A look at Rio Grande Compact administration this season #RioGrande

July 20, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

After years of drought, more water in the San Luis Valley’s rivers is a welcome change, but it comes with a price.

With higher stream levels comes a higher obligation that must be paid to downstream states. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten reminded Valley residents of that fact during his report on Tuesday to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board.

When the forecasts increased for the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems, so did the curtailments on irrigators, he explained, because Colorado’s obligation to New Mexico and Texas also increased.

Cotten said the annual forecast for the Rio Grande has increased every month since May because more water is expected now than forecasters predicted this spring. The May forecast for the Rio Grande was 475,000 acre feet. In June the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) increased the projected annual index for the Rio Grande to 545,000 acre feet and this month bumped it up even higher to 590,000 acre feet.

“That’s up significantly from what we had projected earlier on in the season,” Cotten said. The obligation to downstream states from the Rio Grande is 158,400 acre feet from that new 590,000-acrefoot forecast. With the water that has already been delivered , estimated deliveries for this winter, and a contribution from the Closed Basin Project, the water resources division is projecting it must deliver about 22,000 acre feet during the remainder of the irrigation season. To reach that goal, the division is curtailing irrigators 25 percent, which is significantly higher than curtailments earlier in the irrigation season. Curtailments in April and May were 7-10 percent, with curtailments increasing to 15 percent in June, 21 percent by July 3 and 25 percent July 4th.

“That’s just because of the increased forecast amount and needing to deliver quite a bit more to the downstream states,” Cotten said.

“We are watching that pretty closely,” he added. “Depending on the monsoon season, if we do get a significant amount of rain and rain events, there’s a possibility we may have to go up a little higher than that.”

Curtailments on the Conejos River system are even higher. Since July 4, the curtailment on the Conejos has been 32 percent with only the #1 and #2 ditches in priority right now, according to Cotten . The curtailment on April 1 was 12 percent, decreasing to 6 percent by April 4 and 1 percent by May 7, but then increasing to 14 percent on June 7 and jumping to 27 percent by June 21.

“Curtailment of the ditches is indicative of raising the forecast every month,” he said. The projected annual index for the Conejos River system was 185,000 acre feet in May, 210,000 acre feet in June and is now estimated at 220,000 acre feet.

Of the 220,000 acre-foot annual flow , the Conejos River system owes 57,000 acre feet to New Mexico and Texas. To reach that goal, the Conejos will have to send about 8,000 acre feet downstream during the remainder of the irrigation season, according to Cotten.

Cotten shared the threemonth precipitation outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for August, September and October.

“For the first time in quite a few years we are in the above-average range,” he said. “It’s looking like we are going to have a pretty good monsoon season.”

Temperatures during that three-month period will be another court case where the fine could top that.

“We are watching the well meter usage and metering and making sure everybody has active and accurate meters on their wells,” he said.

In his report to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday, District Engineer Allen Davey said both the unconfined and confined aquifers had shown some improvement recently, but the basin has a long ways to go to re-establish the kind of aquifer levels the state legislature mandated, reflecting the levels of the period from 1978-2000 .

The confined aquifer, or deeper aquifer, has improved this last year by an overall total of about 2.66 feet in the wells included in Davey’s study. He said if the weather returned to a wetter cycle, with improved run off, irrigators would not need to pump as much, and the aquifers would naturally improve.

He added, “If we have bigger water years and the pumping stays the same, the aquifer will recover, and if the pumping is reduced, the aquifer will recover more.”

Since 1976 the unconfined aquifer, or shallow aquifer, in an area representative of the area now covered by the first groundwater management sub-district has declined a total of more than one million acre feet. Davey said the study area showed some improvement this spring with the aquifer level increasing by 105,000 acre feet during June, for example. “equal chances” of being in the average range.

Cotten said his office has had to file four or five court cases in the last month or so against well owners who did not comply with the well use rules, specifically not turning in well usage numbers or not having valid well meters in place. Fines could range from a few hundred dollars in simple cases to thousands of dollars. One irrigator is looking at a fine of more than $8,0000, Cotten said, and his office is currently working on He reminded the group that the target level required by legislators is -200 ,000 to -400 ,000 acre feet for a fiveyear running average.

“Right now it’s about 500,000 acre feet below that -400 ,000,” he said.

He said it’s like gas in a vehicle’s tank, and the more the vehicle uses, the lower the gas level is.

“What we need to do in order to recover is reduce the amount of ‘driving’ we are doing ,” Davey said. “Well users need to ‘drive’ less, pump less water, irrigate less land.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Basin Roundtables will present their Basin Implementation Plans to the CWCB next week #COWaterPlan

July 9, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Saguache rancher hopes to export water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range

July 8, 2014

San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Saguache County rancher Gary Boyce may be planning another water export project. Although Boyce has not yet filed any documents with the water court, he has met with representatives of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), and that board held a special meeting to discuss Boyce’s proposal. The board unanimously voted not to support Boyce in any potential water export project.

During Wednesday’s Alamosa city council meeting, Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero read a letter from RGWCD Board Member Lewis Entz who shared initial information about the project.

Entz related in the letter that in mid-June RGWCD Attorney David Robbins and RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver met with Boyce and Boyce’s attorney. At that June 14 meeting Boyce informed Robbins and Vandiver that he planned to file an application to withdraw 35,000 acre feet per year from the confined aquifer on his Saguache area property and export it to the Front Range where it would be sold as a permanent renewable water supply. According to Entz’s letter read at the city meeting, Boyce told RGWCD representatives his application was imminent. With the RGWCD’s blessing, he would create a SLV assistance fund of $150 million that would be distributed to local governments and schools as well as the water conservation district.

On June 18 the RGWCD board held a special meeting to discuss Boyce’s proposal , and the board voted unanimously to reject Boyce’s proposal.

Entz’s letter that Lucero shared with the council stated that so far Boyce has not filed anything in water court, so the RGWCD board does not know what the application would look like, who would be providing financing and what Front Range water users would be receiving the water.

“It seems like the water wars are going to start again,” Mayor Lucero said.

On Thursday, Vandiver confirmed that Boyce had met with Robbins and him, and the board had held a special meeting during which it voted unanimously not to accept Boyce’s offer of money from his potential project and not to support his project.

“We haven’t heard another word from him,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver added that two years ago Boyce also talked about another export project , but nothing was filed then or followed through, so he did not know if Boyce would actually move forward on this proposal or not.

“We have not seen any filings and so we don’t know if Gary was trying to see if we could get bought.”

Vandiver said he did not want “to get in front of the train” at this point, since Boyce has not filed anything .

“There has been nothing concrete or in writing that it’s going to happen,” Vandiver said. “We are hoping it’s just some pipe dream.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Monte Vista is implementing a source water protection plan

June 22, 2014
Monte Vista historic district via Wikipedia

Monte Vista historic district via Wikipedia

From The Monte Vista Journal (John McEvoy):

Dylan Eiler, a specialist from Colorado Rural Water Association (CRWA) wowed the Monte Vista City Council with his June 5 presentation on the free Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) program available to the city of Monte Vista.

CRWA is a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance and training to Colorado’s public water and wastewater treatment systems, according to their brochure.

Not only is the program free, Eiler’s services in helping submit the $5,000 grant proposal that will pay for the program, as well as his expertise in the development and implementation of a source water protection plan is free also.

The grant is a one-to-one matching grant, which means the city would have to match every dollar with either money or in-kind time. The city may meet the in-kind funds by tabulating time spent at stakeholder meetings by professional and non-professional people present, as well as any time lawyers or engineers contribute to the local program.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) created Colorado’s SWAP program and source water assessment reports to help with the development and implementation of individual source water protection plans in 2004.

“If area stakeholders know the source of their water, they will get involved,” said Eiler. “Identifying customers and involving citizens is the most effective way of creating advocates for protecting water sources.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Water in the desert, dying urban tree edition — John Fleck

June 14, 2014

spainsunflower
From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Years ago, University of New Mexico emeritus biologist Loren Potter took me for a walk around the neighborhood for a newspaper story, pointing out the strangeness of the artificial ecosystem we’ve built. We bring trees that can’t make it on 10 inches a year, then don’t always water them as much as they need. The result was, even then, an urban forest under stress.

As I wrote in the Journal last week, Albuquerque has cut its water use to 134 gallons per person per day. A big part of that involves a reduction in outdoor watering. A result of that is evident on my morning walks – a lot more stressed trees.

Building farms and cities in the desert, moving the water to do it, then responding to the scarcity problems that result, is complicated.

More conservation coverage here.


Baca Ranch a boon for SLV water — The Pueblo Chieftain

June 12, 2014

bacanationalwildliferefuge

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Water once made the Baca Ranch the center of a firestorm that united the entire San Luis Valley. Now that resource plays a central role in offering a home to wildlife as part of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

When Congress created the refuge along with Great Sand Dunes National Park in 2000, it did so with the intention of preventing the water export schemes that were hatched by the ranch’s previous owners. That legislation also ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage water on the property roughly the same way it had been for over a century.

