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“Make it better…”

Updated: Mar 2

Blog post by Rio de la Vista

February 11, 2021

As the lyrics to the classic Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” go:


“Hey Jude, don't make it bad Take a sad song and make it better Remember to let her into your heart Then you can start to make it better.”


Most folks in the San Luis Valley understand what a “sad song” can be here. In other words, we know what it’s like to live in a dry place, and to experience severe drought. And we’ve also “let her into our hearts”; she being the land, the water, the beauty, and even the harshness and dryness and high winds that often prevail here in our high mountains and high valley. The Valley is embedded deep in many of our hearts. And the love of this place, the connection to home, called querencia in Spanish, drives us to keep trying to “make it better.”


At the same time, our water is often called our “life blood.” How important is our life blood? How long can we survive, let alone thrive, without our blood supply? Not long, as we all know.


So, is it any wonder that we feel protective of our water? Is it any wonder that we resist when people from outside the community come here to “make it bad?” Renewable Water Resources’ ambitions are just the latest in a long line of schemes, aiming to make profits for investors by removing water from beneath the Valley floor. Is it any wonder that we question their plan for an unnamed water provider on the Front Range to pay the immense cost of a pipeline to deliver Valley water to support development of even more homes there? Is it any wonder why we’ve worked for decades to put legal hurdles in the way of such water export maneuvers?


RWR is far from a community-based effort to make it better, regardless of their professional messaging campaign. In reality, and from a Valley community standpoint, removing water permanently from this basin would not benefit us in our current and future efforts to make it better. Thankfully, there are so many serious and diverse efforts already underway!


Conservation organizations like the local Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, statewide and national land trust partners like Colorado Open Lands, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and more, are all working to conserve land and water and sustain working ranches and farm. These same lands often encompass the river and stream corridors and wetlands that sustain our hydrology and wildlife habitat, along with the splendid beauty of these green ribbons of life.


Restoration efforts are also widespread. The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, Headwaters Alliance, and Trout Unlimited are all doing important projects, from the Rio Grande and the Conejos, to the smaller streams in the mountains around the Valley perimeter. Their work includes recovering from impacts legacy mines, to restoring places where the precious Rio Grande cutthroat trout is surviving still. (See this recent article for a great story about that: https://www.watereducationcolorado.org/fresh-water-news/san-luis-valley-ranchers-see-dividends-in-water-for-fish-are-they-on-to-something/).


Our Rio Grande Basin Roundtable is deeply engaged in updating the Basin Implementation Plan. This will roll up to be part of an updated, overall Colorado Water Plan. Many farmers and ranchers are implementing soil health and other regenerative practices that hold soil moisture longer, enhance organic matter, reduce use of herbicides and fertilizers and other benefits. And many of us are working together to provide education and grow the next generation of water and conservation leaders. We who carry the Valley’s lifeblood in our hearts and our many partners are working to make it better, in the right ways, in long-lasting ways.


In addition to the RWR exportation threat, we’re up against a long-term trend of things getting even drier, of rapid population growth in Colorado and increasing demand for water supplies, of a declining aquifer and the need to reduce pumping even more, of loss of wetlands on the Valley floor and measurable stresses on our rivers and streams. Our various water districts and groundwater management subdistricts are employing a number of strategies to restore the balance between the supply and demand and restore the aquifers that sustain much of the agricultural economy and extensive wetlands and wildlife habitat.


Given these realities, how can removing water permanently from this system be part of any real solution? At the same time, our many locally-based efforts are implementing the kind of long-term solutions that help us be more resilient in the drier times ahead and position us to benefit in wetter years. They help our land, water, economy, agriculture, environment, wildlife and recreation be more sustainable and more resilient. Let’s focus our energy and resources there. Let’s do more of this! Let’s get creative and innovate more! Let’s work together to make it better, for all of these values and for the future of our water, our lifeblood.


Someone asked me a while ago: “Who’s going to stop water exportation?” The answer that popped out of my mouth was: “We will!” And truly, it will take us working together, to do what it takes, to care for and sustain it for the future. After all, if we don’t protect our San Luis Valley water, who will?


Rio de la Vista is the Director of the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center at Adams State University and the Environmental Representative on the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. Drawing from her years of conservation work here, she is co-author of a chapter about the San Luis Valley’s “Culture of Conservation” in the 2020 book, The Geology, Ecology, and Human History of the San Luis Valley.


The Salazar Center is working with local partners to provide water education for students and the community. Contact them at salazarriograndecenter@adams.edu and click here for details about the upcoming 2021 Rio Grande State of the Basin Symposium on March 20th! https://mailchi.mp/1fdeb24f7978/rgsbs


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