The Crestone Eagle, November 2005:

Boyce law suit to be heard in January; Status Conference to be held Nov. 8

by David Nicholas

On January 30, 2006, Gary Boyce and Others v. the State of Colorado and in particular the State water Engineer will go before O. John Kuenhold in Alamosa in case that may take six weeks to decide. But a status conference, where some of the oral arguments will be presented, will be held on November 8.

Ever since Mr. Boyce bought the Cotton Creek Ranch in late 2003 for $4m plus, the speculation has always been that he plans another water development project. When Mr. Boyce, through his companies SLV Water Company, Cotton Creek Circles, LLC, and the lobby group Colorado Home Owners Association, filed suit against the state last year when the new water regulations for the confined aquifer below the San Luis Valley were promulgated, it was much akin to firing a shot across the bow of his enemies.

Whether Mr. Boyce is really serious about exporting the water which flows on top of or under the Cotton Creek Ranch, which he purchased with considerable water rights — but nothing like the water rights on the Baca Ranch, he has challenged the assumptions of the study which were used to create the water regulations. The lawsuit cited 26 opinions, many of them challenging the general assumptions on which the Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS) is based. The state regulations would protect the confined aquifer, ensuring that the water system in the San Luis Valley remain in balance.

The RGDSS study was a product of legislation passed in 1998, co-sponsored by then-Representative Lewis Entz (R-Mosca), now our state Senator, and former-State Senator Gigi Dennis, now our Secretary of State. The legislation was designed to find out more about how the confined aquifer works, how it is recharged, and if subsidence of the valley floor would occur if large amounts of water were pumped out of aquifer. The study was completed in 2004.

Bringing the lawsuit means to many that Mr. Boyce has something serious in mind. There was a time when Mr. Boyce was opposed to water exportation. He had a change of heart sometime from 1990-92. When asked in 1995 why water exportation mattered to him, notes indicate his reply was simply, “Water is gold.” So while the water on or under Cotton Creek Ranch is not enough for the heavy infrastructure investment by interested front range counties and cities right now, there could be a time in the future where it may prove economically viable.

Mr. Boyce may be gambling that this time is not too far off, so opposing any regulations, which could thwart his plans in the future, is worth the price of a costly lawsuit. When he purchased the Baca Ranch, he had to do it with partners to finance the project. This time he controls the source by himself and has all the time in the world.

Whether he wins the lawsuit or not remains to be seen. His opponents are organized and ready. They are some of the same people who fought him when he owned the Baca Ranch. They are the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Conejos Water District and the Rio Grande Water Users.

This is going to be quite some fight. Stay tuned.

Some information on the current lawsuit was gleaned from Ruth Heide’s article in the Valley Courier on Tuesday October 25, 2005.