DOUGLAS COUNTY – Less than a week after Douglas County Commissioners received a letter from Eric Harmon, a noted hydrogeologist with extensive expertise in the San Luis Valley’s aquifers who listed specific reasons why Renewable Water Resources(RWR) proposal should be rejected, the commissioners received another letter - not from another hydrogeologist but from RWR attorney, Kevin Kinnear, who touts “20 years of experience in water rights” in the SLV.
In his letter, Kinnear informed the commissioners he has accepted a position as a full-time mediator and will no longer be representing RWR. He then voiced his opinion, once again, that commissioners should approve the water developer’s proposal while attempting to summarily dismiss the credibility of anyone who opposes the project.
After stating that “this project is good for Douglas County, it is good for the State of Colorado, and it also is good for the San Luis Valley”, Kinnear goes on to characterize those protesting the export as victims of “group think” or “echo chambers” with opinions that are the result of “cognitive biases” that create “mental short cuts” and prevent “truly evaluative thinking.”
That “flawed thinking”, Kinnear deduces, “has led to a number of parties with competing interests taking the same position” in opposition to the export.
“This thinking is flawed, and in fact is counter-productive,” he writes.
In perhaps their most gloves-off response to date and a possible indication of how RWR views the input of those opponents who have been testifying to the commissioners (complete with graphs, reports and an abundance of data), Kinnear writes:
“You have heard environmentalists, recreationalists, farmers, and others say that if the Project is approved and proceeds, the results will be catastrophic for fisheries, large mammals, and butterflies; that the Sand Dunes will blow away; that productive farmland will return to desert; that the tourism and recreation industries will die, etc.
“They have presented these results as a fait accompli, i.e., that if 22,000 acre-feet) of water is withdrawn from the Valley, these things will all collapse and go away, that there is no question of these results being caused by such ground water pumping. These alleged results all flow, they say, from the catastrophic impact to the water system of the Valley caused by the Project pumping. So they say. However, they either are not aware of the science, they have chosen not to look at the science, or they have willfully misrepresented it.”
In so saying, Kinnear – who is not a hydrogeologist - dismisses testimony by the Deputy Director of Colorado’s Department of Water Resources, the former chief of Colorado’s Water Conservation Board and architect of the Colorado Water Plan, a water engineer distinctly familiar with SLV aquifers, the current head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board plus individuals from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Conejos Conservation District and the San Luis Valley Water Conservation District plus numerous others, many of whom have spent years intricately involved with SLV water issues.
Kinnear also completely dismisses sobering concerns cited by the hydrogeologist whose letter preceded his. In that letter, Harmon - whose experience in the valley predates Kinnear’s and is connected to intensive study of the aquifers, not attempting to buy water rights for export of water - warns of potential impact to neighboring wells, the possibility of land subsidence (sinking) and potential increase in levels of arsenic. Harmon explains each concern, based on his expertise and experience, while also recognizing whose claims he is challenging.
“RWR will argue that these risks are so small that they are inconsequential,” Harmon writes. “This is not my first rodeo. It is not the SLV’s first rodeo. We have heard it before. RWR will also argue that these down-in-the-weeds technical issues are exactly why Douglas County should partner with them and clear the way for RWR’s application to be heard in Water Court. Not so.”
In his letter, Kinnear generally reiterates the same statements made by RWR throughout the due diligence meetings held by Douglas County Commissioners, categorically dismissing concerns about the impact of withdrawing 22,000 acre-feet of water from the confined aquifer and claiming that their one-to-one-plus proposal will actually help the aquifer levels.
All of Kinnear’s arguments are, he claims, based upon the Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS), the computer model that, according to Kinnear, predicts a negligible impact on the confined aquifer should 22,000 acre-feet of additional water be exported out of the San Luis Valley.
When asked for data from RGDSS substantiating the claims, RWR has refused.