Historically, the property was watered by the six streams that Cristo Mountains and by artesian wells that tap the confined aquifer. While the artesian wells no longer contribute much to the refuge, wet years still can see as much as 12,000 acres of wet meadows. Refuge Manager Ron Garcia said those mead­ows have been a boon to wildlife.

“That’s kind of our prime habitat for nesting birds,” he said.

Managing the ranch’s irrigation system, which at one point included over 100 miles of canals, was no easy task. Garcia and his staff got a big hand from Eddie Clayton, who’d worked for over three decades on the property as a ranch hand before dying at the beginning of last year.

Researchers continue to track how birds use the meadows, recording the cover type where nests are found, their proximity to water and whether the area is used for forage.

While Garcia and his staff have had to learn the ins and outs of irrigation on the ranch, they’ve also had to find a way to deal with large numbers of elk. A herd of between 4,000 and 6,000 elk roam the eastern side of the San Luis Valley. Garcia said surveys have found as many as 3,000 animals on the refuge during winter months. The elk concentrate along the streams running through the refuge, making a meal of willows and cottonwood shoots. Their browsing was such a problem that the refuge invited a researcher from Yellowstone National Park.

“He looked at all the riparian areas and told us at the rate of browse that’s happening out there, your riparian areas will be gone in a few years,” Garcia said. Since then, one strategy that’s worked is fencing out elk from streams.

“So far, they’ve been very effective,” Garcia said.

Those riparian areas are important, partly because they provide habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, which makes its summer home in the valley.

To date, the refuge remains closed to the public at large, although every summer staff offers a series of tours to the public.

The wildlife service is working on a draft management plan that’s expected to be up for public comment within the next two months.

Once finalized, that plan will determine the amount of public access and management strategies for the Baca, along with refuges near Alamosa and Monte Vista.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


More storage on the horizon? #COWaterPlan

May 30, 2014

smithreservoir
From the Valley Courier (Travis Smith):

Colorado’s water history also involves the development of reservoirs. It was quickly recognized by irrigators and municipal users that having the ability to capture and control available water during times of plenty for a reliable water supply during times of shortage was very important.

The Colorado high country provides the best natural reservoir storage in the form of snow pack. The state’s snow pack accumulates during late fall and continues thru early spring, waiting for warm temperatures . As the spring runoff begins, the available water supply to rivers and creeks continues to increase. Approximately 70 percent of the annual water supply runs off during May, June and early July. Irrigators quickly recognized that the water supply from the natural reservoir did not provide a reliable water supply in late summer, which is much needed to finish crops. Flooding and drought also became a concern in the arid west. The worst flood ever experienced in Alamosa took place in 1884, with approximately 20,000 CFS recorded. The Valley also endured a severe drought between 1890 and 1902.

The water development era in the San Luis Valley began in the late 1880′s to early 1990′s. Major canal systems had been developed and began diverting all available water. The Rio Grande was quickly over appropriated by the late 1880′s. The discussion began around approved suitable reservoir sites and the ability to finance a storage project caused much concern with Valley neighbors to the south, New Mexico and Texas. San Luis Valley water users were prevented from developing any further depletion to the Rio Grande by an order from the Secretary of the Interior in 1896. This Federal Embargo meant no reservoir construction in Colorado and was viewed as “arbitrary and unjust” (an excerpt from the valley water attorney George Corlett).

In the meantime, the people of New Mexico and Texas decided to build the Elephant Butte Dam. The Federal Embargo was partially lifted in 1907, which allowed storage projects on the upper Rio Grande. Reservoir sites had been selected and funding services were secured for Rio Grande Reservoir and Santa Maria Reservoir . With the construction of these reservoirs, the irrigators would have a late season water supply to finish crops. These reservoirs were primary used for agriculture, and at times for flood control. The Rio Grande Compact negotiations contemplated additional storage projects that never came to be due to a variety issues. Terrace and Sanchez reservoirs were also constructed around the same time period. Rio Grande Reservoir, also known as the Farmers Union Reservoir, was primarily built for irrigation use, but was used many times for flood control. In 1952, Platoro Reservoir on the Conejos River was completed.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s 2004 Statewide Water Initiative identified the need to rehabilitate existing reservoirs, and where possible investigate the opportunity for multi use or multipurpose reservoirs. This concept of multipurpose projects is developing for the San Luis Valley’s reservoirs. By rethinking, retiming and reoperation of the Valley’s reservoirs multiple needs could be met. By timing reservoir releases and storage when possible, wet water is available to the Rio Grande for irrigation, municipal augmentation , stream health, recreation and environmental uses. This multi use idea is built around cooperation and partnership opportunities that meet multiple wet water needs with the same amount of water.

The Rio Grande Cooperative Project is the model of the multi-use project concept. A public/private partnership with the rehabilitation of Beaver Park Reservoir, owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Rio Grande Reservoir; the Cooperative Project’s primary objectives are to store and regulate water rights to better meet water demands in the San Luis Valley. The development of the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Water Plan encourage multiuse projects that address the needs of irrigation, municipal, management, augmentation, recreation, and environmental needs. The Colorado Water Plan and the Colorado Water Conservation’s strategic framework recognize the need for multiuse projects, policies and partnerships.

The Rio Grande Basin Water Plan is being developed by members of the Rio Grande Roundtable and other interested citizens. This basin plan supports the continued rehabilitation of the Valley’s reservoirs and encourages the multipurpose objective thru partnerships and cooperation. The Basin Water Plan also recognizes the need for groundwater regulation to manage and sustain the Valley’s aquifers and agriculture economy, as well as the tenet to remain compliant with the Rio Grande Compact. The Valley’s reservoirs offer a bucket in times of plenty and a source of water in times of need. San Luis Valley residents are encouraged to get involved in the water plan by attending the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@dinatalewater.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


El Agua es Vida — Acequias in Northern New Mexico display at the University of New Mexico #RioGrande

May 26, 2014

From the Albuquerque Journal (Kathaleen Roberts):

“El Agua es Vida: Acequias in Northern New Mexico” merges art, science and culture at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Based on a multidisciplinary study conducted by UNM, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Tech and Sandia National Laboratories, the exhibition will be up through May 31, 2015.

Acequia irrigation and agriculture created the northern New Mexico landscape we see today.

Unique to New Mexico – except for parts of southern Colorado and Texas – acequias originated in Spain. Spanish explorers brought them to the state in 1539, curator Devorah Romanek said.

Every colonial settlement that took root between 1600 and 1847 required the construction of ditches to direct water for crops and livestock. These hand-dug, gravity-fed trenches lure mountain snowmelt through the state’s narrow furrows and valleys and into community fields, orchards and gardens.

Before acequias veined the landscape, Pueblo, Apache and Navajo people developed their own irrigation systems as part of their farming methods. They also based their water management on community responsibility and participation.

About 42 percent of acequia-carried water recycles back into the aquifer, feeding the state’s rivers, Romanek said. These handmade ditches play a vital environmental role in a state where water is an increasingly scarce and precious resource.

“So it’s really the best way to manage the water here in New Mexico,” she explained. “And it also has these incredible cultural and traditional ties.”

The show features artwork and 130 objects relating to the digging and maintaining of acequias, as well their end products in farming and cooking.

If you go
WHAT: “El Agua es Vida: Acequias in Northern New Mexico”
WHEN: Through May 31, 2015
WHERE: Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
HOW MUCH: Free. Call 277-4405 or visit maxwellmuseum.unm/edu

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


#RioGrande River Basin: A look at administration of the Rio Grande Compact from the Colorado side

May 18, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From The Taos News (J.R. Logan):

The offices of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District are housed in an aging Quonset hut on a sleepy side street in Center, Colo. To an outsider, the hand-painted sign and worn carpet imply an organization that is old-fashioned and outdated. But in reality, the district is part of one of the most modern and sophisticated water management operations in the country.

District superintendent Travis Smith has made a career out of water management in the San Luis Valley. He’s well acquainted with the myriad challenges the valley’s irrigators face — both environmental and economic — and he’s wary of outsiders who are quick to criticize the enormous amount of water consumed by the farmers he serves.

In recent years, those criticisms have grown louder. Prolonged regional drought has strained relations between water users north and south of the border. Long sections of the Río Grande in New Mexico have dried up entirely, and the state’s pecan and chile industries have suffered badly for lack of water.

Rafting outfitters in Taos County have joined those focusing their ire north. Some guides complain scant Río Grande flows are killing their businesses. This is particularly true because rafters and kayakers can’t run one of the area’s main recreation attractions — the Taos Box — if irrigators leave almost nothing of the river in the late spring and summer.

