, including a possible ballot initiative in coming years. The committee represents the state’s eight major river basins plus the Denver metro area and was involved in the Colorado Water Plan’s development.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The state Senate on Thursday adopted Colorado’s $30.5 billion budget, often termed the “long bill,” for 2019-20 and sent it on to the state House for the next step.

The budget includes a last-minute compromise between Senate Democrats and Republicans, who have been at war for the past two weeks in an effort to delay action on items like the “red flag” bill and other measures.

The compromise added $106 million to the state’s transportation funding, using existing general fund revenues. With that addition, the Colorado Department of Transportation might have $336 million in one-time money available for road and bridge projects. That amendment still must be adopted by the House in order to be included in the final budget.

Despite the compromise, lawmakers indicated they are nervous about the prospects of another recession and what it could do to the state budget. That included Joint Budget Committee Chair and Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, who noted a recent revenue forecast “erased” $250 million in expected revenues, due to a growing economic slowdown.

The budget did not increase the state’s rainy-day fund, which would help weather such a downturn. As passed by the Senate, the rainy-day fund is at 7.25 percent of general fund revenue, or about $843 million. However, economists have warned that Colorado needs a rainy-day fund at least double that amount to survive even a moderate recession. A slowdown like 2008’s Great Recession would require $2 billion, according to a George Mason University study from a couple of years ago.

While most of the budget package sailed through, one bill drew more opposition than one might expect. Senate Bill 212 puts $10 million in general fund revenue into continued implementation of the state water plan. But that’s $20 million less than was sought by the previous administration (Gov. Jared Polis didn’t say one way or the other how he felt about it) and for the first time tapped general fund dollars, rather than severance tax revenues.

#RioGrande “State of the Basin” recap #COWaterPlan

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

During the 2019 “State of the Basin Symposium” at Adams State University, the Rio Grande Basin was reminded that Colorado has a water plan as Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, shared some insights on the Colorado Water Plan.

Officially completed on Nov. 19, 2015 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the statewide effort followed an Executive Order from Governor John Hickenlooper and represents a great deal of work and input from many experts across the state. Dutton opened her remarks by giving a brief history of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Next, she turned the focus of her presentation to some of the components of the plan and the work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Dutton noted that the plan was designed to address the major water issues that Colorado faces. Some of the key areas that the plan focuses on include agriculture, conservation, land use, the supply-demand gap, storage, and watershed health environment, funding, and outreach and education. The plan has been called a roadmap for the future of Colorado’s water. There are numerous goals that the plan has outlined such as maximizing alternatives to permanent agriculture dry-up and the promotion of water efficiency ethic for all Coloradans. The overarching goal of the plan is to help Colorado meet its water needs relative to growing population levels and reach a degree of sustainability by 2030.
Dutton also mentioned the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program, which is the funding portion of the plan that is designed to provide needed financial assistance for vital water projects across the state. “The CWCB is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Dutton.

Dutton further noted that part of the process of creating the plan included gathering input from each of Colorado’s respective basin roundtables. Each basin was required to submit its own plan. This led to the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. The result was the San Luis Valley water community having a voice in the entire process. Dutton acknowledged the work of many of the leaders that were present.

While the implementation process is ongoing, Dutton expressed optimism that Colorado Water Plan will continue help the Rio Grande Basin and the rest of the state see a brighter future when it comes to water.

#Colorado’s new Department of Natural Resources head talks oil and water — The Colorado Independent #ActOnClimate

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

Hundreds of men and women who work in the state’s oil and gas fields flocked to the state Capitol this week to protest a bill that, if passed, will impose dramatic changes on the way oil and gas drilling is conducted in Colorado. Workers filled the halls of the Capitol ahead of what ended up being a 12-hour committee hearing on the proposed legislation. Many who lined up to testify said they feared the new regulations would end up costing them their jobs.

Also waiting to testify was Dan Gibbs, the newly appointed executive director for the Department of Natural Resources. The 43-year-old from Breckenridge will play a key role in guiding oil and gas regulators — who work in his department — through any regulatory changes. The bill, which is expected to win approval of the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, calls for landmark regulatory changes, including elimination of the mandate that state regulators foster oil and gas development.

