DougCo denies ARPA money for water project

Mike McKibbin

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] The Douglas County Commissioners have found a controversial plan to use water from the San Luis Valley to help support the county's growth does not qualify for federal pass-through funds.

In a statement posted on the county website Tuesday, the commissioners based their decision regarding the Renewable Water Resources (RWR) water plan on “objective legal recommendations from outside counsel.”

RWR — backed by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and others — submitted a proposal to transport via pipelines, pumps and natural water channels up to 22,000 acre-feet per year from a series of groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley to Douglas County.

It initially sought $20 million of the county’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds designated for pandemic relief to lock in a per acre-foot price of $18.5 million.

Price reduced for smaller amount

RWR said in a January memo to the county that its law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, interpreted final ARPA rules from the Treasury Department to allow the county to designate up to $10 million for the project. Backers modified the proposal to a $19.5 million per annual acre-foot price.

The county’s law firm, Burns, Figa & Will, said it could not validate the RWR interpretation on the use of ARPA funds for the project.

The firm said the Treasury Department's final rule “makes clear that financing related to debt instruments is not an eligible use of the funds. While an option to purchase water rights at a future date is not technically a debt instrument, it functions in a similar way to provide short-term financing to purchase future water rights.”

Door remains open

The Tuesday statement also said the commissioners found the RWR proposal to have “significant additional hurdles to overcome in order to demonstrate not only a ‘do-no-harm’ approach but also a ‘win-win’ for Douglas County and the San Luis Valley.”

The commissioners left the door open to continued discussions with project backers “should they be able to provide new information or otherwise overcome these hurdles.”

Two memos from Burns, Figa & Will to the commissioners — redacted to remove names and other sensitive information — explained a series of meetings lawyers and county officials had with RWR officials and others in the last few months.

The conclusion of one memo notes, in part, “Some of the rhetoric from local opponents has been overblown or has misconstrued RWR’s proposal. However, many of the fears are real, can’t be dismissed, and won’t be easily resolved.”

The two legal memos can be downloaded here and here.

For more information about water and wastewater infrastructure proposals seeking county ARPA funds, visit the county website.

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Mike McKibbin is an independent journalist on Colorado's Front Range and covers Douglas County for NewsBreak.

Denver, CO

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