Commissioners plan to release memo regarding San Luis Valley water project

The redacted version of legal recommendations will be discussed Thursday

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The Douglas County commissioners plan to release a redacted version of a legal memo prepared for them regarding a hotly debated water proposal later this week.

During a Monday work session, the commissioners unanimously directed staff to prepare the redacted version of the memo, which they will then discuss Thursday with the potential to release it. The memo includes legal recommendations from the county's outside legal counsel, Steve Leonhardt, who was hired specifically to assess the water proposal. 

The project, pitched by a private company called Renewable Water Resources, 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. 

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.

The information that will be redacted from the legal memo was not specifically outlined during the Monday work session, but Laydon referenced that some parts of the memo could cause potential harm to the county’s future legal interests.

Commissioner Lora Thomas said she supports the redaction of any personal identifying information such as phone numbers or addresses for people referenced in the memo but added she would like to see everything else released.

“I would prefer they be released as soon as possible with everything available to the public without personal identifying information,” she said. 

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 he believes the value of the memo could be diminished “were we to release the entire document.”

Teal also said based on his conversations with residents, he doesn’t think Douglas County residents are interested in seeing the full memo. 

“Our normal citizens here in Douglas County trust us to take the information provided by their tax dollars and use it in their best interest,” he said. 

While Thomas supported the motion, she said she hopes to have more information from the memo released to the public eventually.

Laydon said the commissioners plan to discuss the redacted version of the memo at 4 p.m. Thursday and they will then decide if it’s fit to be released to the public. 

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