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Valley groundwater rules still in the works

Posted: Thursday, Mar 7th, 2013

olorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe

Courier editor

MONTE VISTA — Although taking longer than anticipated, groundwater rules are still coming down for well users in the Rio Grande Basin, Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe told Rio Grande Water Users Association members Wednesday afternoon.

Wolfe said the computer groundwater model, the Rio Grande Decision Support System, is still being updated, and the new target date for that model to be ready to go is April. The San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district depended on the model calibrations to determine how much it owed senior surface water rights, and future sub-districts will depend on the model for those numbers as well.

Wolfe said he wanted to make sure the model could be used to accurately determine the amount of depletions each sub-district needed to replace to surface water rights before moving forward with the rules.

“We want to make sure it’s done right,” Wolfe said.

He added he would like the model to be ready in April, but if it still needs work, he would rather wait than use incomplete information.

“We have a lot of hours, man hours, and people working on getting the task accomplished,” he said.

“I am optimistic we are getting closer to final numbers.”

Wolfe said his office is dedicating as many resources as it can spare to this.

“Our staff is putting in a tremendous amount of hours.”

Wolfe added that he would accept criticism for the delay in getting the groundwater rules in place, but he did not want to be accused of giving someone the wrong information, so he would rather wait and be right than move more quickly using incorrect or incomplete data.

“We want to give you the best target to shoot at.”

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver said the model could have been completed more quickly if those working on it had not had to take time for court hearings and trials over the sub-district.

Vandiver said after the first sub-district was approved in 2006, two lawsuits were filed that bound up resources including engineers, modelers and attorneys. They have had to prepare for three major trials and a Supreme Court decision.

Those legal challenges were the reason the model has not been completed more quickly, Vandiver said.

Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock said he was proud of Wolfe for wanting to make sure the model was right before moving forward, especially since Wolfe is under such pressure to get groundwater rules in place.

“That’s what you want from your state engineer, someone who has got the backbone to say ‘I know you want me to do it quickly, and I want to do it quickly, but I am not going to do it quickly if I am not going to do it right’.”

As soon as the model is satisfactorily updated, the groundwater rules advisory committee will begin meeting again, Wolfe said. This group is now in its third year of working on the regulations, he added.

Two pieces of the regulations still need to be finalized, the phase-in portion and the sustainability portion, Wolfe said. The phase-in portion lets each sub-district get a plan of water management approved by the court and an annual operating plan in place.

The sustainability portion was difficult, Wolfe said, because the group had to determine how to measure sustainability.

Once the rules are completed, they will be submitted to the water court for final adoption, Wolfe said. If the rules are opposed, they will go through an appeal process, so the effective date of the rule implementation would depend on how quickly and smoothly that process went.

When the groundwater rules are in place, well users will either have to be part of a sub-district or develop their own plans of augmentation or substitute water supply plans, and if they are not covered by one of those options, their well pumping may be curtailed or shut down.

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