In preparation for his interview with The Taos News, Smith has three things on his desk: the daily Río Grande flow report detailing exactly how water from the river will be allocated that day; a pocket-sized copy of the Río Grande Compact, which shows how much water Colorado owes New Mexico; and a newspaper article about a Santa Fe environmental group threatening to sue Colorado over its irrigation practices.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Well augmentation enforced by the Colorado Division of Water Resources

May 12, 2014
Typical water well

Typical water well

Domestic and irrigation well pumping both come with augmentation requirements under Colorado Water law. Here’s a story about augmentation education and enforcement in the Blue River watershed from Alli Langley writing for the Summit Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

As water commissioner for District 36 of the state Division of Water Resources, [Troy Wineland] manages water rights in the Blue River basin. This runoff season, he will focus on getting residents using “exempt wells” illegally to change their ways.

“I’m just continually optimistic,” he said, that “if given the information people will make better choices, the right choices.”

Of the county’s 2,500 wells, three-quarters are exempt, meaning the prior appropriation system that governs Colorado water rights doesn’t apply to them…

Exempt wells aren’t shut off during shortages because they require special sewage systems that return used water to the ground. If done properly, the water loss is about 5 percent, which the law says isn’t enough to impact those with senior water rights.

Permits for exempt wells say water must be used only inside the walls of a single-family housing unit and restrict the amount used per year. Owners can pay to use water in ways that violate their permit as long as they augment the water, or ensure that the used water won’t affect the surrounding watershed and senior water rights.

Summit well owners can buy augmented water through the county or Vidler Water Co.

In the next six weeks, Wineland will knock on hundreds of doors where people without the right permits are irrigating, filling hot tubs or using water in other illegal ways. If the well owners are home, he’ll talk with them about the rules and why they’re important.

“You have to back out from the micro level. ‘Oh, this is my own little fiefdom, and what I do here is not going to affect anyone else,’” he said. Remember the long-term drought and projected shortages, he said. Think about the hundreds of nearby wells and cumulative impact on local streams and rivers. They feed the Colorado River, which supplies seven states.

He’ll explain the options: Stop the illegal use or get an augmentation contract. Most people are responsive, he said. They just didn’t know or didn’t think it was important.

In a couple of weeks, if well owners haven’t done anything, he’ll issue a courtesy warning and deadline. After that deadline, violators will receive an injunction and be fined for unpermitted uses: $500 a day.

People who contact Wineland by July 1 with the necessary information will have until June 1, 2015, to get into compliance.

“I’m going to put it in their hands and say, ‘Hey, you can do this on your own time line,’” he said, “‘or if I come and knock on your door, you can adhere to my time line,’ which is much tighter, more than likely 30 days.”

Meanwhile groundwater sub-district 1 implementation rolls on, with state approval of their augmentation plan, in the San Luis Valley. Here’s a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier:

Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved the 2014 Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No. 1 on Monday. The state decision will be submitted to the Division No. 3 Water Court today, April 29. Wolfe determined the plan adequately identified sources and amounts of replacement water and remedies the subdistrict would use to make up for injurious stream depletions this year.

The sub-district plans to use up to 2,806 acre feet of transbasin water; up to 5,608 acre feet of Santa Maria Reservoir water; up to 2,500 acre feet of Closed Basin Project water; and up to 4,300 acre feet of forbearance water to meet its obligations this year.

The forbearance agreements are with the Rio Grande Canal Water Users Association (up to 2,000 acre feet); San Luis Valley Irrigation District (up to 1,000 acre feet); San Luis Valley Canal Company (up to 400 acre feet); Prairie Ditch Company (up to 100 acre feet); Monte Vista Water Users Association (up to 300 acre feet); and Commonwealth Irrigation Company-Empire Canal (up to 500 acre feet.) Water currently in storage will be released from the Rio Grande, Santa Maria and Continental Reservoirs at the direction of the division engineer to replace injurious stream depletions in time, location and amounts that they occur, beginning May 1.

Wolfe approved the annual replacement plan with about a dozen terms and conditions including daily replacement water accounting every month to the local division office and replacement water deliveries in a manner acceptable to the division engineer.

The terms also excluded the use of “Big Ruby” water, water purchased from Navajo Development Company (John Parker II) in the last two years and held in Rio Grande Reservoir but previously stored in Big Ruby Reservoir. Wolfe stated his office had not yet received all of the information it required to approve a Substitute Water Supply Plan application so he was denying the use of Big Ruby water in the Annual Replace Plan.

“The approval of this ARP is made with the understanding that if the ARP proves insufficient to remedy injurious stream depletions, the State Engineer has the authority to invoke the retained jurisdiction of the Division No. 3 Water Court,” Wolfe stated.

Wolfe’s approval followed approval locally by the subdistrict board of managers and the board for the subdistrict’s sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. The plan is required each year to show how the water management sub-district will replace injurious stream depletions caused by well pumping in the sub-district area. The sub-district encompasses more than 3,400 wells pumping about 230,000 acre feet annually on about 163,500 irrigated acres. The amount of pumping in the sub-district has decreased from nearly 308,000 acre feet in 2010 and nearly 325,000 acre feet in 2011 to about 259,000 acre feet in 2012 and approximately 228,500 acre feet last year.

The Annual Replacement Plan anticipates well pumping this year to be about what it was last year.

A groundwater model is used to calculate depletions the sub-district must remedy each year. The only river for which the groundwater model predicts depletions from Sub-district No. 1 is the Rio Grande. This year the estimated total depletions affecting the Rio Grande due to past and projected pumping is 3,971 acre feet. The total lag stream depletions from prior and projected pumping total more than 30,000 acre feet. The sub-district is required to make up those depletions over time in addition to the ongoing depletions.

The state is holding the sponsoring water district financially responsible to make up those lag depletions if Sub-district No. 1 goes under. In previous years Subdistrict No. 1 has offered fallowing programs, with more than 8,200 irrigated acres fallowed to some extent last year. This year the sub-district is not offering that program but is relying on other measures such as the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) re-authorized in the new Farm Bill and administered through USDA Farm Service Agency offices. FSA offices have informed the sub-district that sign-up for the Rio Grande CREP would resume sometime in May.

More groundwater coverage here.


“The sky turns pink or brown as the dust clouds billow and swirl on the Southern Plains” — Betsy Blaney #COdrought

May 11, 2014


From the Associated Press (Betsy Blaney) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

The sky turns pink or brown as the dust clouds billow and swirl on the Southern Plains, leaving those caught outdoors with grit on their teeth and in their eyes, much like the days of the Dust Bowl. But due to the drought conditions that have been a constant presence since 2011, some parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, northeastern New Mexico and Southeastern Colorado are drier now than they were during the infamous dry spell of the 1930s.

While experts say the possibility of another Dust Bowl is unlikely because of modern irrigation and farming techniques enacted afterward that are aimed at holding soil in place, greater erosion in recent years has resulted in an increasing number of dust storms, including one last month that lasted three days in Lubbock.

The dust storms are an indirect result of the drought, according to Tom Gill, a geology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied the phenomenon for years.

“The drought leads to reduced land cover and making it far more difficult to keep the soil anchored to the ground,” he said. “To get a real strong dust storm you need a combination of barren land and strong winds,” Gill said.

In the 1930s, farmers plowed up 100 million acres, and billions of tons of topsoil blew away, filling the skies across five states with soil. Scientists with the federal government’s Soil Conservation Service — now the Natural Resources Conservation Service — stepped in after the man-made ecological disaster and tried to stem erosion.

Progress was slow initially, but since the 1980s, more U.S. farmers have moved to soil conservation practices, minimizing the disturbance of the soil’s surface and making it less likely to take flight in high winds. The results are telling: In 1982, more than 3 billion tons of soil nationwide were lost to wind and water erosion; that dropped to 1.72 billion tons in 2010, according to data from the conservation service

David Ford lives in a part of the Texas Panhandle that’s drier now than in the 1930s, and has used a strip-till process to conserve soil for about 10 years.

“If it hadn’t been for a lot of these changes, it would really be bad,” said Ford, who grows corn, cotton, wheat and grain sorghum on more than 4,000 acres about 50 miles north of Amarillo, Texas. “We would be in the middle of the ’30s again.”

The number of dust storms seems to rise with the length of the drought. Amarillo has had 10 this year; it had none in 2010. The city is about 10 percent drier now than the 42 months that ended April 30, 1936, and drier than the state’s record drought in the 1950s.

Lubbock already has seen 15 days with dust storms this year, the National Weather Service said.

Weather service officials in southeastern Colorado only began issuing dust storm warning this year because they were becoming more prevalent; so far, the Pueblo office has issued 15 warnings.


“I had work to do today, but then a river happened” — John Fleck #RioGrande #NMdrought

May 9, 2014

Runoff news: Timing of Rio Grande River Compact deliveries questioned downriver #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver

May 6, 2014
Rio Grande River near Del Norte May 6, 2014

Rio Grande River near Del Norte May 6, 2014

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Streamflow data from the Colorado Division of Water Resources showed the Río Grande was flowing at 1,330 cubic-feet per second (cfs) when it came out of the mountains near Del Norte, Colo Wednesday (April 30).
But by the time it was just about to cross the New Mexico border, it was at just 209 cfs.
The 84 percent drop is due almost entirely to irrigation in the San Luís Valley, which begins in earnest around this time of year.

