In Colorado we are blessed with significant water resources, but those resources are finite. The demand for water continually increases as Colorado strives to sustain its people while protecting the environment, respecting wildlife and providing recreational opportunities. As Colorado identifies its water resources more thoroughly, we must also prioritize the use of those resources.
The Statewide Water Supply Initiative and Colorado’s Water Plan
The Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) is the foundation document that describes Colorado’s water challenges. Developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the SWSI determined that the gap between water supply and water demand is widening dramatically eventually putting Colorado’s economic vitality at risk.
In recent years, conservation initiatives have been implemented to make the state’s water go further and do more. Farmers have improved irrigation practices and many urban centers now recycle large amounts of residual water. Although conservation has yielded meaningful results, it is clear that conservation cannot provide the additional water supplies identified in the SWSI. The realization is causing great concern among state officials and water administrators. In 2013, Governor Hickenlooper issued a directive for the CWCB, the state’s water leadership and in conjunction with other state water agencies, to create a Colorado Water Plan.
Rio Grande River Basin & Beneficial Use
Colorado derives beneficial use from water inflows for irrigation and municipal water supplies. Including interstate compact deliveries to New Mexico and Texas, the average annual beneficial use of water from Rio Grande River Basin exceeds 2.47 million acre feet (AF).
The San Luis Valley Water Budget indicates that the amount of water available for additional beneficial use is approximately 1.42 million AF, a substantial amount
The San Luis Valley (SLV) stores water in two aquifers; the unconfined aquifer and confined aquifer. Each aquifer receives recharge water and both aquifers are renewable water sources.
The unconfined aquifer is the principal source of water for SLV domestic household wells and agriculture irrigation wells. The unconfined aquifer water storage capacity is approximately 60 million AF.
The confined aquifer is a water source much less utilized than the unconfined aquifer, even though the confined aquifer is 20 to 30 times larger than the unconfined and receives considerably more recharge water. The confined aquifer water storage capacity is reported to be 2 billion AF. Average annual recharge to the confined aquifer is 1.247 million AF.
RWR is proposing to develop 22,000 AF of water from the confined aquifer. State law requires, in the Rio Grande Basin, that when water is pumped out of its existing environment it must be replaced. Therefore, no new net pumping takes place. This is true of the Project.
RWR owns ranch lands with senior water rights but will purchase the remaining water rights from other individuals on a voluntary basis and to reach the desired retired amount of 22,000 AF. RWR will be purchasing water rights from willing sellers at above market value.
The development of only 2.5 percent of the water available for beneficial would create significant economic benefits for Colorado, the San Luis Valley and Valley agriculture.
Laws and Science
The Project requires approval of Colorado’s Division 3 Water Court in Alamosa. The court will carefully scrutinize the Project’s design to ensure compliance with the state’s stringent rules and regulations. Also, the court is mandated by state law to use the State Engineer’s RGDSS Groundwater Model to determine that the Project’s science is valid.