Gibbs, a former county commissioner and state lawmaker, has made it clear that he supports the bill, especially a provision that would give local communities more say in permitting decisions. Current Colorado law says that responsibility for regulating fracking falls to the state. Still, several cities across the Front Range have sought in vain to control drilling within their borders, including outright bans. As a state representative, Gibbs helped strengthen regulations over oil and gas, sponsoring a bill to protect wildlife from drilling impacts. He brings his more regulation-focused perspective to the department on the heels of a record production year for the $31-billion industry.

During his testimony, Gibbs said he heard similar fears of job cuts when he was a lawmaker working on oil and gas bills.

“We didn’t see any evidence of any job loss as a result of these bills. In fact, there was an increase in activity from 2007 to what we see now,” said Gibbs, who was sitting next to Erin Martinez, a survivor of the Firestone explosion in April 2017. Her husband and brother were killed.

Gibbs grew up rafting, fly fishing, skiing and ultrarunning. He wears a sports watch and carries his wildland firefighting red card at all times. He worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in Washington, D.C., served as a state representative before being appointed to the Senate by a vacancy committee, and has been elected Summit County commissioner three times.

The Department of Natural Resources, made up of 1,465 employees, oversees drilling, mining, water management and state parks in Colorado. In addition to navigating changes to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC], the body that regulates and promotes oil and gas development, he will also be responsible for another urgent challenge: trying to figure out how to pay for the Colorado Water Plan. The plan, which will cost an estimated $100 million a year to implement, is part of a solution to avert projected water shortages due to population growth, climate change and obligations to other states and tribes that rely on the Colorado River.

We spoke to Gibbs before Tuesday’s marathon Senate Transportation and Energy committee hearing, and again afterward. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

You spend a lot of time outdoors. Is there anything you’ve seen that for you really exemplifies climate change?

In 2009, I was fighting the Old Stage Fire in Boulder County during the second week of January on the first day of the legislative session…

That’s when former Gov. Bill Ritter was giving his State of the State address.

Yeah, he actually mentioned me. ‘As we speak, Dan Gibbs in on the fire line.’ Never did I think I would be fighting a fire in Colorado in January. But that just shows how clearly things are changing. You know, in Summit County, we have 156,000 acres of dead trees as a result of the mountain pine beetle. It was like a slow-moving tsunami, moving from Grand County into Summit County. … I mention this because the mountain pine beetle is a situation of climate change where the winters historically have not been cold enough.

What do you think the economic impacts of oil and gas drilling in Colorado are?

There can be a balance with doing things in a more environmentally friendly way while recognizing the economic impacts of having oil and gas industry do well in Colorado. I don’t think it’s either-or. I worked on a bill that added a higher level of wildlife protections for oil and gas. … I was in the committee room. It was packed full of sportsmen wearing camo and blaze orange. And I also had support from oil and gas industry. At that time they were willing to be supportive of this particular bill, believe it or not. As a local government person, formerly as a county commissioner, county commissioners are in charge of looking at health, safety and welfare of people that live in that community and visit. … If someone wants to build something they have to go through a planning process to get approval. If they want to mine something — you know we have a lot of historic mines in Summit County — they need to get a [permit]. We have a gravel pit. And people had concerns about the trucks going by their house. Well, we can make sure the rocks are covered. We can mitigate the times of operation. We can make things more doable for people that have to be directly impacted by that.

What about the economic impacts of drilling on industries like the outdoor recreation industry? I’m wondering if you think the economic impacts of drilling and coal mining go beyond just the jobs of the people that are working in the oil fields or the coal mines.

I don’t think we need to pit one industry against another. I wouldn’t even call it the recreation industry because, where I live, it’s the environment that’s the economic driver. So the more we can protect the environment, the more it is beneficial to our economy. And I think that’s reflective of many parts of Colorado.

How do you reconcile those two competing imperatives: to protect the environment, while at the same time protecting an industry that offers good-paying jobs and provides money for your department.