Rio Grande River near Cerro May 6, 2014

Rio Grande River near Cerro May 6, 2014

A hydrograph of the Río Grande near Cerro showed the river was hovering at nearly 700 cfs between the end of February and the end of March. But starting at April 1, the streamflow at Cerro begin to plummet. At one point in mid-April, the river in New Mexico was at just 100 cfs.

The amount of water in the river as it crosses state lines is dictated by the Río Grande Compact — a deal hashed out between New Mexico, Colorado and Texas in the 1930s…

Water officials in New Mexico and Colorado say Colorado has met its legal obligation in recent years. The total water delivery from Colorado is calculated on an annual basis, meaning water that runs unimpeded in the fall and winter makes up for big diversions in the spring and early summer.

Taos County residents — especially some rafting guides — have been vocal critics of the arrangement, which they say does harm to their business and affects the ecology of the river.

Farmers and water managers in the San Luís Valley, meanwhile, point out that they too are suffering from the effects of drought and are operating within the limits of the compact.

From Reclamation via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

With runoff starting to increase in the Big Thompson Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation bumped up outflow from Olympus Dam, at the east side of Estes Park, into the river Monday morning.

Kara Lamb, public information officer for the agency, said the flow was gradually increased through the day from 40 cubic feet per second to about 140 cfs.

“The heat over the next few days will likely increase nightly runoff inflows to Lake Estes, which will pass on through Olympus Dam to the canyon,” she said in a press release, adding, “So far, runoff inflows have been typical for this time of year.”

Warm weather has started melting mountain snowpack, leading to the increase in river flow.

On Friday Lamb had reported runoff inflow reaching up to 200 cfs at night. Runoff typically reaches its peak at night as water from snow that melted during the day heads downstream.

Lamb said it’s possible there could be more increases in outflow into the Big Thompson on Tuesday.

Last week, the bureau diverted some of the runoff inflow to the Colorado-Big Thompson Projects reservoirs, including Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir.

By Friday, Carter Lake was at 98 percent of capacity, and more water was being diverted to Horsetooth. By Sunday it was reported at 88 percent full.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’re still making space for the upcoming runoff on the Blue River. As a result, about an hour ago, we bumped up releases from Green Mountain Dam to the lower Blue by 50 cfs. We are now sending about 950 cfs on downstream.


Rio Grande Basin: Water Managers Cooperate to Create Beneficial River Flows, Albuequerque to Elephant Butte #RioGrande

May 5, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia


Silvery minnows were seen doing backflips over the news that their reach of the Rio Grande is going to get an extra drink.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

Flows on the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Elephant Butte Reservoir will increase this week in a coordinated effort aimed at triggering a spawn of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. This pioneering effort by federal and non-federal water managers will create conditions that haven’t naturally occurred over the last four years due to drought.
The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snowpack volumes well below average throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The inflow at El Vado Reservoir is expected to be about 64,000 acre-feet of water or about 28 percent of average. This type of coordinated effort is needed to attempt to cue a spawn, as minnow numbers in the critical habitat from Cochiti Dam to just above Elephant Butte Reservoir are at their lowest since populations have been monitored.

The release out of Abiquiu Reservoir increased to about 1,500 cubic-feet-per-second today to begin moving water toward the Middle Rio Grande. The flow out of Cochiti Reservoir will increase to as high as 2,000 cfs, doubling the current release. It will continue for a week, and then be stepped down to the current release. The goal of this flow is to mimic a natural spring runoff peak to encourage the Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn while still meeting the irrigation needs of the middle valley. The water for this action is being released from reservoirs and will not diminish the available water supply for Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District irrigators.

“This release is the result of focused planning and coordination among water management agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Mike Hamman. “It was a tremendous effort by all involved to use what limited water that is available to help create an artificial pulse flow that we hope will trigger a substantial spawn, which hasn’t happened naturally in the last few years due to the severe drought conditions in New Mexico.”

This multi-agency effort was between Reclamation, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who agreed to an exchange that provided the largest portion of the water, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the city of Albuquerque, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Middle Rio Grande Pueblos Coalition is also working closely with Reclamation to assist in this effort.

“Creating a successful spawn of silvery minnow while still meeting the needs of our farmers and cities is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Estevan Lopez, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “We are proud of this innovative effort and the hard work of all the people involved. This success was only possible through collaboration in the middle Rio Grande valley and demonstrates New Mexico’s ability to work through another summer of drought.”

The approximately 18,000 acre-feet of water to be used for the peak flow came from two sources. About 12,000 acre-feet came from an exchange whereby water held in storage last year on behalf of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos that went unused and would have been released last fall was exchanged at Elephant Butte with the Water Authority for San Juan-Chama water. Updated sediment studies at Abiquiu Reservoir led to the discovery of an additional 6,000 acre feet of water which must now move down to Elephant Butte.

Water managers and biologists have been preparing for this since the beginning of the year. A similar effort was underway in 2013, but could not be attempted due to extremely low river flows. Conditions are now more favorable and recent meetings have focused on the logistics of the release for the best possible timing. It is important that river temperatures are warm enough to allow for minnow spawning and that there is enough natural flow in the river to allow the majority of this water to reach Elephant Butte. Crews will be in the river to gather some of the minnow eggs as part of the FWS’s Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources & Recovery Center propagation program and for the city of Albuquerque BioPark. Other eggs will hopefully hatch in the river to help maintain the wild population. MRGCD is coordinating with egg collection crews and adjusting its intake structures as necessary to avoid accidental entrainment of eggs it in its system.

A similar high flow was released from El Vado on April 25-28 for overall ecosystem improvement on the Rio Chama. In that case, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District agreed to allow its water to be moved down and held at Abiquiu Reservoir for use in the Middle Rio Grande in the coming months. ABCWUA allowed MRGCD to use some of its storage space in Abiquiu. The flow reached 2,000 cfs for about 24 hours before being gradually reduced.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


The Spring 2014 newsletter from the Rio Grande Land Trust is hot off the presses

May 4, 2014

riograndelandtrustspring2014newslettercover

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

… there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment we experience at the closing of a conservation easement.

Conserving land and water is really our core function. And it gives us the chance to work with some of the most committed and generous people here in the Valley who deeply care about the future of their ranches. This is so evident in the heartwarming story in this newsletter from Eveyln Buss about conserving the ranch that she and her brother Doug Davie inherited from their parents. We are grateful to them for protecting that beautiful ranch on the Rio Grande, and its exceptional water rights forever.

Likewise, we were able to complete the conservation easement on the lovely Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River in December of 2013. Along with his daughters, Lana and Tania, Reyes Garcia was committed to protecting the legacy of his family on that land. His article expressing the deep meaning of this was featured in our Spring 2013 newsletter (you can find that issue on our website).

Both of these ranches were featured properties in RiGHT’s 2012 and 2013 “Save the Ranch” campaigns. In so many ways, these projects were community projects, and we could not have made our way through the many challenges that easements inherently present, without the generous support of our many friends and neighbors who contribute to RiGHT’s work, with donations of time, funds, and so much more. I hope you will share in our deep sense of accomplishment, that together, we are leaving a lasting legacy of conserved land and water for future generations.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


A case of #ColoradoRiver Basin Envy Syndrome #RioGrande

May 4, 2014

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Stuck out here in the Rio Grande Basin, I’ve long suffered Colorado River Basin Envy Syndrome. The Colorado is the sexy river, which means it gets all the cool science. I dream of an analysis this rich of uncertainties in my river’s streamflow.

Turns out that even within the Colorado River Basin there’s a little Envy Syndrome going on.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


San Luis Valley county commissioners unite against endangered listing for the Rio Grande Cutthroat

April 28, 2014
Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Without a doubt, the Valley’s six governments are against the potential Rio Grande Cutthroat (RGCT) endangered species listing. The San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (VCC) unanimously decided Monday to add its organizational name to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between 10 county governments stating there is no need to list the species.

In addition to the six Valley counties – Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache – Hinsdale, Las Animas, San Juan and Archuleta Counties also have a signatory line on the MOU. To date, Rio Grande, Conejos, Mineral, Saguache and Hinsdale have already made the commitment on paper.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the RGCT warranted but precluded, according to the Federal Register , Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish soon.

“The deadline has come and gone,” said Tom Spezze, who is heading up the local RGCT listing fight. The delay, he said, is “good news for us” because having the MOU in place prior to the decision shows a “stronger level of commitment” and allows the VCC to use its “political horsepower.”

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish , which is also found in New Mexico, will classify the species as endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing.

Spezze and Hinsdale County, whose government is acting as the campaign’s fiscal agent, also asked each county to contribute some funding to the effort. According to Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier, about $23,000 – roughly $3,000 from each county – is needed for both Spezze’s work and legal counsel.

“We did this (became the fiscal agent) in good faith because we believe all the counties will get on board,” Dozier said.

