From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
Chief District Judge Pattie Swift on Thursday decided some of the pending motions in the water cases involving the San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district operating plan and the state’s approval of it. She scheduled another hearing for October 24 to deal with more of the pending motions and is still planning to go forward with the scheduled October 29th trial to hear evidence and testimony.
This is the first year of operation for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District sponsored sub-district that involves hundreds of irrigators in the Valley’s closed basin area north of the Rio Grande. The sub-district was designed to repair injuries to senior surface water rights and replenish the Valley’s aquifers, and to that end the sub-district board developed an annual replacement plan for this year.
Objectors asked the court to invoke retained jurisdiction over the sub-district and deal with concerns they have over its first annual replacement plan. Judge Swift earlier this summer denied a motion from objectors that would have shut down wells in the sub-district until concerns over the operating plan were resolved.
Given that decision by the court, the objectors recently filed a motion to amend their invocation to retain jurisdiction and asked the judge to vacate the trial. Sub-district supporters and the state engineer’s office asked the judge to make an immediate decision on these motions and argued in favor of going forward with the trial.
Since the trial is scheduled for the end of this month, Judge Swift agreed to make a quick decision.
“The objectors seek to amend their claims, to remove them from consideration of the court and vacate the trial because they believe the primary issues remaining to be determined are contained within the amended motion before the court,” Judge Swift summed up the situation Thursday afternoon in court.
She said there are two motions for summary judgment: 1) concerning augmentation plan wells; and 2) concerning the Closed Basin Project.
Two other motions are also outstanding: 1) to strike expert witness designations and reports; and 2) to appoint a special master…
Also on Thursday, Judge Swift ruled on the objectors’ motion opposing the use of Closed Basin Project water for replacement water for the sub-district. She denied the objectors’ motion, “as I find there are disputed issues of material fact that must be determined to decide whether the Closed Basin Project water is adequate and suitable to prevent injuries to senior water rights under the district plan.”
The judge outlined objectors’ concerns with Closed Basin Project water being used to replace injurious depletions to senior water rights, with the objectors arguing that the 1963 Closed Basin Project itself represented a junior water right that in the priority system of water administration was causing injury to senior water rights so could not be used to replace injurious depletions in the sub-district…
Also on Thursday the judge asked attorneys from both sides to give her some guidance by Friday, Oct. 19 on how they believed the retained jurisdiction process should work. She said she saw the court’s primary functions in its retained jurisdiction over the sub-district as reviewing: 1) whether the plan of water management is operated in conformance with the terms of the court’s decree; and 2) whether injury is prevented in conformity with the court’s decree.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
Water Court Judge Pattie Swift ruled Thursday that opponents of a groundwater plan could withdraw some of their claims if they were willing to pay the attorney costs for the supporters. The court has scheduled a five-day trial beginning Oct. 29 to examine the state’s approval of a plan that laid out how groundwater irrigators in the north-central part of the San Luis Valley would mitigate the harm their pumping caused to senior surface water rights owners during the current irrigation season. One group of objectors made up of surface water users in the southwestern and northwestern parts of the valley had asked the court to rule on their clams without trial in the name of saving time and expense.
But Swift pointed to one issue — the proposed use of groundwater from the federal Closed Basin Project as a source of replacement water for the plan— as one that could not be resolved without trial. “I can only decide that issue after hearing evidence,” she said.
Opponents have argued against the plan’s call to use up to 2,500 acre-feet of water from the project, which pumps groundwater on the east side of the valley and sends it to the Rio Grande to help the state comply with the downstream obligations to Texas and New Mexico.
The opponents have until Tuesday to inform the court of whether they will withdraw any of their claims.