Crestone Eagle, September 2003:
Water Conservation District presents plan to preserve valley aquifer
by David Nicholas
idea of a sub-district within the five county Rio Grande Water
Conservation District (RGWCD) has been on the minds of water
administrators for the better part of this year.
On Thursday, August 21, Ray Wright, President of the RGWCD
formally announced the effort to garner public support for
a sub-district which would oversee the use of available water
in the agricultural sector.
The sub district comes within the Rio Grande Water Conservation
District. This concept is allowed by the district’s
water management plan, and would come about if more than 50
percent of the property owners, owning more than 50 percent
of the land irrigated (all or in part) by water wells within
the proposed district, petition the district court for the
A sub district would mean that the water conservation district,
covering five of the six San Luis Valley counties (Costilla
County is not included), would not be footing the bill for
a small area of this almost 8,000 square-mile alpine valley.
Wright said the sub district, which would include about 200,000
acres in the Closed Basin, would use a market-based approach
to reduce water consumption. Farmers would be assessed $5
an acre; those farmers using well water to irrigate would
be assessed another $5 an acre as a "delivery" fee.
Then there would be a variable fee, depending upon the crop
and the amount of water to irrigate it. That could increase
the assessment per acre as much as $23, for a total assessment
of $33 an acre.
The $2 million-$2.5 million raised each year from the assessment
would be used to manage the sub district and to pay farmers
to allow fields to remain fallow to save water.
Citing the prospect of a costly legal battle, a “water
war” pitting well and surface water users against each
other, Wright said, “It’s a brave new world of
farming here. If consumption continues and nothing is done,
farmers could go out of business and economic disaster could
He said his plan, being presented to the five ditch companies
in his area, isn’t the total solution to the problem
but could stabilize the aquifer in less time than a lawsuit,
that likely would shut down well usage, because surface water
rights are older and have first priority.
Wright, a conservative Republican and Chair of the powerful
Colorado Water Conservation Board, advocating a taxing process
(or fee, or whatever term you might use) in this instance,
could not come without much soul searching. But he has not
convinced many to his cause, which is why his predictions
are so dire.
His idea runs into opposition because surface water users,
who have priority rights over well users, would be required
to submit their adjudicated rights to an entity which will
curb their legal usage. Well users could continue to draw
water from the aquifer, which would be recharged from water
relinquished from surface water users.
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