Architect of state water plan tells Douglas County it is looking in wrong place for water

By cvlopez |

JAMES Eklund, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and architect of the state water plan, told Douglas County commissioners on Monday that they have closer options to securing additional water for the fast-growing Front Range county than transporting water from the San Luis Valley.

The Renewable Water Resources proposal under consideration by Douglas County “runs contrary to the (Colorado water) plan,” Eklund said.

He opened his presentation by saying, “There’s no surplus water available in that valley.”

Colorado State Deputy Engineer Mike Sullivan told the Douglas County commissioners the same thing in a meeting last week.

The Douglas County commissioners got differing views from two other attorneys who have worked in the past on projects to move water out of the San Luis Valley, prompting Douglas County Commission Chair Abe Laydon at the end of the meeting to say Douglas County got “competing viewpoints” in their work session.

DOUGLAS County is considering using $20 million of its federal American Rescue Plan funding to partner with RWR on its water exportation project.

“The biggest issue,” said Eklund, “is there are other alternatives for this volume of water that is closer to Douglas County, closer to home.”

He pegged the cost of the RWR plan at $2 billion – $100,000 per acre foot – in his “back of napkin” estimate.

Douglas County commissioners were clear that whatever the cost of the project, water ratepayers in Douglas County from Parker to Castle Rock would pay the bill.

“I feel that this project is one of the few remaining options,” Attorney Glenn Porzak told the commissioners on their search for a renewable water supply to support their growing county. “It’s unique because it goes through the northern sector of the San Louie Valley.”

Porzak said he was part of the 2006 Colorado Division 3 Water Court case that established rules governing new groundwater withdrawals in the unconfined and confined aquifers of the Upper Rio Grande Basin. It is those rules that would determine if the RWR proposal could move forward.

But to get its proposal into state water court, Renewable Water Resources first needs to find an end user for the water. That’s where Douglas County comes in.

Douglas County has hired Steve Leonhardt from the law firm Burns Figa & Will to represent it.

Chris Canaly, director of the SLV Ecosystem Council, said numerous environmental impact issues would be raised if the RWR plan moved ahead. The proposed wellfield of 22 to 25 groundwater pumping wells that RWR has presented would neighbor the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, where biologists for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and US Fish and Wildlife Service have been working.

The San Luis Creek, Rio Alto Creek, Crestone Creek, and Great Sand Dunes National Park represent other environmental assets in the area.

Environmental impact issues could take decades to litigate, said Canaly, raising questions on whether Douglas County could recover its $20 million if it invests in RWR and the proposal is not approved by the state.

“I honestly have a hard time understanding why anyone is taking this seriously,” Canaly said.

Photo of Baca National Wildlife Refuge by Dana Shellhorn, USFWS

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