We need to look at ways we can protect people, protect the environment, and people’s way of life. I think oil and gas can do things in a way that is not harmful to people’s health. I think there is a way to do it. I don’t think you need to set up oil and gas wells right next to where people live. I think there are ways to do better environmental monitoring of wells when they are close to where people live or when they are close to critical water storage areas. I think we can do things in a more environmentally friendly way where oil and gas can continue to do business in Colorado while minimizing harming the environment.

The state legislature wants to do way with COGCC’s role of fostering oil and gas development and make it solely a regulatory agency. What’s your reaction to the bill in the legislature?

I think there should be serious reforms within the structure with how we do things in Colorado. I support this bill, Senate Bill 181. I like having local government have a seat at the table if they want to. … Local governments are in the business of regulating land use issues. I’m shocked that local communities have never had the authority to shape land use decisions as it relates to oil and gas. Depending on many truckloads go through an area, things can be mitigated based on how close [that activity] is to homes, how close it is to critical wildlife areas like sage grouse.

You’re going to be over at the state Capitol today. You may end up talking to a number of people who work in the industry who will say ‘I’m going to lose my job’ because of this bill. What are you going to tell them?

I will say that’s not true. There is no evidence to reflect that this bill is trying to shut down industry in any way. What it’s trying to do is balance oil and gas activity with looking at what’s best for people and their communities. It’s not creating necessarily a veto power. It is adding a layer of oversight that doesn’t exist now. New oversight. So I would say that’s just not an accurate statement. But I’m sure we’ll hear that a lot. The industry is important in Colorado. And the bill, as it goes through the process, will have five, six hearings and discussions in the House and Senate and opportunities to amend. It’s not the ending point, but the starting point. The bill will likely change.

I wanted to transition to water. Water projects are funded through severance taxes. And severance taxes are dependent on the production of oil and gas. Would you describe that as a competing mission — on one hand you have these environmental programs that are reliant on an industry that has an environmental impact?

It’s funny you say that. Well, not funny. As a county commissioner, we funded all of our recycling programs through tipping fees at our landfills. The more trash we got, the more programs we could fund for diversion. And so, it’s similar, the more oil and gas activity you have in the state, the more we can fund environmental programs. … I think we need a new strategy in terms of how we fund environmental programs. And not just be dependent on severance funds. Looking at other programs I have: the Parks and Wildlife budget is about 85 percent contingent on hunting and fishing licenses. I’m going to be working on a more sustainable funding source moving forward that is not just contingent on hunting and fishing licenses.

Should people who recreate, like backpackers, pay more to Colorado Parks and Wildlife?

What we have right now for Parks and Wildlife is not sustainable. We need to look at every option on the table. … We really need to be creative to figure out who might be willing to help fund the trail system throughout Colorado and what opportunities exist with new foundations that could help with funding.

What are you doing to come up with a new funding mechanism or revenue stream for the Colorado Water Plan?

I just met with a group of stakeholders. The governor has more or less a line item request of $30 million this year. And that will go along with the [state budget]. And then, on top of that, we have the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s water projects bill, and that’s going to have $20 million associated with that. So we’re going to have $50 million going toward implementation strategies. We need about $100 million [per year] moving forward. I think this is a great place to start. You need a lot of local partners. It’s not just the state flipping the switch. … We have all these folks that are working hard to figure out a plan moving forward. There is talk of a possible ballot question in the future. All options are on the table.

When do you expect the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) report [which projects Colorado’s water shortages] to be ready?

Sometime over the summer.

It was supposed to come out years ago. What explains the delay?

I don’t know. But I will tell you that I think moving forward it’s important that we do regular updates to SWSI. Climate change, population growth, and a variety of different factors impact water availability. I think we need to get on a set schedule that gives us updates — I’m not saying every year — but fairly frequently. That will help us set policies going forward.

Water shortages are projected in future years and there is no clear way to pay for the water plan. You still have oil and gas and local communities duking it out in the suburbs. There are a lot of pressing issues without easy answers. This job will pay about $160,000, but aside from that, what made you want to take on this challenge?

