Bennet, Hickenlooper oppose proposal to export water from San Luis Valley
Alamosa County, which includes the San Luis Valley, outside Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is pictured in this May 2016 photo. (Gates Frontiers Fund Colorado Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division/CC0 1.0)
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper oppose a proposal from Renewable Water Resources to export water from the San Luis Valley into Douglas County.
The Democratic senators sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, expressing opposition to the proposal from Colorado-based Renewable Water Resources. The proposal would transfer groundwater from underneath Great Sand Dunes National Park, Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the Closed Basin Project to Douglas County, at a time when the San Luis Valley is experiencing an unprecedented drought, according to a Monday statement from Bennet.
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“The San Luis Valley is experiencing unprecedented drought that has placed a severe demand on local water resources,” Bennet and Hickenlooper wrote in the letter. “Valley residents, including farmers, ranchers, and business owners, rely heavily on groundwater aquifers to support their economy and way of life. Since 2005, in response to this drought, local farmers have undertaken an ambitious, collaborative effort to reduce their own pumping with the goal of achieving sustainability. This export proposal continues to seek funding to move forward despite the fact it would exacerbate local water challenges, even with conservation efforts.”
The proposal has been supported by former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican.
The senators included in the letter part of the Wirth Amendment, which was passed in 1992 and created an elevated standard of environmental review for the transfer of groundwater out of the basin that may negatively affect public resources.
“On behalf of our San Luis Valley constituents and the water resources so critical to their economic future, we must oppose the Renewable Water Resources proposal,” the senators wrote, concluding the letter. Five counties in San Luis Valley opposed the proposal.
The San Luis Valley is in south-central Colorado, with a minor portion extending into New Mexico.
Bennet hand-delivered the letter to Haaland on Saturday, during Haaland’s visit to Colorado, according to the statement.
Bennet, along with former U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Cory Gardner, and former U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, wrote a letter in 2014 asking the government to review the same legislation when they were considering a similar groundwater export proposal.
The proposal comes at a time when Colorado is facing a climate crisis, with the Colorado River Basin’s dry spell being declared the region’s worst drought since 800 A.D., and Colorado lawmakers in opposition over the scientific consensus that climate change is real and is caused by human action.
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