DONATE

Listen Now

       

Water is a community asset

One of the most controversial pieces of real estate in the San Luis Valley isn't because of anything it's got above ground, but because of the water below it. Renewable Water Resources, also know as RWR, is a group of water developers, engineers, lawyers, and a former Colorado governor. They're proposing to take water from the valley and transport it over the mountains to a willing buyer.

So how is it decided where the water goes and what it can be used for? The answer lies in the history of water rights.

First in time, first in right

For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples and tribes lived throughout Colorado. In the 1600s, Spanish colonists began expanding into the territory, followed by other European explorers, settlers, and miners. And with all that settlement came the need for water and a way to manage it. Enter the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, a system that determines how water rights are granted.

Colorado is a headwater state for four major watersheds that begin up in the Rocky Mountains. But eighteen other states also rely on that water. According to prior appropriation, whoever claimed the water first is first in line to get water. But determining who came first across all these different areas is a recipe for conflict. 

A balancing act

Today, water is out of balance in the San Luis Valley. Over time it has become apparent that too many people were taking water out, especially as the valley continued to grow. It's a big task to figure out how to balance who receives water and how much, while making sure water supplies are well-distributed to rights holders across the state.

Many of these discussions center around agriculture because it represents the biggest share of water used. But if everyone looks to agriculture to tighten their belt, what does that mean for keeping food on the table and supporting a way of life for many Coloradans? 

Chris Canaly, Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
James Eklund, Attorney, Sherman & Howard
Heather Dutton, Manager, San Luis Valley Water Conservation District
Kevin Rein, State Engineer and Director of the Division of Water Resources, Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Greg Brophy, Political Activist and Farmer

Further Reading

"Citizen's Guide to Colorado Water Law," Water Education Colorado, 2021.

"100 years after the Colorado River Compact, the Southwest is nearing a crisis point," The Colorado Sun, September 19, 2022.

Continue Exploring This Series

All Episodes