Before the counties offer up any money, a financial subcommittee will form and discuss contributions.

“We need to take this back to individual counties and see what our finances are,” said Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen.

His fellow commissioner Michel Yohn added, “This (the potential listing) does affect us tremendously. I see more costs coming. As counties, we need to realize this.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence , actual or potential.

“The RGCT are what we say they are,” Spezze said. “There is a 90 to 95-percent genetic confidence . There are no lineage crossovers.”

Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and can include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“There are impacts beyond the RGCT,” said Travis Smith, San Luis Valley Irrigation District manager and Colorado Water Conservation Board member. “We are in a place right now to send a strong message about a culture change. It transcends more than just fishing.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide, which includes the model efforts of the Trinchera Ranch to keep the species thriving in its creeks. Spezze added that should the RGCT make the endangered species list it is not foolish to think senior water rights could be affected in the future.

“We can’t just bury our heads in the sand,” said Rio Grande Commissioner Karla Shriver. “Every county should look at it seriously, and as a group we can do more. Maybe we can proactively stop this? We need to protect our constituents. We need to give them a voice.” For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded. Between 2003 and 2011, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts , according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


San Luis Valley: Pumpers worry about augmentation water debt

April 28, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Paying past water debts while trying to keep up with current ones could be a make-or-break proposition for new water management sub-districts throughout the San Luis Valley. the Valley, members of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) began developing an alternative several years ago that it hoped would allow Valley farmers to stay in business while complying with state regulations. The larger water district sponsored sub-districts for various geographical areas of the Valley, with the first lying in the closed basin area in the central part of the Valley. The sub-districts’ goals are to make up for depletions well users have caused in the past and are causing in the present , plus rebuild the Valley’s aquifers. One of their objectives is to take irrigated land out of production to reduce the draw on the aquifers.

The first sub-district is operational now with fees collected from farmers within the sub-district paying for water to offset the depletions and injuries to surface Background Knowing the state would soon be regulating the hundreds of irrigation wells in users caused by their well pumping. As the late RGWCD President Ray Wright described the effort, it was a “pay to play” proposition. For example, those who did not have surface water rights would pay more to continue operating their wells than those who had both surface and groundwater.

The first sub-district is also putting water in the river to replace injurious depletions its well users have caused to surface rights. One of the methods the sub-district has used to meet its goals is to purchase property. Another has been to support the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which is included in the farm bill. That program pays folks to fallow land either permanently or for a specific time period, with cover crops planted for ground cover and erosion Sub-district #1 submitted its annual replacement plan to its board, its sponsoring district and the state engineer and court this week. The subdistrict board of managers and RGWCD board approved the plan, and RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver personally presented it to Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten on Tuesday.

The 2012 annual replacement plan was challenged, with some of those legal challenges still pending in court. (The 2013 plan was not contested.) RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told the board on Tuesday the Colorado Supreme Court has not yet set the matter for arguments, and if it does not do so in the next week or two, it will probably not schedule the arguments until September or October. The local water court upheld the plan, but objectors appealed to the Supreme Court, which has received briefs from the parties in the case but has not yet set a time to hear arguments.

Robbins said there are three issues involved in the court case regarding the 2012 annual replacement plan: 1) use of Closed Basin Project water as replacement water, “that’s a good legal argument ;” 2) the way augmentation plans were accounted for in the 2012 replacement plan, “that’s a slap my hand argument;” and 3) when the annual replacement plan becomes effective, a procedural argument. Current activity

Now that the first subdistrict is operational and the state’s groundwater rules likely to be filed in the next month or two, the sponsoring water district is fervently assisting sub-district working groups from Saguache to Conejos and everywhere in between. One of the proposed sub-districts , for example, lies along the alluvium of the Rio Grande.

RGWCD Program Managers Rob Phillips and Cleave Simpson are working to get the new sub-districts formed.

Vandiver told the RGWCD board on Tuesday that Simpson is working hard with working groups for Subdistricts #2, 3, and 4 to get petitions ready to be signed by landowners in those subdistricts and to draft a plan of management and budget for each sub-district . Those will be presented to the water court when they are completed. Simpson told the RGWCD board on Tuesday all three of those sub-district working groups plan to present their completed petitions to the sponsoring water district board before the end of this calendar year.

Vandiver added that Subdistricts #5 and 6, Saguache Creek and San Luis Creek, are not as far along. The Saguache Creek group has held numerous meetings but is waiting on final numbers from the state’s groundwater model to know how much it will owe in depletions before it can proceed much further. The working group for the San Luis Creek sub-district fell apart, Vandiver said, but a few well owners in that area are getting back together and will meet next week for the first time in a long time.

Vandiver also told the RGWCD board on Tuesday that a group of federal and state agencies that own wells in the Valley are meeting to discuss their options. They will also have to comply with the groundwater regulations, as will municipalities with wells. Vandiver said state, federal and local agencies/ municipalities will have to join/form a sub-district or create augmentation plans to comply with the pending state rules. Many of the agencies are interested in joining subdistricts , he added. In doing so, they would either have to pay with cash or water, and many of them have water they could contribute, which would be helpful for the subdistricts . Water debt challenges RGWCD Director Cory Off brought up the issue of the district having to provide a guaranty to the state for lag depletions from past pumping , which was determined in the case of Sub-district #1 to be 19 years. Off said District Judge O. John Kuenhold in 2008 ruled the sub-district had to pay lag depletions to the river but did not say the sub-district had to provide a guaranty. The first plan of water management, which the state engineer approved, required the sub-district to have two years of wet water in storage, Off added.

The state engineer did not say anything about a guaranty in 2011, but in 2012 the state required the district to sign a letter of guaranty, which it did, Off added. He said he believed the water district board needed to rethink this matter because he did not believe the district had an obligation to file a guaranty, particularly for Sub-district #1 since it had already been approved by the court, or any future sub-districts. By signing the letter of guaranty for Subdistrict #1 the district was putting future sub-districts in a precarious position, he said, because subsequent sub-districts do not have the economic ability to cover lag depletions like Sub-district #1 does. Off said the first sub-district is comprised of a large number of farmers, but some of the other sub-districts have a fraction of the populace but even greater depletions to make up.

RGWCD Director Lawrence Gallegos said that was true of the two sub-districts in Conejos County, and if those sub-districts had to provide a guaranty for lag depletions, their fees would be astronomical.

“I think it could be make-it or break-it especially for the two sub-districts that are in the county I represent,” he said. “I think we need to have the sub-districts working ” We don’t want to set anybody up to fail.”

He said the RGWCD board needs to ask its legal counsel to talk to the state engineer about other arrangements that wouldn’t break the subdistricts .

RGWCD Director Dwight Martin said Sub-district #4, with which he has been involved, has been trying to determine what its obligation will be. It does not have firm numbers yet. Martin said if the depletions are 22,000 acre feet, it is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to meet that obligation. If the depletion repayment is 8,000 acre feet, the sub-district can put together a workable budget with the approximately 400 wells involved in that sub-district .

Robbins said Sub-district #1 is close to having enough water or cash to pay its lag depletions if it went out of business today, and each area of the Valley where depletions have occurred must make up for its depletions either cooperatively through sub-districts or individually through augmentation plans. He said the district does not yet know what the lag depletions will be for the rest of the sub-districts because they are hydrologically different than Sub-district # 1. For example, Sub-district #2 is right along the river.

“The state engineer cannot approve a plan of management unless he’s given assurance the depletions that are caused by the pumping will be replaced so that there is no injury to senior water rights,” Robbins said.

Cotten agreed. He said it is like getting a 20-year loan. If someone told the bank he would pay the first year but provided no guaranty he would pay the next 19 years, he would probably not get the loan. He added that this is not the only basin where the state engineer has required this type of thing.

Off said he was not saying the depletions should not be replaced.

“Paying depletions to the river obviously has to happen ,” he said.

His problem was with the guaranty for lag depletions, he said.

Robbins said there might be several ways those lag depletions could be covered . It could be through a permanent forbearance, for example, he said.

“There are a lots of ways to solve the problem other than simply putting money in escrow,” Robbins said.

RGWCD President Greg Higel said as a senior water owner he wanted to see lag depletions paid back and wanted to see some sort of guaranty in place that they would be.

Vandiver said the state engineer’s responsibility is to protect the surface water users that the sub-district plan was designed to protect. He said the senior/surface water users drove the point home to the court and the state that replacement of depletions was a critical issue that must be addressed. “The objectors from the very beginning have said it wasn’t enough, it just wasn’t enough.”

Vandiver said he was not opposed to going back to the state engineer to talk about lag depletions, but he believed the district must present some options.

Robbins said, “If the board wants me to talk to the state engineer, we can come up with the options.”

He added he was not opposed to having a preliminary discussion with State Engineer Dick Wolfe to see how much flexibility he might be willing to provide.

