THE town of Del Norte is factoring in a big way into the state District 3 Water Court case involving a proposed augmentation plan from Sustainable Water Augmentation Group as evidenced by Tuesday’s court proceeding that was recessed just as Day 2 of the scheduled five-week trial got underway.
SWAG attorney Brad Grasmick told the court he had just gotten notification from Del Norte that it was ending its agreement to lease water to SWAG, a development that affects how SWAG offsets its stream depletions in its proposed plan. The group had included leased water from Del Norte as part of its portfolio of replacement water presented to the court during Monday’s opening day of the case.
“This is kind of a punch in the gut, to say the least,” Chief District Water Court Judge Michael Gonzales said upon hearing the news.
He recessed water court until Wednesday to allow the SWAG attorneys to regroup since it included the Del Norte leased water in its modeling and analysis.
The surprise announcement from Del Norte to SWAG changes the expert analysis that SWAG is relying on to convince Gonzales that its alternative augmentation plan meets the state Division of Water Resources rules that govern groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley.
The trial began Monday with opening arguments from both SWAG attorneys and attorneys representing four different opposers to the plan. Opposition to the SWAG application includes the state Division of Water Resources, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Rio Grande Water Users Association, and Mike and Jim Kruse Partnership.
The subdistrict adopted the 1-to-1 augmentation and increased groundwater overpumping fees to $500 per-acre foot in its effort to meet a directive from State Engineer Kevin Rein to recover the unconfined aquifer of the Rio Grande Basin and create a sustainable water supply. SWAG told the court the Subdistrict 1 plan would drive its members out of business because fees would be too high for a group of operators that have little surface water to their farm operations.
“The entire reason that we’re here seeking an alternative plan is to recover in an alternate way, in a different way than the way Subdistrict 1 has been doing under different terms,” Grasmick told the court.
In a nutshell, the SWAG plan calls for fallowing 5,014 acres of the 17,255 irrigated acres that SWAG’s members operate. To create a sustainable water supply per the state engineer’s orders, the SWAG is laying claim to “native water” that is part of the state Division of Water Resources’ Closed Basin project and water that Colorado uses to deliver downstream to New Mexico and into El Paso, Texas, to meet its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact.
When the trial resumes, it is SWAG’s claim to what it identifies as “native water” in the Closed Basin that will be a key argument for it to make. It’s also one that will be strongly rebutted by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Chief District Water Court Judge Gonzales told attorneys he plans to hold court each day from 9 a.m. to noon and then from 1:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.