Dear Commissioners Baker, Felt and Granzella,
I write this letter not as a member of the board of the Upper Arkansas Conservation District, but as a concerned private citizen. During my 14 years of residence in Salida, it has been my privilege to work with members of both municipal, county and federal government in matters concerning the increasing desertification of lands in Chaffee County. It is a complex problem involving virtually all segments of our government, economy and private citizenry. Water, soil, land values and quality of life are inseparable, yet are considered and governed separately. This is a well-established, sure-fire recipe for failures that affect us, our children and our grandchildren.
The recent Envision Chaffee County survey showed nearly unanimous support of preserving the agricultural and wildland aspects of the county. Sadly, those values have not yet been incorporated into the County Land Use Code. The Centerville Ranch subdivision developer’s reprimand of Commissioner Felt for his support of the values of Envision survey illustrates his conviction that the commissioners’ only responsibility is to support a clearly out-of-date Code that does not reflect the county electorate’s values.
As an active agriculturalist in the Valley who has been adversely affected by the Upper Arkansas Valley’s water supply policies and practices, I am keenly aware of the water use issues we face. The entire Rocky Mountain region is steadily drying up, as evidenced by pine-bark beetle infestations and increased rates of wildfires. But the human influence in the drying process is even more pronounced. The attached Google Earth image from southern Chaffee County illustrates this: the ONLY areas of green are in agricultural irrigation. Water diversions from the stream- and river-fed irrigation ditches into agricultural irrigation systems are a critical means of charging our subsurface aquifers; aquifers that feed irrigation and residential wells alike. Historically productive wells are already going dry as a result. Yet it is clear from the attached Google imagery that virtually no county residences are irrigating their properties. Although some non-subdivided land is going un-irrigated, virtually no subdivided property is green.
The result of this real estate and water management practice is that soil and aquifers dry up, which results in less plant life to retain water in the soil, which causes increased wind and water erosion. This degrades land values for all purposes. To continue to subdivide without controls, and thus to dry up our county’s lands, will result in lower property values, which should enter developers’ and Realtor’s long-range thinking as much as agriculturalists and recreational land users.
The county government has the responsibility and the legal power to declare a moratorium on large-scale development until the Land Use Code can be brought into compliance with the clearly-evidenced county electorate’s values.
Salida citizen and Chaffee County farmer