The RGWCD board unanimously voted to have Robbins speak with the state engineer about the lag depletion guaranties and alternatives.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Snowpack news: “It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning” — Manny Colon

April 15, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A wet, heavy snow Sunday provided more relief from persistent drought in parts of the Arkansas River basin, but could cause some damage to blossoming fruit trees.

“It will take about four days to know for sure, but I’m sure there is some damage,” said Manny Colon, a Canon City fruit grower.

He explained that while some buds were open, the snow in the trees also could have an insulating effect, protecting the unopened buds. The length of time for freezing temperatures and humidity also are factors.

“It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning,” he laughed. “All the moisture in the snow is wonderful and will help the trees, grass and hay.”

The heavy snow also could cause damage to young trees, but overall its impact should be positive for this parched portion of Colorado.

Pueblo, Fremont, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the most moisture from a storm that started as rain, then quickly turned to snow as it hovered over the area all day Sunday. In places, it dropped about a foot of snow, although 6-8 inches was more common, according to readings from the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network.

Moisture content of 0.75 inches was recorded in Pueblo, while an inch was listed in the Rye area. One site in western Custer County listed 1.18 inches of moisture from the snow.

Moisture and snowfall was far less on the Eastern Plains and in the Rio Grande valley, where snow measured 1-3 inches, and moisture content was .02-0.25 inches.

Mountain areas fared better, with 5-7 inches of snow containing up to half an inch or more of water.

Snowpack in the mountains already has passed the median peak and continues to grow. The typical peak at higher elevations usually comes during the first week of May.

Basinwide, snowpack is at 108 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water for the Arkansas River, is about 121 percent of average.

The Arkansas River this week is flowing 25 percent higher than last week, but still is below average for this time of year. About half of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo consists of releases by the Bureau of Reclamation to make room for transmountain imports. About one-third of the releases from Lake Pueblo consists of stored water being released for irrigation.

Pueblo’s year-to-date precipitation was 2.4 inches Monday, 17 percent above normal, according to the National Weather Service.


The funding request for Mountain Home Reservoir sails through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

April 12, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Money still following the water in the Rio Grande Basin.

With funds to spare, the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday unanimously approved a $25,000 allocation from the local basin account for a feasibility study to determine the best way to improve the efficiency of Mountain Home Reservoir both for the benefit of Trinchera Irrigation Company irrigators and those who enjoy recreational activities at the reservoir.

Currently the local water supply reserve account totals more than $107,000, and another disbursal of $120,000 to the basin is expected soon, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staffer Craig Godbout told the roundtable members during their April 8 meeting. CWCB administers the funds approved by the legislature from a portion of severance tax proceeds for water projects throughout the state’s river basins including the Rio Grande. A portion of the money is allocated to each river basin to be apportioned by each roundtable group whose members locally include representatives of various water groups and interests throughout the San Luis Valley.

Another portion of the money is set aside for statewide disbursement through the CWCB board. That board also has to approve the local projects, many of which seek funding from both the local and statewide accounts. The Trinchera Irrigation Company’s request for $25,000, however, was solely from the local basin account.

Godbout explained that the total of the most recent request of $25,000 added to requests last month for basin funds of $44,500 equaled $69,500, which the current balance of $107,000 can accommodate .

Unlike the Trinchera request, the grant requests from March sought funding from both the local and statewide water reserve accounts, Godbout said. Those March requests are currently on hold until the CWCB receives its next allocation of severance tax proceeds, he added, because the total requests from the statewide account last month exceeded the amount the statewide account contained.

Funding requests for projects from around the state, including $830,500 in requests from the Valley, totaled more than $1.7 million, and the statewide account only had about $980,000 in it at the time, Godbout explained.

“We delayed all the statewide requests until May,” he said.

By that time the CWCB expects to receive an additional $1.9 million in its statewide account, which will more than cover the current requests for funding. The additional funding was supposed to come in on April 1 but has not yet been received.

Godbout anticipated approval for the pending project requests during the May 21-22 meeting of the CWCB board in Pueblo.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request on Tuesday to the roundtable group to fund a feasibility study on Mountain Home Reservoir improvements. He had presented an overview of the project to the roundtable during its March meeting.

The irrigation company encompasses 47 shareholders irrigating about 12,000 acres in the northern part of Costilla County. Trinchera Irrigation Company manages both Mountain Home Reservoir, with a decreed capacity of about 18,000 acre feet, and Smith Reservoir, decreed for about 2,000 acre feet, Schwab explained.

The project for which the irrigation company was seeking funding was improvement to Mountain Home, which not only provides irrigation water but water for wildlife and recreation such as fishing and boating. Schwab said Mountain Home Reservoir is a popular fishing spot even in wintertime when anglers go ice fishing.

Mountain Home Reservoir was built in 1908, and only one of the three canal gates is operational right now, Schwab said. The state engineer would like to see all three operational, he added.

Schwab said he believed the two gates not currently being used probably would open, but he was nervous they might not close. One of the current problems at the reservoir is gate leakage down the canal to Smith Reservoir, if it makes it that far, Schwab added. He estimated more than 1,000 acre-foot loss annually that is going into the ground or being evaporated.

The feasibility study, for which roundtable funds were requested and approved , would determine the best way to improve dam safety, improve water storage , reduce storage loss and protect and improve water availability for wildlife and recreational purposes.

The study would involve an underwater inspection of the outlet works, cost analyses of alternatives and recommendations .

Schwab said although no funding match was required, the Trinchera Irrigation Company with assistance from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited were kicking in $12,650, with more than $10,000 alone from CPW in technical assistance . Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group one of the goals of the roundtable was to support the reservoirs, and this project ties in with that goal. The roundtable has also previously assisted other reservoir projects for the Santa Maria, Continental , Rio Grande, Platoro and Sanchez Reservoirs.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

April 5, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

“BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


NRCS: April Rio Grande Basin forecasts available

April 3, 2014

‘The BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other’ [water rights owner] — Paul Tigan #COWaterPlan

March 22, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From the Valley Courier (Paul Tigan):

This is the sixth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. ing of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, what comes to mind? Is it livestock ranching? Oil and gas development ? Maybe it’s rock climbing at Penitente Canyon , or watching wildlife and birds at Blanca Wetlands. Perhaps it’s a trip to BLM lands every fall to sight in your rifle in the hopes of dropping a trophy bull on the opening morning of the first elk season.

“The mission of the BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. This mission is remarkably complex. As the San Luis Valley Field Office Manager likes to say “it’s not rocket science it’s more complicated.”

It requires the BLM to not only balance “multiple uses” in the present day, but also consider how the American people may need those resources far into an unknown future.

Here in the San Luis Valley, the BLM manages just over 500,000 acres of land according to this mission. Dozens of livestock ranching operations depend on the health of the BLM land; so too dozens of threatened, endangered, and special status wildlife and plant species. Some public lands have been set aside to be studied for future preservation, such as the San Luis Hills, while others have been designated for development as solar energy sites to serve future energy needs for the nation. And many uses share the same acre of public land like the new gravity-assisted mountain bike trail at Zapata Falls, but keep an eye out for the cattle on the same trail. And wear a helmet!

But like every other person or entity that manages land in the San Luis Valley, there is one resource in short supply for the BLM water. It may surprise some to learn that the BLM (and every other federal land management agency) is required by federal law to adhere to the state-managed water appropriation systems. When it comes to water management, the BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other farmer, rancher, city, and conservation district.

Many people might think of the BLM’s water needs as “non-consumptive ,” that is, resources need water but don’t “use” it the way a farm might use it. For some areas, this is true. People who enjoy float-boating on the Rio Grande depend on water to get from Las Sauces to the Lobatos Bridge, or further south into the Rio Grande Gorge. Similarly, aquatic species, such as trout, depend on certain water conditions at particular times of the year to breed and sustain their populations. People who enjoy fishing depend on the water as well. But the San Luis Valley Field Office also uses water, within the appropriation system, to support a diverse array of habitats and uses. The BLM holds dozens of water rights across the SLV for the benefit of livestock grazing operations. These rights generally stem from natural springs and utilize small infrastructure systems to make them useful. Perhaps more dramatically, the BLM also irrigates thousands of acres of land for the benefit of many plant and wildlife species. That management not only sustains those critical species habitats, but also leads to incredible recreation opportunities , such as wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Blanca Wetlands, a habitat restoration effort that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The BLM uses more than 40 wells and some water from the Closed Basin Project to wet and dry about 2000 acres of historic and restored wetland playa habitat. These acres support 13 threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and over 160 species of birds. The wetlands are also an important calving and fawning area for big game species. Blanca Wetlands maintains Colorado’s largest population of western snowy plover and supports a number of waterbird species of regional, national, and even hemispheric importance.

But the Blanca Wetlands isn’t just for the birds. One of the great joys of the BLM staff is watching the public engage these incredible resources just 20 minutes from Alamosa. Whether it is a kindergartener walking out into a playa barefoot to catch a fairy shrimp in a bucket, or a high school student receiving national recognition for her research, a living laboratory like the Blanca Wetlands connects people to the natural world in ways that no iPad app can.

