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San Luis Valley fares well with water funding

Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16th, 2013

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — Money is flowing to water, instead of the other way around, in the San Luis Valley.

So far the Rio Grande Basin has collected the most money from the severance tax-supported Water Supply Reserve Account, administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with more than $6.5 million in approved state grants and more than $1.6 million in basin-allocated funds since the program’s inception several years ago.

Those funds have gone towards everything from designs to canal restoration and ditch head gate replacement.

This month the local Rio Grande Roundtable, a group representing various water interests in the basin, decided to send five more projects to the state for funding. If the state board approves these requests during the March Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting, Valley water projects will see another approximately $2 million from statewide water funds, plus $195,000 from the basin funds.

“Twenty-four percent of the statewide account has been allocated to this basin,” said re-elected Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson. “We should be very proud of that.”

He and other members of the roundtable said the reason this basin has fared so well is because it has proposed so many great projects.

“We believe all our projects are good. They have validity,” Gibson said.

However, Gibson and others said the funds coming in from severance taxes are less than in the past, so the competition is going to be keener in the future for statewide funds.

Currently the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable funds show a balance of about $141,000, which would not be enough to cover the $195,000 in requests made to it this month. However, more funding is expected later this month.

The same is true for the statewide account, which had a balance of about $3 million. If the state only has $3 million in March to allocate to water projects all over Colorado, and this basin is requesting $2 million of that, not all of the projects going forward this spring might be funded during this cycle. Some could be postponed until the September meeting of the state water board.

“It’s getting more and more competitive,” Gibson said. “This basin’s been extremely fortunate in the past. We’ve got good projects that have been funded. We’ve got good projects that have been completed. We’ve got good projects that are still underway, but we need to think about reality. If you were on the CWCB board would you be willing to give two-thirds of the account remaining in the statewide account to us when we have been able to dip into that pocket the deepest?”

CWCB staffer Greg Johnson said that has not been an issue in the past, and he did not know how much that might enter into the CWCB’s discussions in the future. He said it might depend on how much competition there is for the funding.

Roundtable and CWCB member Travis Smith said the board has criteria and guidelines in place to judge all of the projects coming in from around the state, and those will be crucial in determining the best projects for funding when there is not enough money to fund them all.

“Our projects are good projects so I am anticipating we are going to have success,” he said.”

He said the Rio Grande Basin has only had one project denied in the years since the roundtables have been submitting projects, and that project was amended, re-submitted and ultimately approved.

Gibson said roundtable members and project proponents need to fill the room in March to demonstrate their support when the projects from the January meeting go before the CWCB.

Re-elected Roundtable Vice-chairman Rio de la Vista suggested the roundtable might need to prioritize its projects in the event not all of them receive funding in March. The roundtable members might need to choose which projects could be put off until the September CWCB meeting.

Gibson said the roundtable might know more about what its competition is from the rest of the state before the March meeting.

Johnson said although the state funding has been cut significantly, “the good news is we do have a little bit more than we thought we did.”

The state account will have a balance in March of $4.5 million, rather than the $3 million that was anticipated, he said.

Johnson acknowledged the Rio Grande Basin has received a big piece of the pie. He said he did not know all of the other projects that might be coming from other basins requesting funding in March but was aware of a $400,000 request leftover from last September. He said other roundtables had funding projects coming before them they had not yet approved to send forward to the state.

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