ALAMOSA — San Luis Valley farmer Dave Warsh questioned water leaders about a possible fee increase for Sub-District 1 irrigators when the sub-district has millions of dollars in the bank already.
Warsh suggested to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during its quarterly meeting on Tuesday that since it created the sub-district it should reign it in when it is considering doubling the cap currently set on variable fees assessed to Sub-District 1 well owners.
“I had some concern about the amount of money they are carrying over,” Warsh said.
He said the sub-district carried a cumulative balance of about $8 million going into this year, “which is probably 90 percent of the budget of most of the government entities in this Valley or more.”
He said he understood the need to have some saved up to cover operating costs in the future, but he wondered how many years’ worth of operating costs the sub-district needed to accumulate.
The sponsoring water district is setting up sub-districts in various areas of the San Luis Valley (Rio Grande Basin) with similar hydrological characteristics. The first sub-district, roughly in the closed basin area of the Valley, encompasses about 3,000 wells. Five other sub-districts are in the works, designed to replenish well owners’ injuries to surface water rights and help restore the basin’s aquifers.
Warsh said when the sub-district was first set up, it was organized with three separate fees — administrative, CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and variable.
Warsh said he was happy with how the administrative fee was being spent and believed those assessed in the sub-district were getting a good value for their money.
He was not as happy with the other two fees, however, he said. The variable fee was $45 the first year and $75 the second. Now the sub-district board of managers wants to have the flexibility to go up to $150, Warsh said.
Meanwhile, the board has kept the CREP fee at $2, even though it could be as much as $12, Warsh added. He said the CREP fee should have been raised and the variable fee should remain at $75.
He said he did not think the proposed variable fee increase was very fair, and he told the RGWCD board that since it was the organization that founded the sub-district, it was the board’s responsibility “to keep them in check.”
“I would ask that you reign it in a little bit at least.”
He also wanted to make sure that decisions regarding the fees that would be assessed sub-district irrigators would be made in public.
“Don’t do something behind our back,” he said.
Warsh added that the sub-district has “done a lot of good. There’s no doubt that Sub-district 1 has been very effective.”
RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson told Warsh that meetings would be advertised with plenty of opportunity for the public to comment on fee changes.
Lynn Kopfman, who previously served on the sub-district board, said the board of managers set up the fees for specific purposes such as creating a CREP in the basin, buying water to offset depletions, education and conservation. He said conditions have changed since the first sub-district was created, and Warsh brought up some good points.
He also agreed with Warsh that the sub-district had made progress in reducing pumping. Kopfman said once other sub-districts come on line the recovery to the aquifers will occur even faster than it has with just one sub-district operating.
He said being the first sub-district felt like “they’ve got to pay the penance for the Valley’s sins.”
Simpson said the $8.9 million in the sub-district’s bank account represents everything since the sub-district only has one account. The sub-district has liabilities as well, he said.
RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the sub-district board has to consider all of the expenses it has to plan for, such as its share of CREP incentives and how much it will need “to take care of 19 years tail on potential depletions.”
He added that the sub-district board has to plan for the dry years, “even though we have had some good weather patterns to get the aquifer in Sub-district 1 back to that level that relates back to the 1970’s that’s what they are trying to figure out how to do.”