There was a time when the San Luis Valley was the envy of Colorado. When you entered from the north there was standing water in the barrow ditches, the fields were saturated with sub-water and everything was green as you drove through the San Luis Valley. We were readily bringing new circles into production, and the valley was pumping.
With the settlement of AWDI everyone was feeling secure about the water situation and then the change happened. The 2002 drought helped served as change maker that brought on depletions to the valleys lucrative water stores. Producers did what they had always done, except with less surface water users began to pump even more ground water. It was all that could be done; the investment in an agriculture crop is steep in the forefront, with investments in seed and fertilizer having to be made long before the irrigation season arrives. So, like a glass the waitress forgets to refill the results were dramatic. The aquifer dropped by approximately 800,000 acre feet.
The aquifer depletions were growing and in the subsequent years replacement has been difficult. With the mountains snow storages feeding a dry system the replacement of those depletions is an arduous process. The concerns over aquifer depletion still growing the State of Colorado stepped in and recognized that these depletions were injurious to surface water right holders. Since, Colorado water is a separate property right there was much interest in resolving the problem. From that need was born the idea that a local solution should be sought and so the “sub-district” idea came to life.
The Sub-districts are local water units that are made up of local property owners, who must collectively work together to diminish the storage issues. With the formation of “Sub-district #1” the work really started. This area encompasses what is known as the closed basin and is home to lucrative production farms, that each has a variety of water rights. The plan calls for a market based approach to reduce water consumption, the establishment of areas of common interest and water use and then to levy fee’s based upon the benefit the land receives. With local governance the idea is to allow for pro-active participation by users. The plan does include scheduled fallowing through the CRP program. If successful the sub-districts should accomplish the following compensate for injurious depletions without impacting the Rio Grande Compact and sustain the aquifers.
The alternative is state regulated ground water reduction which has happened in other basins the South Platte basin experienced court ordered well regulation, which meant well shut down after failure to resolve injurious depletions. The Arkansas has also seen well regulation to satisfy compact requirements. As for the Rio Grande basin we are under pending the well regulation use rules, awaiting the final decision by the Supreme Court to objectors in the sub-district case. If ruled upon favorably then SB04-222 will move forward and allow the operation Sub-district #1, this will then pave the way for other sub-districts in Conejos, Trinchera, San Luis, Sagauche, South Rio Grande, La Jara and Alamosa.
Where the dust will settle on this issue is in the courts hands. One thing is for sure change is in the wind!
As always, I welcome your comments and or questions on this article. Thanks for reading!