A Matter of 10,000 Acre-Feet

As many are aware, the Animas-La Plata (A-LP) project, which was authorized in 1968 through the Colorado River Basin Storage Project Act at 191,200 acre-feet (AF) of depletion[1], was reduced to 57,100 AF in 2000 as part as part of the Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act. As former Senator Jim Isgar put it at the November 2007 topped-out ceremony, “This is not the project that we had envisioned. Originally it was going to be an irrigation project; it would have put water out on the west side of La Plata County and it would have allowed us to keep the bulk of that land in irrigation.”

Current shares of Project water are illustrated in Figure 1 and divided between the: A-LP Water Conservancy District, La Plata Water Conservation District (NM), Navajo Nation, San Juan Water Commission (NM), State of Colorado, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe.
Figure 1. Allocations of A-LP Project Water

As indicated above, the State of Colorado acquired an option for 5,230 AF of depletion as part of the modified agreement. This project allocation became available in lieu of irrigation water that was lost when the Project size was reduced. Currently the CWCB is reviewing how the State may utilize this water supply. They have until the final cost allocation in 2012 or 2013 to make their decision. The State has the option of entering into a repayment contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to purchase all or a portion of its’ Project water allocation. If the State elects not to purchase any portion of its water, the remaining water would be reallocated equally between the two Ute Tribes. According to a letter from the La Plata West Water Authority, “It is important for the state to explore all options for retaining the water to help maintain a broad diversity of ownership of ALP water.”
A complete market analysis is pending and will likely be complete by January 2010. In the spring of 2009, the State received letters from the La Plata Archuleta Water Conservancy District expressing an interest in purchasing between 500 and 1,000 AF of the State’s allocation, and from the La Plata West Water Authority indicating an interest in acquiring additional water. The State is also being strongly encouraged to acquire its share, or a portion of the allocation, of ALP water by the Southwestern Water Conservation District—owners of the water rights. As Senator Bruce Whitehead, SWCD Program Director, stated “The State has one shot at acquiring this water.” Whitehead believes “that given the true cost of water we’re dealing with in this State, the ALP water is an economic value that would be a valuable supply of water to meet future demands.” Randy Seaholm, recently retired Chief of the CWCB Water Supply Protection, noted that “The State has never been in the position of a water provider for municipal or agricultural purposes, but solely for fishery and recreation uses.” Whitehead noted that “The State already owns water rights that are decreed for multiple uses, including irrigation.”
In a memo from Seaholm, there is “Strong support for Colorado to purchase its ALP water allocation” and “A clear indication that the State should purchase at least a portion of its allocation. However, the willingness and ability of any of the entities to subcontract for a portion of the State’s allocation is unknown.” Related to the latter point and given the State’s budget restrictions and caps, their ability to pay for the water is also in question. The discussion is on-going, and the market analysis study being conducted by the CWCB, with input provided by local water entities and suppliers, will assist the State in making an informed decision about the Animas-La Plata Project allocation.

[1] Depletion is defined as the amount of water fully consumed by use or evaporation.  Supply water is defined as the total amount of water available and includes consumptive use and the return flow component.