STATE legislators voiced concerns Thursday on exporting water from the San Luis Valley and the Upper Rio Grande Basin during a Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting on a senate bill to protect the Rio Grande and Republican River basins.
The committee unanimously voted to move state Senate Bill 22-028 forward. The bill would establish a fund to help the San Luis Valley reduce groundwater pumping in the Rio Grande and assist the Republican River with meeting its interstate compact requirements.
Sponsored by Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, Senate Bill 22-028 establishes a mechanism to administer money but does not fund the groundwater reduction and compliance efforts. The money itself would need to come through the legislature’s appropriation process.
Simpson said he has applied for $80 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding through the state’s Task Force on Economic Recovery to fund efforts to reduce groundwater pumping in the Rio Grande.
“If we keep this simple in our address to the feds, we can utilize those monies easily if we can get the Joint Budget Committee and governor on board,” Sonnenberg said.
There was unanimous backing for the bill from the committee as well as support from the Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Rural Electric Association, and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Questions raised by committee members veered toward the Renewable Water Resources proposal to export 22,000 acre-feet a year from the Rio Grande Basin and the state court decree to bring the Rio Grande to a sustainable level.
“If we can’t address this issue and we have to start retiring wells, what does that mean for your communities?” committee chair Sen. Kerry Donovan asked.
“It would be devastating to our community not to solve this problem,” Simpson said.
“If the state engineer is forced into that scenario, it’s an economic disaster for these rural communities,” Sonneberg said.
Sonnenberg used the Arkansas Valley as the example of what happens when water is diverted from one region of Colorado to another.
“We’re not going to do that to another community. We should have learned our lesson,” he said.