Press "Enter" to skip to content

It ain’t over yet

Brief by Marcia Darnell

Sand Dunes Park – December 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine –

The Great Sand Dunes National Monument is now a park, but this strategic move to protect the San Luis Valley’s water is far from total security.

The park was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 25, in record time for such an act. The conversion of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison took 13 years, the Dunes less than one year.

The bill includes plans to purchase the adjacent Baca Ranch, whose water has been the subject of attempted sale by entrepreneurs for a decade. Advocates for the park plan say the purchase of the ranch will keep the water in the Valley — and safe from marketers — in perpetuity.

Advocates for the park called the passage a community victory.

Chris Canaly, head of Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, which fought the good, wet fight for 10 years, said only “Yay!”

Naysayers included Rep. Joel Hefley, who called the Dunes “a pile of sand” and said that the bill “cheapened the title of national park.” Also opposed were the Saguache County Commissioners, who decried the loss of $68,000 annually in tax revenue ensured by the park expansion.

Both commissioners up for re-election this year retained their seats.

The Feds have allocated $35 million for the purchase of the Baca, owned by California-based Farallon Corp. Gary Boyce, managing partner, has refused to negotiate a sale, and publicly stated that it wouldn’t happen. His out-of-state partners, however, say that the ranch is for sale, at the right price.

Assuming the sale goes through, the federal government will have a lot more to say about where the Baca’s water goes, although it would still have to go through Colorado’s water courts to change water allocation or use.

Whether the water stays or we’ve just exchanged one water developer for a larger, heavier one remains to be seen. The mineral rights to the Baca are owned by Lexam Corp., which has announced plans to drill for natural gas on the ranch.

Protests are already mounting.