Story and photos by Randy Brown | For Alamosa Citizen
MORE or less 15 miles south of Saguache and driving on the now-and-then washboard CR38 back road, dust flying in the rearview looking to the west are the San Juan foothills having just side-tripped through La Garita. Inexplicably now on CR33 – what happened to CR38?
EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series of profiles of people of the San Luis Valley. Read more about project HERE.
Skirting Elephant Rocks – bumpy, rounded, smooth, “elephanty” – and a few miles further merging onto Colorado Highway 112 and smooth pavement looking through the July bug-splattered windshield with Del Norte coming up fast and quickly, I am en route to meet David Colville and his daughter Syana at the more than 100-year-old Corset Ranch.
North turning off US 160 and now crossing the Rio Grande west of town and entering at the small laneway and driving by the “out to pasture” retired field resting side boarded farm truck, then into a compound of homes, barns, hay fields, hay swather, a couple of 4WD Farm Mules, as well as the artifacts and implements that are testaments to the history of this hard-working ranch and the family committed to its future.
Soon sitting outside at an iron table under a shady portico are David and Syana wearing their hopes, dreams, dedication, and concerns about water in the Valley and perhaps a shaky future.
Having been introduced to David by Rio de la Vista earlier in June at a barn party and a bit of getting to know you, how’s the year going, the pasture to the south looking good, Syana talking about her summer off from Fort Lewis College in Durango, and soon digging into the issue of water in the Valley, drought and water exportation.
Randy Brown: Think about it for a minute if you want, but how would you respond to someone like a very influential former governor of the state who is saying that it’s inevitable, the water’s going to come to the front range?
David Colville: It’s worth fighting for. A lot of people are very passionate about it. Water is definitely something everyone fights for, but then it comes down to money. Once you start fighting, time and money you put your 20 years in and your extra income into fighting a battle, at some point you just give up, and I don’t think Denver gives up.
RB: Syana, why are you working in water conservation?
Syana Colville: I’ve always just grown up hearing about it, we could lose our water and thinking about it. Well, RWR used to go by a different name, (AWDI, but not necessarily connected) and everyone shut that down, right? RWR – it doesn’t sound renewable and so people who don’t know what’s going on, they’re going to be like ‘Oh that sounds great,’ and then we lose our water, this is all I’ve known, if we didn’t have water here, we wouldn’t have anything. And then, I don’t know, this (ranching) is probably what my future is going to be, and where I’m going to live, without that, it’s nothing.
We all pause for a moment, let that drive itself home. Syana continues, another pause, some sense of emotion, then we move on.
RB: Syana, what does it mean to you living on a ranch that is 120 years old, in the same family?
SC: This is all I’ve ever known, but I couldn’t imagine not growing up here. When I was really little, I didn’t realize that other people didn’t live on a ranch. It’s all I’ve ever known and I have a lot of pride in it, and all of my family around, it’s just the best way to live. I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to college without it.
RB: So, there is a multi-pronged approach to a multi-faceted issue in the Valley as it pertains to water. Thoughts on one aspect of that?
DC: It’s a chain reaction. You affect one person, and it affects everybody. Anaconda Ditch is now gone, which I keep coming back to, which now, the Meadow Glen doesn’t run at all. It might as well be shut down at this point. And now the Independent is the third one in line. It’s that chain effect, it’s not good. We’ve got these subdistricts started to pull money together and solve the problems together.
I mention to David that I heard about his father, David G. Colville, passing away in February (2021) at the age of 86.
DC: When dad asked you to work, you didn’t question it, you just worked, and there was no pay, you just worked. He didn’t start paying me until I got out of college. He figured I’m eating their food, living under their roof and when we needed help, he helped. We didn’t yell or get mad, that’s the way it was.
RB: Can you make comparisons as to how this current initiative to export water from the Valley might be familiar in either previous efforts in the Valley or elsewhere?
DC: This piece of ground would dry up. And, like Owens Valley, that’s a classic example. Do you know Owens Valley?
RB: Yes, I am reading Marc Reisner’s book “Cadillac Desert” right now.
DC: So, you got Los Angeles here, and they need water. And they send up clever people to buy all the ranches. And once all the ranches got bought, they diverted a hundred percent of the water to L.A., and Owens Valley is now dismal. Complete, one hundred percent dismal.
RB: And the possibility exists that the same could happen here?
DC: Well, it is happening.
RB: OK, so a point-blank, maybe a leading question: Is water everything?
DC: Oh yeah, water is a lot, if you don’t have water in the desert, you don’t have much.
SC: It feels hopeless. No matter what we do, we are losing a lot and that the people, RWR and the cities will win because they have so much power to get this water. So, I don’t know, it’s really terrifying to think about.
Behind us, perhaps 200 yards to the south, the Rio Grande, The Rio Grande del Norte, the Rio Bravo, flows out of the San Juans through pastures, alongside homes, barns, grazing cattle, kayakers, people fishing, others living on its banks, touching the lives of all who call the San Luis Valley home. As it courses its way through New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, it is iconic in the history of the Valley and represents the quality of its future.
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