But like every water user who pumps groundwater to stay in business, the BLM faces an uncertain future with augmentation requirements from the State of Colorado. The BLM is not currently a party to any of the subdistricts but has worked with the state to define its augmentation responsibilities for groundwater pumping and will meet those responsibilities. These habitats are too important to dry up. They serve not only the diversity and health of the public lands, but also the American people.

As the Rio Grande Basin goes through an era of unprecedented change, the BLM is committed to partnering with other water managers to ensure the Rio Grande Basin of the future enjoys the same broad array of natural resources that contribute to quality of life and a strong and diverse economy. The habitats and resources we manage will be as important 100 years from now as they are today, and water will continue to be the defining feature of these resources.

The BLM is and active partner in the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan, to become a part of the stakeholder process get involved in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa) or; 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. com and; 3) attend any one of the BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@ dinatalewater.com. To be considered, submit input to the Basin Roundtable by March 31.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Alamosa: Water infrastructure funding is in short supply

March 22, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Treating Alamosa’s water is becoming more expensive. With more rigid arsenic standards coming into play several years ago, the City of Alamosa was forced to build a water treatment plant. Recently, Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin said arsenic standards might tighten up again, which could force the city to revamp its treatment system, resulting in an expensive adjustment.

This week Koskelin informed the Alamosa city council of another more immediate problem with the city’s water treatment plant, and the council authorized funding for a pilot treatment system. Koskelin said for six years the membranes that filter out the arsenic in the municipal drinking water supply provided excellent performance. Then all of a sudden in the last year the city started having problems with the membranes. The manufacturer recommended a more stringent cleaning schedule, which meant using more chemicals, which in turn meant more expense. Koskelin said the cost increase for the chemicals alone is nearly $290,000 a year.

Another option would be to replace the membranes, but that would cost threequarters of a million dollars or so. Koskelin said the life of the membrane system was supposed to be 15 years but it has only lasted about six years.

Another solution, which hopefully will be less expensive , will involve lowering the pH of the water, which should improve the filtering process and arsenic removal.

Koskelin recommended that the city enter into a pilot project to test this theory for three months with Clearlogx. He said the city has a threemonth permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to test this system. If it works, the city could buy the system and 90 percent of the money the city paid during the three-month trial would count towards the purchase price. The total purchase price of the system is $175,000. The city will be leasing it for $4,500 a month.

“We need to do something,” Koskelin told the council.

He estimated the pay off on this system would be about two years, and the life of the system should be about 15 years.

Addressing the water treatment situation will result in a budget adjustment, Koskelin added, primarily from enterprise fund surpluses. Koskelin said this solution might also help the city meet stricter arsenic standards when/if they come down in the future.

“If it doesn’t drop lower than 2 parts per billion we should be able to meet those new standards,” he said. The current standard is 10 parts per billion, set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment is considering a stricter standard, which Koskelin estimated at an earlier council meeting would likely not take effect for a couple of years, if the state moves forward with it.

More infrastructure coverage here.


World Resources Institute: World’s 18 Most Water-Stressed Rivers #ColoradoRiver

March 20, 2014

watertressbymostpopulousriverbasinsviaworldresourceinstitute

From the World Resources Institute (Andrew Maddocks/Paul Reig):

The world’s 100 most-populated river basins are indispensable resources for billions of people, companies, farms, and ecosystems. But many of these river basins are also increasingly at risk. As water demand from irrigated agriculture, industrialization, and domestic users explodes, major rivers on several continents are becoming so depleted that they sometimes fail to reach their ocean destinations. Add climate change, nutrient and chemical pollution, and physical alterations like dams and other infrastructure development to the mix and it’s clear that many communities rely on water resources that face an increasingly risky future.

WRI’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored stresses on water supplies in the 100 river basins with the highest populations, 100 largest river basins, and 180 nations. We found that 18 river basins— flowing through countries with a collective $US 27 trillion in GDP —face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity…

Decision-makers in many of world’s water-stressed basins have attempted to put management plans in place—with mixed results. The United States’ Colorado River is a prime example of a plan that, while well-intentioned, may ultimately be unsustainable. Starting in Colorado and running 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is the 14th most stressed among the world’s most populated river basins, and the sixth most stressed if ranked by size. More than 30 million people depend on it for water. The seven states receiving its water comprised 19 percent of the United States’ total GDP in 2010.

Because of its naturally arid setting—and due to its large and growing number of users and resulting high level of baseline water stress—the Colorado has become one of the most physically and legally managed rivers in the world. It is also under serious duress, exacerbated by a decades-long drought. This imbalance between supply and demand means that the river often runs dry before it reaches the Pacific Ocean—posing significant problems for wildlife, ecosystems, and communities that depend on it.

The Colorado River is an example of a basin where natural water stress is already severe. The complex web of infrastructure and governance structures around the river was, in a sense, created to ensure predictable, steady water supplies in a stressed region. On the other hand, that same development has driven increasing demands for limited supplies. Aqueduct’s country and river basin rankings deliberately do not include the effects of such extensive management, instead focusing on objective measures of underlying hydrological conditions. But the overall picture is clear: Even the most-established, iron-clad management systems start to crumble under increasing scarcity and stress…

What Is Water Stress?

Water stress is the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable supply in an area. In high-stress areas, 40 percent or more of the available supply is withdrawn every year. In extremely high-stress areas, that number goes up to 80 percent or higher. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited supplies. See the high and extremely high-stress areas highlighted in red and dark red on the maps.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


The Rio Grande River Compact Commission meets today

March 20, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The tension is expected to be thick Thursday as top water officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas gather for an annual meeting focused on management of the Rio Grande.

Texas and New Mexico are in the middle of a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater pumping along the border. The federal government is weighing in, claiming that groundwater falls under its jurisdiction and should be considered part of the massive system of canals and dams that deliver water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

It could be years before the court makes a decision, but some experts say the case could set precedent when it comes to state rights in the drought-stricken West.

In the meantime, farmers in southern New Mexico who are deciding whether to plant crops or leave their fields fallow are on “pins and needles,” said Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official.

“Certainly the litigation, the threat of litigation, the fear of what’s going to come out of all this is clouding everybody’s ability to work toward a solution,” he said. “I think very unfortunately that we find ourselves fighting and not solving.”

Verhines will be among those gathering for the Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting. The decades-old compact spells out how much river water the states must share.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


Trinchera Irrigation Company is looking to rehab the dam at Mountain Home Reservoir

March 18, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A project currently proposed by the Trinchera Irrigation Company would improve Mountain Home Reservoir for all those who enjoy it for recreation and depend on it for irrigation.

Constructed in 1908, the dam at Mountain Home in Costilla County is showing its age, according to Trinchera Ditch Superintendent Wayne Schwab who presented a preliminary request for $25,000 from the Rio Grande Roundtable local funding source to perform a feasibility study regarding dam improvements . The irrigation company and Colorado Parks & Wildlife are providing $12,000 in matching funds as well, Schwab said.

He explained that Mountain Home is a popular fishing and wildlife area, so Parks & Wildlife is interested in improving the reservoir. The 47 shareholders in the Trinchera Irrigation Company are also invested in improving the reservoir, which serves as the main water source for the Trinchera Creek drainage. Smith Reservoir is another water source, primarily for folks below the Trinchera drainage, Schwab explained to the Roundtable this week.

“Along with supplying irrigation water, the Smith and Mountain Home are State Wildlife Areas, and Mountain Home is a popular fishing area,” Schwab said.

There are three gates at the Mountain Home dam, but only one is currently in use, Schwab explained, with the other two not used for decades. The irrigation company’s hope is to put at least one of the other gates back into service. Schwab said the state engineer is strongly recommending the other two gates become operational again, and the irrigation company would like to contract a feasibility study to see how best to do that and improve the reservoir’s efficiency. If the dam was operating more efficiently, water storage levels could be maintained both for irrigators and for Parks & Wildlife to maintain a strong conservation pool for fishing.

Schwab said the feasibility study will involve underwater inspections of conduits, valves and valve gates. The engineer performing the study will then provide a few alternatives for improving the dam, which will help establish reliable reservoir elevation levels and water storage.

With a stronger conservation pool, Parks & Wildlife can keep fish in the reservoir . Schwab said Parks & Wildlife is looking at ways to improve the area around the reservoir and increase recreational benefits in Costilla County, which has very little public land compared to other counties in the San Luis Valley. Only 2 percent of the county is public land, he said, and the county is one of the poorest counties in the state, so anything that can help generate tourism and revenue would be helpful.

In addition to Parks & Wildlife, Trout Unlimited is involved in this project, Schwab said, and is interested in ways to improve fishing at the reservoir.

