DOUGLAS County Commissioner Abe Laydon will be in the San Luis Valley on Saturday to meet privately with a few farmers to discuss the Renewable Water Resources water exportation proposal. He’ll also get an audience with some local elected officials through a meeting being organized by Monte Vista City Manager Gigi Dennis.
News of Laydon’s visit was one of several developments Tuesday related to the Upper Rio Grande Basin and the San Luis Valley aquifers. In other water news:
- State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board of Directors that Senate Bill 22-028, which would establish a fund to help the Rio Grande Basin and Republican River Basin meet state sustainability requirements, could see initial funding of $60 million through the state’s portion of American Rescue Plan Act funding. Simpson said the funding portion of the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund is part of an amendment being discussed by state representatives in their deliberation of the bill. Simpson said Democratic leadership in the state house and state senate are supportive of the bill. “I’m pretty optimistic we’ll have this done in the next three weeks,” he said.
- The Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board (RGWCD) approved additional funding for its public relations effort to fight the Renewable Water Resources proposal. The conservation district, through its public relations contract with Sigler Communications, has established the web site http://www.protectsanluisvalleywater.com as part of its effort to counter the public relations work of RWR and its interaction with Douglas County.
- A resolution creating the RGWCD Groundwater Conservation Easement Program was adopted by the water conservation district board. The program would place groundwater wells into a conservation easement as part of a new strategy with conservation groups to protect water from leaving the San Luis Valley.
Laydon’s visit to the Valley, where he will meet privately with farmers in sessions arranged by Renewable Water Resources partner Sean Tonner, has been in the works ever since Douglas County began its review of the RWR proposal in January. Douglas
County originally planned to host a public meeting in the San Luis Valley that all three commissioners would attend, but that was scrapped after Laydon and Commissioner George Teal said they were hearing from Valley residents who supported RWR but were afraid to show up at a public meeting.
Laydon is set to cast a deciding vote on whether Douglas County spends an initial $10 million to invest in the Renewable Water Resources plan to export 22,000 acre-feet of water annually from the San Luis Valley to Douglas County. Commissioner Lora Thomas is opposed to the project and Commissioner George Teal has voiced support.
Thomas said Tuesday she would like to attend the meetings in the San Luis Valley if attorney Steve Leonhardt, who Douglas County has hired to help it work through the water exportation proposal, is part of the trip. Laydon and Teal objected and told Thomas she couldn’t be a part of Laydon’s private meetings with a few RWR proponents out of Laydon’s and Teal’s concern that she wouldn’t keep confidentiality.
“You have not earned any trust with me whatsoever,” Laydon told her.
“What I do think is important,” he said, “is to ensure the privacy and anonymity of those that we’re speaking with that may feel intimidated by a public process or may believe that there are significant repercussions for speaking publicly.”
The Douglas County commissioners have heard widespread objection to their interest in the Renewable Water Resources proposal and have been given data from the state and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District that lays out the problems with the Rio Grande Basin and the over-appropriation of groundwater pumping in the Valley.
If Laydon votes with Teal, Douglas County would negotiate an agreement with Renewable Water Resources to be a party to a formal review of the RWR proposal by the state Division of Water Resources and state water court.
Attorney Leonhard has raised issues in a confidential memo to the Douglas County commissioners that would need to be addressed in any final agreement with Renewable Water Resources. The privileged memo has been the subject of commissioner meetings. Thomas has pushed for the memo to be made public so the content of it could be reviewed.
When Laydon visits the San Luis Valley he will get an up-close look at the proposed pumping area in the Renewable Water Resources plan. The RWR proposal is focused in Saguache County and Subdistrict 4 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
There is about 11,000 acre-feet of groundwater pumping occurring in the subdistrict where the RWR plan is located. State rules require the groundwater pumping to be cut back to 9,000 to 10,000 acre-feet annually, according to Chris Ivers, the program manager for Subdistrict 4.
For Douglas County, under the Renewable Water Resources plan, to receive 22,000 acre-feet of water in perpetuity from groundwater pumping in Saguache County and Subdistrict 4 doesn’t add up, Ivers said.
“That’s already more than is occurring in that area locally and from my perspective unsustainable,” said Ivers.
The Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board received little encouraging news on the condition of the Rio Grande and the Valley’s confined and unconfined aquifers at its quarterly meeting Tuesday.
The forecast through June calls for more of the same drought conditions, which doesn’t bode well for Valley irrigators. The conservation district board was keeping one eye on the anticipated summer drought and the other eye on Douglas County and its interest in the Renewable Water Resources water exportation plan.
“This final visit is the overdue last piece of the series I committed to,” Laydon told AlamosaCitizen.com. “I believe we have received excellent expert input and information to date and I would expect to make a decision soon after receiving any final additional input from our retained experts following this visit.”
For him, it’s now a matter of meeting in private with a few people who may support the RWR plan and eventually letting the rest know where he stands and whether Douglas County will move ahead with Renewable Water Resources.
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