Lack of openness, science prompts aug plan concerns

 

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For the third time, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, based in Salida, has filed an augmentation plan that uses Wet Mountain Valley water. San Isabel Land Protection Trust opposes this action in order to protect water resources on our conservation easements.

The augmentation plan aims to replace water use that damages senior surface water rights. The plan can augment depletions from household wells, commercial wells, pond evaporation and surface water diversions. Augmentation water can be used to replace depletions in Custer County and beyond. It also can be traded up and down the Arkansas River through complex water exchanges.

When a well owner purchases augmentation shares, water does not come to their property. The actual water goes to senior surface water rights holders. There is no guarantee an individual well will produce water or that it will not dry up over time.  In fact, augmented wells in fractured rock areas can significantly increase the probability of drying up neighboring wells. 

Our opposition comes down to a few issues. The district once again failed to communicate with Custer County officials and residents, as well as many in southern Fremont County, as it did in its two previous attempts. Those attempts were withdrawn due to opposition from landowners in this region. This third attempt has drawn more than 50 protests from water rights holders and other interested parties in the affected areas. 

Colorado water law protects surface water rights but is lacking when it comes to subsurface water and aquifers. According to U.S. Geological Survey staff, there is no information on the nature and behavior of the fractured rock aquifers inside the augmentation zone. To our knowledge, the district is not publicly pursuing such studies. Thus, the basic science needed to evaluate the nature and magnitude of potential injury caused by this augmentation plan is not being developed. Prior to a water court decree, it is the district’s burden to demonstrate that no injury will occur. Once an augmentation plan is decreed by water court, the burden of proof shifts to the injured party, necessitating expenditures for legal and engineering fees far beyond what most landowners could afford.

Many of our conservation property owners have experienced injury to subsurface water supplies over the years due to excessive well drilling, coupled with a pervasive drought. Three of the driest years ever recorded for Colorado have occurred since 2002. The hard-working people and landowners of this region deserve an open, honest and science-based process that can stand the light of day. We are committed to collaborative work for the common good. This augmentation plan – weak on science, launched in secrecy and adversarial in nature – is not the way to wisely steward water, which is the lifeblood of our communities, economies, landscape and future.

Larry Vickerman, president

San Isabel Land Protection Trust Board of Directors

Larry Vickerman

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  • “Because San Isabel is pro-agriculture, we were able to work closely with them to craft the contract we felt comfortable with. It allows us to capture revenue off the land while still living on it and maintaining full autonomy of ownership.”

    – Elin Parker Ganschow, Music Meadows Ranch and Sangres Best