I think daily about my young kids and the fact that I could be in this position right now and I can shape how we manage natural resources right now, but have an eye on what Colorado will look like in the next generation, in future generations. That really appeals to me. Working for a governor like Jared Polis, I support his vision of protecting the environment, understanding that protecting the environment is the best way that we can protect our economy in Colorado.

What keeps you up at night?

I think about the employees that work here for DNR. We have amazing staff here and ensuring that they are OK in the jobs that they have. But any day I could hear about an oil and gas explosion similar to Firestone. That definitely keeps me up. I worry about hearing about the mountain lion attack in Fort Collins and then looking at strategies that we have to deal with lions. This jobs is so diverse. Folks can call me at two in the morning with catastrophic situations like Firestone.

Someone might call you up and bring you out to the fireline, too, right?

Yeah, exactly. I get nervous about oil and gas. But once it hits summertime, I feel like we are one lighting strike, one unattended campfire, from having a mega-fire in Colorado that would have devastating consequences.

Alamosa councillors plan to oppose latest San Luis Valley water export plans

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Alamosa city councilors and staff are willing to join the fight against the latest water export proposal, they told water leader Cleave Simpson during a work session Tuesday night.

Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which has taken a position against a water export proposal by Renewable Water Resources. He shared with the council the history of former water export proposals and details about the latest one, which proposes to export 22,000 acre feet from the San Luis Valley to the south Denver metro area.

“I do believe it’s real,” Simpson said. “I think they intend to do it.”

Nothing has yet been filed in court but Simpson said the spokesman for Renewable Water Resources indicated the case might be filed by the end of this year. Simpson said the City of Alamosa could enter the case when it is filed.

The city council and staff discussed other ways they could be involved including taking an official stand through a resolution, like the water conservation district did, and participating in education and awareness.

“It would damage the agriculture of the Valley,” Councilman David Broyles commented about the proposed export.

“And economy,” added Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.

Councilman Charles Griego said he believed the city’s first step would be to pass an official resolution during a council meeting. Brooks suggested the city council could pass a resolution either the second meeting in March or first meeting in April. “I am hearing this is something we should be taking seriously,” Brooks said.

Griego said the city needs to be clear that “not one drop” should be exported from the Valley and that the council would be against any kind of water leaving the Valley. He said the word needs to get out how devastating this would be to the Valley…

He said he is going to inform the Interbasin Compact Commission members later this week, as he is a member of that governor-appointed statewide water board.

Simpson said Renewable Water Resources on its website (renewablewaterresources.com) says “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” However, he sees no benefit whatsoever to the Valley of this project. “It’s not good for the San Luis Valley.”

He added that the Valley has a history of opposition to similar projects and will adamantly oppose this one too.

“Every 10-20 years, there’s another export proposal,” Simpson said.

Some of the past proposals, which were unsuccessful, were a proposal to export water from wells drilled in Costilla County to San Marcos, Texas in the 1970’s and multiple export proposals tied to the late Gary Boyce who owned land in Saguache County. American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) proposed to pump 200,000 acre feet of water from the Baca Ranch area to the Front Range.

The latest proposal is that of Renewable Water Resources, which purchased a 12,000-acre ranch north of Crestone. Their proposal is to pipe 22,000 acre feet of water from the confined aquifer out of the Valley and ultimately to the Denver area. (Simpson described 22,000 acre feet as the equivalent of 100 circles.) Renewable Water Resources representatives met with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board to seek the district’s cooperation in helping the developers use up to $60 million (about $2,500 an acre foot) to buy and retire water rights across the Valley and to help manage a $50-million community fund. Although planning to pump out 22,000 acre feet, the water developers propose to buy up twice that much, 40,000-44,000 acre feet of water rights, and retire a portion, which is a different approach than previous water exporters, Simpson explained.

He said reducing water consumption is a similar goal to the water district and sub-districts. However, “We are not pursuing permanent dry up or permanent removal of 22,000 acre feet of water leaving the Valley.”