Per governor order, local water leaders and their professional consulting team are preparing to present a basin-wide water plan next week to the state agency that will compile plans from all of the basins into a statewide plan to address Colorado’s future water needs.
At the same time the Rio Grande Roundtable, which is taking the lead on the basin-wide plan, is reviewing potential requests for funding and potential water threats and challenges.
During its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the roundtable members, who represent various water interests throughout the San Luis Valley, reviewed the status of the local plan that will fit into the governor’s statewide plan; heard about a project that will come before the group for funding next month to study soil health practices in relationship to potential water savings; received a report on post-West Fork Complex Fire actions and heard a presentation on instream flows.
What the group did not do was take a position on a water export project, proposed by Saguache County rancher Gary Boyce, that recently came to light. Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said it was premature to take a position on the proposal at this point.
“It seems to be a balloon that’s been floated ,” he said. “Who knows if it will pop or land?”
He added, “If as a water community we need to mobilize , it’s been done before. We are in a better position to mobilize again if we have to.”
Travis Smith, who sits on the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, said, “You are going to have projects like this that will show up in spite of all the work that’s gone on.”
He said water projects in the Valley should go through the roundtable and should fit within the water plan the Valley-wide roundtable has worked so hard to develop, but the plan does not prevent someone from going outside it. Tom Spezze with DiNatale Water Consultants, who is putting the Rio Grande Basin’s water plan together, told the roundtable members the plan would go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board next week during the CWCB’s meeting in Rangely. The water plan is currently 267 pages but is going through refinements and edits, Spezze said.
The short version that will be presented to the CWCB board next week will consist of about 25 “slides” outlining the process the plan went through, particularly the amount of public outreach and involvement, and highlighting the 14 goals of the local plan such as meeting agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational needs. This basin’s plan will be compiled, along with plans from the other basins in the state, into a statewide plan to be presented to the governor.
Spezze also told the roundtable about the various activities of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team that was set up after the fire in the western end of the Valley last summer. For example, the team is monitoring drainages with potential for flash flooding and has an audible alarm and evacuation plan in place for resorts and residences near the danger zones. Water quality is also being monitored, and Doppler Radar will be positioned again on Bristol Head from August to October so residents can be notified of storm events.
Kip Canty, from the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 office, said the weather service’s three-month forecast for precipitation for this region shows better-than-average chance for above normal precipitation.
The roundtable did not The study would look at a variety of crops potato, barley and alfalfa encompassing a minimum of four growers of each crop. The study would include growers in different parts of the Valley because the soils vary across the Valley, Lopez explained.
“Farmers can only implement the things they can truly afford to do,” Lopez added.
That is why this will be a practical study of soil health practices farmers could afford to implement that would save them costs in the long run. Some of the money requested from the roundtable would offset producers’ costs to implement these practices, Lopez said. have any funding requests before it requiring action on Tuesday but heard an initial presentation from Judy Lopez regarding a request that will be formally presented to the roundtable next month. Lopez said the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative will serve as the applicant requesting $25,000 for the first of a three-year soil health study and $40,000 each for two years afterwards. She explained that data is lacking on how different conservation practices affect water savings. It would take more than one year to see results, she added.
“It takes a while to establish soil health and see gains from that,” she said. Also on Tuesday the roundtable heard a presentation from Linda Bassi of CWCB on in-stream flows . She encouraged the roundtable to utilize the CWCB in-stream program. The legislature established the in-stream program in 1973 and gave the CWCB legal authority over it. These water rights are designed to preserve water in stream channels or lakes for purposes such as maintaining fisheries . These are junior water rights that can be appropriated or acquired, Bassi explained.
Typically the requests for in-stream water rights have come from entities such as the Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited, Bassi added. She and her staff accept requests, review them and make recommendations to the CWCB, which may decide to file an in-stream application in court. Public input is part of the process.
CWCB will only pursue an in-stream application if the natural environment exists, water is available for appropriation and no material injury to water rights will occur if the in-stream right is granted, Bassi explained. In-stream flows exist around the state for fisheries , waterfowl habitat, glacial ponds, bird species and aquatic macroinvertebrates.