The Crestone Eagle • May, 2020

Saguache County accepts RGWCD funding to update land use regulations for water projects

by Lisa Cyriacks

In the interest of protecting the San Luis Valley’s water resources, Saguache County has entered into an agreement with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) to accept funding for updating the County’s 1041 regulations. The funds will be used to pay Gerald Dahl, an attorney with extensive experience in drafting 1041 Regulations, to review and propose updates to the existing regulations.

Concerned about adverse impact of a water export project valley-wide, the RGWCD passed a motion early in 2019 opposing the proposal from Renewable Water Resources to export water from the Rio Grande Basin.

The Commissioners will review a draft of the proposed changes and make a decision on the adoption of changes sometime this summer.

In 2019 Renewable Water Resources’ managing partner, Sean Tonner, spent many hours pitching the benefits of his project to export water, and how the project could offset that impact with a $50 million community fund for Saguache County residents.

This proposal to export water comes at a time when Saguache County water rights holders, ranchers and farmers question whether the current demand for water in the county exceeds the supply. Would a water export proposal further deplete the aquifer? Is it viable?

Saguache County has existing 1041 regulations that allow for oversight of proposed development of water projects like the one proposed by Renewable Water Resources. While the regulations cannot be completely prohibitive, they can require designated conditions prior to construction. Saguache County’s Regulations for Areas and Activities of Statewide Interest (aka 1041 Regulations) were originally drafted and adopted in 1990.

Renewable Water Resources is not the first attempt to extract water from the Rio Grande Basin for the benefit of Front Range water users.

Historically, AWDI lost its fight in the courts to export water from the Basin. As a result of that court case the State adopted new use rules based on the engineering study showing that there is no unappropriated water left in the unconfined aquifer underlying the San Luis Valley.

In 1998 Stockman’s Water targeted the same aquifer and water resources, at that time promising a $3 million trust fund for Saguache County and environmental benefits.

Both efforts were opposed successfully by valley residents including Christine Canaly, Executive Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.

As with previous export proposals (AWDI and Stockman’s Water), the question remains: How much water is really in the aquifer? There are two aquifers that lie beneath the valley floor. One is the confined aquifer that is trapped below a series of clay lenses deep beneath the valley floor. The other is the unconfined aquifer that is generally found within the first 100’ of the surface.