Time to come together to address county’s water future

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To be clear, investing in water infrastructure and securing our county’s long-term water needs is, in fact, a responsibility of your county government.

Douglas County Policy states: “There is no higher priority for the Douglas County Commissioners than partnering with our water providers to secure dependable and sustainable water supply — our focus for more than a decade to make sure there’s water today and for generations to come.” Just Google “Douglas County Colorado Water,” those are the first words you will read on the County’s Water Resources page.

And our county residents agree; they consistently put “water” as a top-two agenda item in our community surveys and I am committed to doing the work to that end.

Your commissioners recently held an open house to discuss the allocation of $68 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and were very pleased by the outpouring of support in addressing the county’s long-term water requirements while also investing in much-needed renewable infrastructure and continued conservation efforts.

And your county leadership has been wisely focused on our water needs for years.

But we are over-reliant on the non-renewable Denver aquifer and every water expert, including the State Water Engineer, has encouraged us and every municipal government to seek other sources.

By coming together now, and with the right approach for all of Douglas County, we can develop a guaranteed water solution that will serve our county now and for decades to come.

So, as we begin this conversation, I expect us all to avoid thoughtless hyperbole and rise above unverified and knee-jerk tropes, political dog whistles and tired talking points. This issue is complex, and we all deserve facts, not fear.

To that point: one very intriguing public/private partnership has been proposed to the county by Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a company comprised of respected state leaders and water experts, including several Douglas County residents, our own neighbors, who live here and work here.

Simply put, the project proposes to acquire a significant amount of renewable, high-quality water to meet our county’s needs for decades to come. The county would be a partner by locking-in a purchase price at less than half of the current rate, per acre-foot, of water. Our investment secures the water rights and our profit would be the reduced rate (in perpetuity) for that water.  

The vital resource would come from exporting just 2.5% of the water that recharges (or refills) into the San Luis Valley. That’s a huge contrast to the non-renewable Denver aquifer we rely on today and would provide us with a reliable and predictable primary water source for our future.

And though this is just one of the proposals that was submitted for ARPA funding consideration, it has unfairly become the target for some political attacks aimed at preventing the county from fairly considering its merits.

Here are the facts:

Water experts throughout the state report there is more than 1 million acre-feet that can be re-appropriated in the San Luis Valley. The RWR proposal is focused on just 2.5% of that amount.

The RWR plan would allow us to purchase Primary Water Rights; not Junior Water Rights that could be interrupted during dry years, when we need that water the most.

And Douglas County wouldn’t “take water”. In fact, the RWR plan is based on using water provided to us by willing sellers, not speculators or middlemen. In Colorado, we don’t “take” water. But it absolutely can be bought and sold via the constitutional and state-protected water rights of private property owners. The proof of that is flowing from your faucets today.

As commissioner, it’s my job to get the facts and report those truths to the people of Douglas County, whom I am honored and privileged to represent.

I am interested in a robust, fact-based conversation about our water future, to include innovation, conservation, and out-of-the-box thinking. I will listen to any idea that offers a path forward while protecting our Western way of life and fulfilling our commitment to our families and community, while also supporting our job-creating economy.

I’m confident, working with our partners and neighbors, we will secure a reliable water future we can all count on.

George Teal is a Douglas County commissioner representing District 2.

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