The Crestone Eagle • March, 2021

Baca Water & San. District prepares to sue US Fish & Wildlife over water

by John Loll, BGWSD 

The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors on February 17, 2021 authorized the District’s Attorney Marcus J. Lock to prepare, but not yet file, litigation against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failure to abide by a Water Service Agreement that supplies water to the Baca Grande Subdivision.  

Contract negotiations deadlock

Contract negotiations over extending the current Agreement have been on-going for at least 18 months and are now stalemated.  USFWS is refusing to abide by procedures stipulated in the Agreement regarding the cost of water purchased from it and would charge a rate almost ten times more than that charged for augmented water purchases in the San Luis Valley, as determined by Dick Wolfe, former State Engineer.

Relief from payment of excessive water prices is critical for the District going forward, as many components in the aging water delivery system are approaching their replacement dates.  The current deadlock in negotiations is also inhibiting the District’s efforts to move forward on the purchase of water rights from USFWS.  Purchase of water rights is central to the long-term health of the District and would end, as one Director said, “Throwing money down a bottomless well.”

Savings from excessive rates may help stabilize the District’s fiscal posture that has required two recent rate increases.  A Lease To Own arrangement may also prove feasible, but is dependent upon being able to reach agreement on a fair rate to be charged.

The District’s Board of Directors also authorized contact with our political representatives to educate them and seek their assistance in resolving these critical issues.  Educating our northern valley  communities is called for as well, as they have shown in prior water battles that their determination is one of the greatest sources of advocacy available.

Background

The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District originally leased water rights from a company called Arizona-Colorado Land & Cattle Company back in 1972.  This company owned the Luis Baca Grant No. 4 and the water rights that went with it.  The purpose of the lease was “to assure the availability of the water supply necessary” for the District’s operations.  In 1997, the District entered into a new Water Service Agreement with Cabeza de Vaca Land & Cattle Company, LLC, which was a successor to the previous company and became the new owner of the Baca Ranch and the leased water rights.  The purpose of the new Agreement remained the same, to ensure the District had access to a sufficient supply of water to serve the District’s customers.   

This 1997 agreement is still in effect, but now the lessor is USFWS as a result of the federal government’s acquisition of what is now the Baca Grande National Wildlife Refuge in 2004.  The Water Service Agreement is perpetual in nature unless terminated by the District.  However, the District would prefer to purchase the water rights and own them outright rather than continue to make lease payments to USFWS forever.

In the Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve Act of 2000 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (which includes USFWS) to sell water rights to the District.  This has yet to happen.    

Maintaining positive relations with Baca National Wildlife Refuge 

It’s important to make a distinction between the local USFWS representatives with whom the District has enjoyed excellent relationships throughout the years.  The District very much hopes to continue with the same regard in future endeavors.  Rather, the issues seem to occur in regional and national levels.

Opportunities to become involved

Soon the District will be crafting opportunities for community members to become involved in our efforts.  Items under consideration include:  Campaign Committee?  Zoom Public Information Meetings?  Postcard Campaign to elected representatives?  Forming Alliances with other Local and Valley Groups?

Offer input now

You can offer your suggestions and ideas now by email to: info@bacawater.com.