Commissioners will release legal memo with decision on water proposal

Timeframe on decision not yet announced


Following an hour-long closed-door meeting with legal counsel, Douglas County commissioners decided they will release a redacted version of two legal memos regarding a controversial water proposal at the same time they announce their decision on the plan.

The commissioners did not provide a timeframe for when the decision will be announced.

The commissioners have been considering the project, proposed by a private company called Renewable Water Resources, for about five months, including seven informational sessions to learn more about the proposal.

The memos at question include legal recommendations from the county's outside counsel, Steve Leonhardt, who was hired specifically to assess the water proposal. 

On May 9, commissioners met in another executive session, or closed-door meeting, to discuss the release of the memo. They voted to direct staff to prepare a version of the memo that redacted identifying details for people referenced in the memo and information that “could cause potential harm to the county’s legal interests."

Executive sessions  are permitted for governmental bodies for certain discussions, including to receive legal counsel. They are not allowed to make decisions in the closed-door meetings. Votes have to be held in a public session.

During the public portion of the May 12 meeting, Commissioner Abe Laydon said a “large majority of that legal advice would be provided to the public.”

The project proposes pumping about 22,000 acre-feet of water per year from wells in the San Luis Valley and piping it to Douglas County. RWR has said that would provide enough water for about 70,000 Douglas County households.

The company has asked for a $10 million initial investment from the county. If the project moves forward and is approved in water court, there will be a rate of $19,500 per acre-foot. 

Ranchers and water districts in the San Luis Valley, along with politicians across the political spectrum, have come out against the project, saying the project would irreparably damage the agricultural community in the valley. 

Those who have come out against the project include the San Luis Valley Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, Rep. Cleave Simpson, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet. 

Commissioner Lora Thomas has said she is against the proposal and Commissioner Goerge Teal has said he is in favor. Commissioner Abe Laydon has not yet announced how he will vote.

Thomas was recently suspended from her position as co-chair of the commissioners in part for asking for information about who from the San Luis Valley Laydon met with to hear about the proposal.

Commissioner George Teal said in the May 9 meeting that he believes the value of the memo could be diminished “were we to release the entire document.”

Thomas voted against the May 12 decision because she said she wanted to see the memo released immediately.

Renewable Water Resources, RWR, Douglas County, San Luis Valley, Elliott Wenzler


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