U.S. Water News Online
DENVER-- The Colorado Court of Appeals has rejected all
claims by a part-owner of water rights beneath the Baca Ranch, part
of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The recently-issued decision upheld a state district court's
ruling against American Water Development Inc., which tried to block
sale of the water rights to The Nature Conservancy.
The conservation group bought the 97,000-acre ranch in the San
Luis Valley and plans to transfer it to the National Park Service.
The ranch was the linchpin in upgrading the sand dunes in southern
Colorado from a national monument to a national park.
Federal legislation signed in 2000 authorizing the national park
required that the adjacent ranch be acquired and attached to the
park. The Nature Conservancy bought the land for about $34.4 million
from investors who acquired it from AWDI.
The development company sold the ranch in 1985 to the Cabeza de
Vaca Land and Cattle Co., after losing a legal battle to pump and
market the groundwater. The company retained a 10 percent interest in
the water rights and tried to block the sale to The Nature
Conservancy, saying it was owed more money.
The appeals court said the deal didn't allow American Water
Development to dictate the price of the water rights.
Cabeza de Vaca Land and Cattle Co. also failed in efforts to sell
the water to cities along the Front Range. There was widespread
opposition from area residents, who feared pumping water out of the
huge aquifer would harm the area's irrigation-fed agriculture and
rivers and streams.
Baca Ranch was sold after Cabeza defaulted on a $16 million loan
from California-based Vaca Partners, 50 percent of which was owned by
Yale University. Yale agreed to donate the profits from sale of its
interest in the ranch after students questioned the ethics of the
university's association with the controversial water proposal.
Inclusion of the Baca Ranch in the national park will prevent
transfer of the groundwater out of the valley. The water helps anchor
the dunes, which at 750 feet are North America's tallest.
The sand dunes, which hug the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo
Mountains, were declared a national monument in 1932 by President
Herbert Hoover. They officially became a national park in September.
The landscape changes from 8,200-foot-high grasslands, to the
dunes, to 13,000-plus-foot mountains and alpine lakes -- all within
The area is home to seven species -- six insects and a mouse --
not found anywhere else in the world. The wildlife includes deer,
elk, foxes, coyotes, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.
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