The Crestone Eagle, June 2006:

R.G. Water Cons. District concerned about drought & water shortage
—may have to shut down or meter San Luis Valley wells

“Ongoing consumptive use, combined with drought, has compromised the re-charge of the aquifer.”
by Lisa Cyriacks

At a recent Saguache County Commissioners meeting, Steve Vandiver and George Whitten, of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), shared their concerns about the shortage of water. Below average rainfall, below normal snow pack, and cumulative dry conditions over several years have the District and the State Division of Water Resources concerned.

In a proactive step to promulgate rules and create a system that reduces water consumption and begins to re-charge the aquifer, the RGWCD is creating sub-districts in the San Luis Valley. This step is a community driven solution of farmers and ranchers trying to find ways to work together; not a State Water Resources mandate.

The RGWCD has been monitoring groundwater well levels for over thirty years. Steve Vandiver reported, “The reality is: we have bankrupted our water account. Many people are in denial of the seriousness of the water situation, and the condition of the aquifer. We are faced with shutting off wells—like it or not. Ongoing consumptive use, combined with drought has compromised the re-charge of the aquifer.”

The two RGWCD representatives met with the County Commissioners to inform them of the steps being taken to form a sub-district within Saguache County. The sub-district is primarily tied to Saguache Creek that flows into the Valley from the western slopes. The general boundaries would be County Road G, to the intersection of Highway 17 and US Highway 285 to the west of Highway 17.

Water users in that area would be asked to work together to formulate an equitable system by which they could self-regulate water use. Individual assessments could be used; with credits for water brought in (i.e. surface water rights) and debits for water taken out. In short, wells would be metered. The sub-district’s role would be to manage a service plan that would be to balance the number of acres in production with the amount of water realistically available; to re-charge the aquifer; and to assist water users to find options to buy surface water rights that could be used to augment the entire system.

George Whitten (RGWCD) stated. “We will see a real change in the Valley economy, as we deal with this water shortage. Agriculture will not be the same, as we face changes in water use.” He also spoke of the need to formulate a model, not just based on economics, but including environmental factors—finding a solution that protects stream corridors and wetlands, and enhancing the benefits of natural systems.

One of the more interesting aspects of water is its ability to defy human boundaries and human ownership. Water flows above ground and underground, in some mysterious ways. This mobility of water complicates human affairs on many levels. Neighbors tapping into the same aquifer for well water share a resource that has no relationship to property lines. Wastewater drains into streams or the soil, impacting plants, animals and humans over a large and often unpredictable area.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District is encouraging the creation of sub-districts in which water users can participate in monitoring water use and resolving problems, rather than litigation to resolve water fights—working to find balance in water use. Sometimes sustainable living requires a fundamental shift in values. When it comes to a precious resource such as water, sometimes it is less about carving out a niche for ourselves and more about asking the question, “How much is enough?”