With assurances Denver would not be coming after San Luis Valley water in the near future, the Rio Grande Roundtable this week approved $10,000 to support a south metro Denver area water project.
The decision was not unanimous, however, with opposing votes coming from Juanita Martinez, who represents Costilla County water groups, Ron Brink, who is an Alamosa County representative on the roundtable, and Gene Farish, attorney for multiple municipalities in the Valley.
Sixteen other members of the roundtable voted to support the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project with $10,000 from the funds allocated to the Rio Grande Basin. The other basin roundtable boards throughout the state have financially supported the project, which will recycle water from the Denver and Aurora water systems to south metro water providers and their customers.
The treatment plant for the project will cost about $6.5 million. The south metro water providers have already purchased pipeline to transport water from the Denver and Aurora systems to southern metro areas like Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.
Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, made the initial presentation for the $10,000 request to the roundtable in January and made the formal request to the board this week. He said this project would reduce the draw on nonrenewable groundwater resources that have traditionally supplied the southern metro communities.
He said the project would also reduce the metro areas’ need to look to agricultural transfers or other basins for water supplies.
Hecox stressed that the water providers he represented were not after Valley water, and if they did look to other water sources outside of Denver, it would be the Colorado River system or South Platte, not the Rio Grande system.
It’s been proposed to move San Luis Valley water in the past,” he said. “There’s water projects proposed . We have not had any discussions with them. Our members have not had any discussions with them. The planning work we are doing is looking at basin solutions in the South Platte Basin or other partnerships with has support from throughout the state.
She said even though the basin might only be providing $10,000, “what you are getting is a lot more good will for yourselves “you are getting a good standing.”
She explained to Hecox that irrigating in the area she represents is still accomplished through shovels and opening irrigation ditches, and although she was fascinated by this project , which would use “left over discarded water,” she was skeptical about it.
She said she was opposed to the motion for funding, and everyone she spoke to in her county told her to not even consider it. She pointed to the Arkansas Valley where farmland has been dried up so people in the Denver area can have nice lawns and golf courses.
“It’s almost like a ghost town driving through there. It’s sad and it breaks everybody’s heart,” she said. “It’s even hard to talk about.”
Brink, who also voted against the funding, said the Denver area does not even recognize the Valley “except when they want some money or water.”
He added, “I am totally against this.”
Hecox said the project was not asking much money from the basin roundtables across the state, but one of the reasons for seeking some support from them Denver.”
Martinez said if the metro water group had no interest in the Valley’s water, then it must water “our good name” to show that it was to show cross-basin cooperation. He added that the metro water providers were trying to find solutions that would use renewable supplies, such as those from Denver and Aurora, rather than continuing to deplete nonrenewable supplies. He said the communities served by the south metro providers have also implemented significant amounts of conservation programs.
“That will go on and continue to reduce outside irrigation in south metro,” he said.
He said conservation efforts have reduced per capita water use by 30 percent over the last 10-15 years.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver said he had raised concerns about supporting this project when it was initially presented, and the concern about “completing the loop” that would make it easier to export Valley water to the Denver area was still a concern of his.
However, he said after speaking further with Hecox, he believed the metro water authority had the Valley’s best interest in mind.
“They have convinced me that the project as it exists today is going to delay the need for outside supplies outside of the South Platte Basin,” he said.
Roundtable member Dale Pizel said, “There’s obviously some distrust between the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, for good reason, because we have been beaten up pretty good and had to fight off some pretty serious battles, but if we don’t solve Denver’s water problem, it’s going to keep coming back, “They are going to keep coming after our water.”
He said the Valley water leaders needed to put their distrust aside and help Denver and the Front Range solve their water problems so they don’t come after the Valley’s water.
Roundtable member Judy Lopez agreed. She commended the Denver area water providers for working together to address their water needs among themselves .
Vandiver said this project would be built whether or not it receives the Valley’s support. He wanted the minutes to reflect that the Valley supported the project with some reservation and concerns.
“We do this with some trepidation but want to support these efficiencies and conservation efforts on the Front Range to try to keep the monkey off our back as long as we can,” he said.