By Helen Smith
Water history has been made in the San Luis Valley. Subdistrict number two has officially been approved by the Rio Grande County District Court. The hearing to determine the status of Subdistrict 2 took place on Feb. 23rd at the Rio Grande County Courthouse. Many of the individuals who have been involved in the process, particularly members of the Subdistrict number 2 workgroup were present. Other notables from the water community were also present including Division 3 Engineer, Craig Cotten. Once the hearing was called to order, three testimonies were given. These testimonies came from Cleave Simpson, Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager; Karla Shriver, Rio Grande County Commissioner; and Scot Schaffer. Each of the witnesses were questioned regarding the petition process that was conducted and the amount of support that the proposal received and the individuals that have been involved.
Cleave Simpson was the first to be called to the witness stand. Simpson testified that the entire petition process for the formation of Subdistrict 2 was an opt-in format. Meaning that participation from the landowners/water users is completely optional. In addition, the fact that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District facilitated the workgroup and circulated the petition was set as the basis for the continuation of the discussion. There were questions regarding the workgroups that have been formed as well. Mr. Simpson also pointed out that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District has made every effort to demonstrate to landowners/ water users that belonging to a Sub district is the most viable option for being able to irrigate and stay in compliance with the newly submitted Division 3 Groundwater Rules. Simpson also gave specifics regarding the willingness of the petitioners to participate and remain involved with the new board of managers.
Karla Shriver, Rio Grande County Commissioner was the second witness. Shriver testified that she has been a part of the workgroup for Sub district number 2 for the past ten years. Shriver also pointed out that the landowners involved consider these efforts highly important, especially since some the families represented are fourth generation farmers. The respective parties also recognized that forming a Subdistrict was the only viable option to stay in compliance with the recently filed Groundwater rules. Furthermore it became clear that the absence of a Subdistrict could have serious impacts economically. Shriver also expressed personal support for Subdistrict number 2 and made it clear that she is a firm believer in the petition and workgroup process and the opt-in format offered added incentive for participation. It became apparent over the course of the testimony that the individuals petitioning for Subdistrict number 2 have a great deal of personal investment in the process. Furthermore, it was obvious that this decision would have a significant impact on each of the respective farms in Subdistrict 2 regardless of the outcome. Shriver concluded her remarks with a request on behalf of the workgroup for Subdistrict number 2 asking that the court grant the petition.
Scot Schaffer was the third and final witness. Schaffer’s comments also evidenced clear support of Subdistrict 2. He also verified the facts that were presented by the documents and the subsequent results of the Subdistrict number 2 workgroup. Schaffer also noted that there had been no significant opposition.
The only issue that presented itself during the hearing was the fact that some of the lands that fall within the proposed boundaries of the Subdistrict had recently changed ownership. At the conclusion of the hearing, a ruling was postponed until there was an affirmation that they approved of the previous owners decision to be in the Subdistrict. The affirmation were needed for 7 properties. Once obtained they was given to the court and approval was granted and the petition was accepted as presented.
The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) is now facilitating the formation and function of a Board of Managers that will oversee the newly established entity and all of its irrigation monitoring requirements, as well as working to create a Plan of Water Management The district has begun accepting nominations for the Board of Managers for Subdistrict number 2. There are seven positions available and the deadline for nominations is March 31st.
The petition process is continuing for the remaining Subdistricts that have yet to obtain court approval. As well as getting petitions completed they are developing farm plans with property owner which outline the all the properties assets. There are deadlines for this process as well, Subdistrict number 3 is April 30, 2016; Subdistrict number 4 is January 1, 2017; Subdistrict number 5 is September 1, 2017; and Subdistrict number 6 is July 1, 2016. Much has been accomplished but there is more work ahead. More information can be obtained by contacting the Rio Grande Water Conservation District 719-589-6301 or by visiting their website at www.rgwcd.org.