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Douglas Co. commissioners decide not to use ARPA money on San Luis Valley water proposal

Commissioners don't rule out future movement on project
san luis valley
Posted at 4:58 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 07:31:42-04

DENVER – Douglas County commissioners have decided, for the time being, not to move forward with the plan to use American Rescue Plan Act money on a controversial project to pipe water out of the San Luis Valley.

The board made the decision at Tuesday’s board work session, and the board issued a press release confirming the decision. The Douglas County News-Press first reported the board’s decision.

The board said it would not move forward for now with using the federal dollars for the proposal from Renewable Water Resources (RWR) based on legal recommendations made by Burns, Figa & Will attorneys, which found ARPA funds couldn’t be used for the proposal “and that RWR has significant additional hurdles to overcome in order to demonstrate not only a ‘do no harm approach, but also a ‘win-win’ for Douglas County and the San Luis Valley.

“That said, Douglas County welcomes ongoing discussions with RWR, should they be able to provide new information or otherwise overcome these hurdles,” the news release from the commissioners said. “Douglas County greatly appreciates this significant public engagement on all sides of this issue.”

The plans for the project would have brought 22,000 acre-feet of water each year from the San Luis Valley to Douglas County, which has angered residents in the valley who say their water resources are already nearly dried up after years of drought.

Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, wrote to the Interior and Agriculture secretaries in February in opposition to the proposal, and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District had asked them to oppose it.

“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citizens of the San Luis Valley are already involved with a massive effort to actually reduce the total amount of water withdrawn from the aquifers underlying the Valley to ensure that the resource is sustainable for both future generations and the environment for all time, it seems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 district’s board, appointed by the five county commissions in the San Luis Valley, also unanimously opposed the proposal.

Burns, Figa & Will issued a memo to commissioners in late March saying the proposal would not be eligible for ARPA funds, along with 25 other legal conclusions that talked about how difficult it would be to accomplish the project and some of the issues surrounding it.

They issued another memo on May 2 to commissioners, which detailed further meetings with RWR, local officials, the Interior Department, and ranchers and water rights officials, among a host of other topics tied to the proposal.

And the memo’s conclusion said the new meetings and information “have not changed any of the conclusions expressed in our March 23 memorandum.”

“We cannot recommend acceptance of RWR’s proposal at this time; the recent meetings have confirmed the major impediments to the completion of this project,” the firm wrote in its memo. “The two reasonable options would be to (1) reject the proposal; or (2) continue discussions with RWR (and perhaps other interested parties in Douglas County and/or the San Luis Valley) to see if agreement can be reached on an acceptable proposal.”