Aspire Tours land-use application proposes illegal water use

A herd of pronghorn antelope uses the Aspire property to access its primary water source, the Arkansas River.

Last-minute revisions to the Aspire Tours land-use application propose to illegally use water from an exempt domestic well for commercial purposes. The application is scheduled for a public hearing before the Chaffee County Planning Commission at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Aspire seeks to establish a commercial outfitting facility, campground, cabins and agritourism facilities on 44-acres along the east bank of the Arkansas River northwest of Salida. The property is accessed from Highway 291 via County Road 190 West.

In the July 21, 2020, public hearing, the Planning Commission determined that Aspire must provide a water adequacy study as specified by the Land Use Code.

Aspire submitted a Water Supply Plan dated Dec. 9, 2020. After the County granted a six-month extension, Aspire submitted revised plans and applications, and the continued hearing was scheduled for Sept. 28, 2021.

At the last minute, Aspire submitted new amendments, requiring the hearing to be continued yet again to allow planning commissioners to review the submittals. Just before Thanksgiving, with the Nov. 30 hearing approaching, Aspire submitted additional amendments, including an addendum to the Water Supply Plan.

The Limited Impact Review Application and Submittal (Updated), dated Nov. 22, includes a section labeled “Agritourism,” which states:

“Campsites and cabins will be integrated into the landscaping plan and support Aspire Tours’ goal for employees and guests to experiencing small-scale sustainable living and seeing biodynamics* in action: a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition. The Aspire Tours team is carefully choosing livestock and crops … .”

The recently submitted addendum to the Water Supply Plan identifies the livestock that Aspire plans to incorporate into the agritourism business “(poultry, cow, pig, personal horses)” in a table titled “Well uses, pumping and depletions.”

The table clearly shows that Aspire Tours plans to use the exempt domestic well to provide water for the livestock.

As the Colorado Division of Water Resources guidance states, exempt domestic wells can be used to “irrigate one acre or less of lawn and garden, and provide water for the individual’s domestic animals and livestock.”

But the Aspire application indicates that these livestock are to be part of a commercial business operation, and Colorado water law does not allow a domestic exempt well to be used for commercial purposes, including irrigating crops as part of a commercial operation, like agritourism.

As previously reported, the proposed development is opposed by local residents, who believe that the commercial enterprise is not appropriate in the rural zone. Those residents have formed a citizens’ group – the County Road 190 Initiative.

Comments submitted by the opposition group identify “eight errors and omissions” where the Aspire Water Supply Plan “does not satisfy the requirements for a Water Adequacy Study specified in sections 4.6.2 F6, 4.6.2 K1 and 4.6.2 K4 of Chaffee County Land Use Code.”

The first requirement of Section 4.6.2 F6 is “a description of the source of water supply.”

The Aspire Water Plan identifies the alluvial-outwash aquifer as the source of water for the commercial well proposed for the property, but the opposition group’s comments cite local well data indicating that the groundwater in question comes from the basin-fill aquifer, which has different characteristics than the alluvial aquifer.

Also required is a description of “the existing and future domestic and agricultural (water) requirements.”

The Water Plan identifies three domestic and agricultural requirements: an augmented commercial well, and exempt domestic well and temporary depletions that will be used for dust suppression during construction and to establish vegetation, including trees that do not naturally grow on the property.

The Land Use Code also requires the applicant to demonstrate “the capacity of the source of water supply to meet existing and future requirements.”

The opposition group provides data showing that the capacity of the residential well closest to the Aspire property has decreased from more than 10 gallons per minute for several hours of pumping to less than 2 gpm after less than two hours of pumping.

According to the opposition group, additional shortcomings of the Aspire Water Plan include:

  • Failure to identify “historic irrigation and water demands for the property” as required by the Land Use Code.
  • Failure to “provide any evidence of sufficient water quality” as required by the Land Use Code.
  • Failure to “correctly report the total quantity of water required by Aspire Tours” by omitting the “temporary depletions and the irrigation of the Agricultural Area.”
  • Failure to “provide any evidence of an adequate water supply sufficient in terms of dependability” as required by the Land Use Code.

The opposition group also presents U.S. Geological Survey data showing 40- and 50-year records of declining groundwater in wells within 3 miles of the Aspire property.

Aspire Tours representatives declined to comment on the pending application.

* “Biodynamic agriculture lacks strong scientific evidence for its efficacy and has been labeled a pseudoscience … .”

Joe Stone