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A March 26 town hall in Monte Vista with the Douglas County commissioners was promising to be a hot-button event for those concerned about the proposal to send 22,000 acre-feet of water from San Luis Valley’s (SLV) aquifer to Douglas County.

Initial estimates suggested 300 to 400 people might be showing up with an additional virtual audience.

But on Tuesday, the three Douglas County commissioners opted out of going to the meeting as a group, with predictions of a “circus-like” atmosphere, it becoming a “protest event” that would kill productivity, and a lack of “authentic engagement.”

There’s still the possibility of some form of a meeting with elected officials in the valley, as well as tours of well fields and other sites, but as of March 8, commissioner Abe Laydon appeared to be the only one still willing to meet with the public.

Laydon has said through a four-month examination of a possible Douglas County investment in a plan put forth by Renewable Water Resources’ (RWR) that he would hear out comments and then announce his position.

Commissioner Lora Thomas has taken a hard stance against the project, in part because of established alternatives that can satisfy water needs in Douglas County. She said she’d heard 300 to 400 people planned to attend the meeting, despite a virtual option and despite it being busy calving season in the agriculturally based valley.

“The question I would have through my lens is will it be a productive meeting,” she said.

Commissioner George Teal supports RWR’s proposal and said Tuesday that at that point, he saw no reason to attend the March 26 citizens’ meeting. Teal has received campaign contributions from five of eight RWR principals, according to TRACER data.

An irrigation pivot stands outside of Saguache in the San Luis Valley, where the economy depends on agriculture and an increasingly endangered aquifer. Photo by Tara Flanagan

“My enthusiasm to continue with it is diminishing,” he said. “So what’s the point? My point of going down was we could have actual conversations and get past the visceral, emotional aspects of this project… We’ve had comments that the $50 million community fund (offered by RWR should the proposal move forward) is a laughable joke, which I personally find surprising.”

Teal said he heard supporters of the project are being intimidated, and then he drew comparisons to the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

“They [RWR supporters] feel like, uh, quite frankly, I think it’s appropriate we were just talking about Russia and Ukraine, because they feel like they’re being silenced and they feel like they’re being intimidated,” Teal said.

A decision on moving forward with the RWR plan was originally expected shortly after the March 26 meeting.

Editor’s note: Ark Valley Voice has quoted the comments of the Douglas County Commissioners without judgment, although we find it hard to compare the barbaric destruction of Ukraine by Russia with ranchers and farmers commenting on a water development proposal for the water on which they depend for their livelihood. Comparing totalitarian destruction with democracy in action would not seem to be a valid comparison.

Featured image: Looking northeast in July 2021 from Moffat across the San Luis Valley. Photo by Tara Flanagan.