Valley may face water export threat again

ALAMOSA — Although no specific application has yet been filed, it appears a new proposal may be planned to export water from the San Luis Valley.

“There is at least significant rumor that a new water export scheme is well into the works,” attorney David Robbins told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday.

He said the plan he has heard about would be to run water through a pipeline out of the San Luis Valley into the metropolitan Front Range area of the state. The indicated water source would be from the confined aquifer.

“This is a potential problem for the Valley,” Robbins said.

It could be a problem for not only the water district and those it represents but also for federal land agencies who rely on the aquifer for the national park and wildlife refuge, Robbins added. He indicated the water export proposal would occur in the same general area of the San Luis Valley as the last export proposal, which was in the Crestone area where the late Gary Boyce owned property. After his death from cancer in March of 2016, a spokesperson for the Sustainable Water Resources (SWR) project, of which he was a founding partner, stated that the project would continue moving forward. Spokesperson Monica McCafferty said at that time, “While the long-term plan is to eventually proceed to water court, there is no concrete timeframe for such action. We are currently focused on continued outreach to the community and taking in their feedback.”

Whether this project has been resurrected or another similar one has taken its place, the goal appears to be the same — exporting Valley water. Robbins said he did not have a specific name yet, but he understood people were being contacted for their support.

“We will continue to monitor the progress, find out what’s going on,” Robbins told the water board.

Robbins reminded the board of Owens Valley, California, which is similar to the San Luis Valley in that it is a high mountain valley in the Sierra Nevadas with a fairly flat valley floor. It also depended on irrigation, but there is no irrigation there now, as all of the water that comes off the Sierra Nevadas and formerly watered Owens Valley now goes to Los Angeles. “It happened incrementally,” Robbins said.

Now the valley is dry, and the only thing that keeps it alive, he said, is that Bishop is a jumping off point for climbers and campers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Robbins said protecting the San Luis Valley’s water from the same fate has always in the past and will in the future require a cooperative effort by Valley residents working together.

Valley residents cannot afford to say “a little bit can’t hurt,” he said, “because a little bit turns into a lot.”

The Valley could very quickly lose its water supply like Owens Valley did, unless residents work together to protect it for this and future generations, he added. 

Robbins said water that would be sold to developers to export would be permanently gone from the Valley, and the Front Range would then rely on that supply. He said this kind of thing is especially difficult to take because so many people in the Valley have paid fees through the sub-districts to reduce the amount of water consumption in the Valley to reverse the declining trend in the aquifer.