DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators wrote to the Interior and Agriculture secretaries this weekend opposing a proposal to export water out of the San Luis Valley to other parts of Colorado.
Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter Saturday saying they both oppose the proposal from Renewable Water Resources which would take water out of an aquifer in the San Luis Valley and send it elsewhere in the state.
Colorado Politics first reported news of the senators’ opposition.
“After hearing concerns from our San Luis Valley constituents about this proposal for months, the [Rio Grande Water Conservation] District’s letter from yesterday, and considering Colorado’s current exceptional drought, we both oppose this proposal,” the senators wrote.
About half of the valley was experiencing extreme drought conditions as of last week, and the area has seen drought conditions for most of the past year-plus.
The Rio Grande Water Conservation District wrote to Bennet and Hickenlooper on Feb. 18 asking them to oppose the proposal from the company.
“Because the citizens of the San Luis Valley are already involved with a massive effort to actually reduce the total amount of water withdrawn from the aquifers underlying the Valley to ensure that the resource is sustainable for both future generations and the environment for all time, it seems particularly inappropriate for anyone to entertain a new scheme to increase the use of this resource, when the opposite reaction would seem more appropriate,” wrote Greg Higel, the president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
The letter says the district’s board, which is appointed by the five county commissions in the San Luis Valley, unanimously opposes the proposal, and commissioners have told Douglas County – one of the counties considering trying to receive the water, as the Alamosa Citizen reported – that they are opposed to the proposal.
The aquifer sits underneath Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the Closed Basin Project. The senators, in their letter, also called for Haaland and Vilsack to consider the Wirth Amendment if the proposal continues to move forward.
That law, passed in 1992, says that no U.S. agency should allow water to be taken out of the San Luis Valley to another basin unless that project doesn’t increase costs or negatively affect operation of the Closed Basin Project, affect a national wildlife refuge, or affect the purposes of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.
“We highlight this law because of its relevance to the San Luis Valley and an elevated standard of review for any project that might adversely affect Great Sand Dunes National Park, Closed Basin Project, Baca National Wildlife Refuge,” the senators wrote.
Bennet had also opposed a similar proposal in 2014 along with then-Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and former Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Republicans.