Peak & Prairie
October / November 1998
Sierra Club Opposes Initiatives on San Luis Valley Water
by Steve Glazer, Chapter Water Resources Chair
Two initiatives on the November ballot would hurt water users in the San Luis Valley and expedite export of the valley's water to the Front Range. The Sierra Club urges a no vote on Amendments 15 and 16.
The initiatives are being promoted by Stockman's Water Company (Gary Boyce and Jaris Danielson), which wants to pump up to 150,000 acre feet of groundwater from the Valley and divert and sell it to the Front Range. Stockman's proposal is opposed by residents and farmers in the valley, those who understand the damage it would do to agriculture in the valley and most of the legislature, so the company is trying to side-step the opposition by persuading the voters of the entire state to override it.
The Closed Basin Project stands in the way of Stockman's scheme. Closed Basin was built by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Rio Grande River Water Conservation District, to help Colorado meet its water delivery obligations to New Mexico and Texas under the Rio Grande River Compact, which was signed in 1938, without causing harm to the San Luis Valley. The intent of both Amendments 15 and 16 is to bankrupt the district and the farmers and thereby destroy the Closed Basin Project, allowing the water to be transferred out of the valley.
The two initiatives would have the following effects:
Amendment 15 would require groundwater users in the San Luis Valley to have flow meters installed, certified by the state engineer and read monthly by the engineer at the well owner's expense. This would cost close to $1 million, according to the Department of Local Affairs, yet there are less costly and equally reliable measurement methods that have been approved by the state engineer and water courts for use across the state.
Amendment 16 would amend the Colorado State Constitution to tax groundwater pumped from state trust lands in the valley at $40 an acre foot and require payments retroactive to 1987. The state land board does not charge fees to water users on any of its land anywhere else in the state. This amendment would create an unfair tax on the farmers of the valley.
This year the legislature passed HB 1011, calling for a study of the complex and unique aquifer of the valley, to ensure that pumping of groundwater would not reduce the water table, drying up native vegetation and streams. The results of this study are likely to doom the Stockman's Water Project. Gary Boyce has indicated that he intends to spend $2 million to pass his initiatives, to preempt the HB 1011 study.
What You Can Do:
To assist the campaign to oppose these two initiatives, contact Chuck Ford or Colin Kennedy with Citizens for Colorado's Water at 303-860-0733.