The SWAG Augmentation Plan
In 2022, Brad Grasmick and Ryan Donovan of the law firm Lawrence, Custer, Grasmick, Jones, and Donovan LLP in Johnstown, Colorado, filed an application for SWAG in Water Division Three Water Court. Engineering was provided by Hydros Consulting Inc. of Boulder and Clear Water Solutions of Johnstown. Mr. Grasmick has extensive experience with augmentation plans in the South Platte River Basin and was an integral member of the legal team which helped the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, and two of its subdistricts, obtain augmentation decrees in the Division One Water Court in Greeley in northeast Colorado. Those plans included 1,500 wells and involved over 50 objectors in the water court litigation. Today, these wells can legally pump South Platte alluvial groundwater, but with significant augmentation requirements.
In July 2023, the SWAG augmentation plan is scheduled for trial in the Division Three Water Court in Alamosa, and will be heard by Chief Judge/Water Judge Michael A. Gonzales.
SWAG has leased/purchased two significant properties in the San Luis Valley – the Gunbarrel Road Alamosa Farm and Shadow Ranch. The Gunbarrel Road Alamosa Farm property has 39 center pivot circles, located northeast of Center, Colorado, of which most have been exclusively irrigated with groundwater. SWAG proposes to retire (no longer irrigate) those circles to reduce groundwater pumping impacts to the Rio Grande River, and the unconfined aquifer in the Closed Basin, of the San Luis Valley.
Shadow Ranch was acquired for its senior water rights in the Atkins Ditch, as well as the Meadow Glen Ditch and Voss Seepage Ditch. These water rights could be used in SWAG’s augmentation plan to offset groundwater pumping depletions of member wells.
The SWAG board has obtained pre-approval of a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to reduce the purchase expense of Shadow Ranch and the Gunbarrel Road Alamosa Farm properties. In addition, conversations continue with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to provide public access to the Rio Grande River (and its “Gold Medal” fishery and boating access) on Shadow Ranch in exchange for fully consumable augmentation water supplies. This would be a win-win opportunity for the region.
Colorado has a very strict water rights system, probably the most restrictive in the U.S. It evolved in the 1860s during the Colorado Gold Rush and led to the concept of “first in time, first in right.” In 1876, this legal system was adopted as the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation and became part of the Colorado Constitution.
The Sustainable Water Augmentation Group, Inc. (SWAG) has purchased the 574-acre Shadow Ranch located six miles northwest of Del Norte, Colorado. The property includes two center pivot irrigation systems, senior water rights from the Atkins Ditch, junior water rights from Meadow Glen Ditch and Voss Seepage Ditch, and one-half mile of prime river frontage along the Rio Grande River.
This segment of the Rio Grande is a “Gold Medal” trout fishery and has hunting opportunities which include mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mallards, teal, canvas back, wood ducks, and Canadian geese. A Bureau of Land Management land parcel is adjacent to this property. Shadow Ranch is valued at over $3.2 million.
The water rights on this land could be used as part of an augmentation plan for SWAG member wells or (if approved) may be part of an exchange with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for public access to the Rio Grande River corridor on the property.
The Gunbarrel Road Alamosa Farm property is located approximately six miles northeast of Center, Colorado, and includes over 6,000 acres of land of which most was recently irrigated and under production. In 2022, the SWAG group acquired a lease/purchase option on the property to cease irrigation on some of the land to reduce impacts to the Rio Grande River and its shallow aquifer. This reduction in groundwater pumping would be a component of SWAG’s augmentation plan.