ALAMOSA — 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.
“Council and staff really want to take this matter seriously,” said Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman. “I think it is important.”
Brooks said the city could use its resources such as its web page, Facebook, utility bill notices and TV station to help provide information.
Councilor Liz Hensley said if there was any legislative connection, the city might be able to get the Colorado Municipal League involved.
Councilman Jan Vigil said he works in Center and could help with awareness there.
Simpson said he is working with Chris Lopez to help develop marketing strategies going forward. He said the city could absolutely get involved in education and outreach if it wished.
He said he is willing to talk to any group from Rotary and Kiwanis to wedding receptions if it will help educate and make folks aware of this potential threat.
“I will go anywhere,” he said.
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.”
He said the sub-districts are using fallowing programs and crop changes to reduce consumption to address the aquifer losses in recent years.
Renewable Water Resources would have to file a change case in water court to convert the agriculturally used water to municipal use, and developers hoped to get the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to support its proposal and not oppose its change case in water court.
The district did not support the water proposal, however, and in fact has taken a stand against it.
Simpson said if the developers were taking the water from their own ranch, it would be difficult for the water conservation district to challenge that because that would be interfering with private property rights. However, the district will challenge a new well field in the northern end of the Valley for the purpose of export. He said the developers’ ranch probably does not produce 22,000 acre feet on its own.
He said he has not spoken to anyone who has told him they have spoken to the developers and are interested in selling their water to them.
Simpson said developers indicated the water would find a market in the south metro Denver area like Castle Rock and Douglas County. However, he has spoken with the executive director of a south metro water organization who had not had contact with the developers and said her group’s target was the South Platte, not the Rio Grande Basin. Simpson said he had no proof of this but suspected the water would not wind up in south metro Denver but somewhere else, like Colorado Springs, where it might be easier to transport from the Valley.
Simpson said he appreciated the willingness of the city to help inform people and oppose the water export. He said numerous other organizations are also willing to step up in opposition as well, such as the Colorado Cattlemen and Acequia Association. The water district has also been in communication with state and federal legislators and other elected officials.
Renewable Water Resources has some backing as well, Simpson said, including former Governor Bill Owens, former Governor Bill Ritter’s staff, former State Senator Greg Brophy and former Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Martin. Simpson said spokesmen with this new water proposal have learned from Boyce’s former mistakes and are using different tactics.
On their web site, for example, Renewable Water Resources points to the $50 million community fund that will be created by this project “that can be dedicated to schools, youth sports, seniors, health care, law enforcement, fire protection, tourism, the arts, conservation efforts … etc.”