Schwab said the groups involved would like to see the project begun next summer . The Roundtable will likely vote on the funding request during its April meeting.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


‘Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive’ — Leroy Salazar

March 16, 2014
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Heading a water solutions team, San Luis Valley resident LeRoy Salazar told those attending a groundwater advisory meeting on Wednesday it is time to get beyond the blame game and work together to preserve Valley communities and the agricultural livelihoods that keep them alive. Part of a group trying to find solutions to affordable, equitable and successful water sustainability, Salazar said a year ago he was only 20 percent convinced “we would be able to make this thing work.”

He said he is presently up to 60 percent and hopes by the time the state well rules are in place, “I will have an 80 percent probability we are going to be able to keep this thing going.”

He added, “We are all working really hard.”

He commended the state engineer’s office for working hard to develop a groundwater model that would work and rules that would work for everybody.

“The well owners want these as bad as surface users,” he said. “We want to know what hand we are going to be dealt with.”

He said some flexibility may be required in the next year or two as water users work through some of the challenges they will come up against in complying with the state’s new rules.

“Some of those things may take us five to six years to work out,” Salazar added. “We may not be able to live at exactly the letter of the law. We can create a little bit of flexibility in there.”

He said it might not be possible to always replace depletions to the river in exactly the right time and place that the regulations will require.

“Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believed “our greatest successes come from our greatest challenges,” and he is at an 80-percent confidence level. The well rules Wolfe hopes to submit to the water court yet this spring will require wells to make up for the injuries and depletions they have caused senior water rights and the aquifers.

Salazar said he has both senior water surface rights, which date back five generations , in addition to wells, which are junior water rights. He said wells are part of the reason that rivers are drier and aquifers diminished, but they are not the sole problem. The multi-year drought and the demands of the interstate Rio Grande Compact are also responsible, he said.

However, he said those trying to reach solutions must get beyond the blame game “and think what’s in the best interest of keeping our communities alive and keep them going.”

He said he could see at least 100,000 acres of land going out of production, and if solutions cannot be reached to the Valley’s water problems, that total could be twice that.

“Think what that will do to communities,” he said.

He said the two main issues to address are sustainability and depletions.

He said some of the solutions to sustainability are fairly easy. Changing farming practices to use less water would be a better solution than shutting wells down, he said. For example, while alfalfa requires 28-30 inches of water annually, barley only requires 20 inches, so a switch from alfalfa to grain would cut water usage by one third.

“We can do a little bit better than that,” Salazar added. “A lot of us that are raising grain and potatoes, there are a lot of conservation crops that can apply 6-8 inches that will raise some pasture for cows.”

A crop like sorghum sudan grass would only require 6-8 inches but would still provide pasture for cattle, for example.

“There’s alternatives without having to shut a bunch of wells down to increase sustainability,” Salazar said. “We know we have to reduce the drain on the aquifers. I think sustainability can be dealt with fairly easily if we all agree we need to cut back. I don’t think there will be too many farms go out of business if we cut back.”

Addressing the issue of replacing depletions is a bit trickier, Salazar said. He explained it would take on the order of 20,000-30 ,000 acre feet to replace those depletions throughout the Valley, with the Conejos system owing about 6,000 acre feet. If the drought continues, however, that number could increase to 8,000-10 ,000 ace feet on that river system, he said.

Forbearance is one key way to deal with the depletions , he said. Some senior water users who have been injured by well pumping may be willing to accept money instead of water, Salazar explained. However , there will be water right holders who will want “wet water,” and that will not always be easy to provide, he said.

“A lot of depletions we are seeing are owed on the lower Conejos might owe 10,000-15 ,000 acre feet of depletions. How do we get 10,000 acre feet down to that lower part if we have to replace it exactly in time and place and we can’t find enough forbearance agreements ?”

Another obstacle is reservoir storage in that area. Salazar said the Platoro Reservoir would be a good place to store water that could later be used to replace depletions. However, that reservoir is often restricted under the Rio Grande Compact on whether it can store water or not.

“It’s a Compact reservoir and a post-Compact reservoir , which means we can’t really store water from one year to the next ” which is what we really need to do if we are going to make this thing work. Trying to find storage is going to be a big issue.”

Dry riverbeds create other obstacles, Salazar added. If water has to move from one part of the stream to meet depletions on the other end, but there’s a dry riverbed in the middle, “we lose it all.”

Folks have four options in responding to the state’s pending groundwater rules, Salazar said. One option is to join a sub-district ; another is to formulate an augmentation plan; a third is to take the rules to court and try to keep them there as long as possible “that’s not a real good solution;” and a fourth option is to seek legislative mandates to force polices on the well users. Salazar said he would rather see the Valley work out its own solutions than to go to the state legislature.

The solutions committee, or team, has been trying to develop alternatives since last April, Salazar said. The team set up technical and legal sub groups and has held numerous meetings in the past year.

The team has looked at several alternatives such as diverting numerous junior water rights to pay for depletions and replenish the aquifer. Some of the people who own those junior water rights are not producing that much with them and would just as soon get paid for them. The San Luis Valley Well Owners own some junior water rights that produce a lot of water on certain years, Salazar said. That could be a source of replacement water.

The solutions committee is looking at many options and trying to find the most affordable and efficient ones, Salazar said.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


‘Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble’ — Nolan Doesken

March 16, 2014
Nolan Doesken -- Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President's Award Presentation 2011

Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

“Nothing new under the sun” was pretty much the message delivered by State Climatologist Nolan Doesken yesterday during a gathering of area water leaders. Although winters have tended to be warmer, dry years more plentiful and snowfall melting off sooner in recent years, the major factors that determine the Rio Grande Basin’s climate have not changed, Doesken explained.

Colorado is still the highest elevation state in the union; it still remains in a mid-latitude location between the pole and the equator; the state is still interior continental, not any closer to an ocean than it ever was; complex mountain topography remains; and solar energy is still constant, with hundreds of sunny days a year.

In a state that boasts 300 days or more of sunshine a year, the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley, is the sunniest part of the state, Doesken reminded the audience of the Rio Grande Roundtable group on Tuesday.

“Most of the main drivers of our climate are not changing ,” Doesken said. “Our high elevation isn’t changing, our mid-latitude location isn’t changing “”

He added, “It does appear over time there’s been a bit of a warming trend in much of the state, but down here it’s mixed signals.” He said summer days in Alamosa have been distinctly on the hot side in recent years, and when Alamosa is 90 degrees, that generally means the entire state is pretty warm.

However, Doesken said the weather station in Del Norte has recorded a colder trend, which might be attributable to a change in the weather station’s location itself.

Of the weather data available for the Valley, “Most locations show a modest upward trend in temperature,” he said.

“Precipitation, on the other hand, is all over the place.”

He said there is no discernable upward trend in precipitation. This basin’s biggest climate indicators are found within the basin itself, Doesken explained.

“It’s a local effect.”

He said if the data from 1925 to the present were examined, for example, temperature changes might be as easy to determine here as answering the question, “When did it snow last?”

Regarding Valley temperatures , residents have learned to dress in layers, because the temperatures can vary so much, even in a single day, Doesken said.

“You are the champion of diurnal range fluctuations, day to night,” he said. The Valley can experience a 50-degree temperature swing from morning to night on a routine basis. It can be 20 degrees in the morning and 70 in the afternoon.

“That’s the climate in which you live,” Doesken said.

“In the Midwest, Mississippi Valley, going north means colder, south means warmer, but in the mountains it’s local topography that drives temperatures.”

The variability of the Valley’s weather is what remains constant, or as Doesken put it, “Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble.”

Sometimes there will be an apparent cycle of weather, while at other times it will appear random. One constant is the spring wind that the Valley experiences from March through June.

“You are in your fourmonth wind season right now, like it or not,” he said.

Regarding precipitation, this basin is dry, like it or not. Doesken said because of the basin’s location, it generally receives less than 8 inches precipitation annually , which is the climate area residents know and love.

“You love it as long as the mountains around you are full of snow. They are not always.”

The bulk of the state’s legitimate surface water comes from those mountain snows, but that can vary as much as the temperatures. Because of the moisture that came into the state last fall the majority of it in one week Denver wound up experiencing its wettest year, Doesken said. Doesken reminded the group of the fact most were painfully aware, that the Rio Grande Basin has not enjoyed a big snowpack year for a while.

“Drought happens. It keeps happening,” Doesken said. He said there have been more years with less snowpack by April 1, “but there’s a lot of noise in there.”

He explained how important it is to keep data and said the manual snow course collection sites are extremely valuable. He has been a proponent of maintaining those sites in the state.

He has served in the Colorado Climate Center since 1977 and has been the state climatologist since 2006.

“We are climate accountants ,” he said. The center monitors all aspects of climate in the state from humidity and temperature to precipitation and evaporation . Doesken said the first government weather state in Colorado was located at Fort Massachusetts in the San Luis Valley in 1855, and by 1890 there was a statewide weather reporting network that included sites like Monte Vista and Platoro.

That type of information is still valuable, and Doesken encouraged local residents to become part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow (CoCoRaHS) network that depends on folks in places like Villa Grove to provide weather information to the state climate center. Those interested in becoming a part of CoCoRaHS are welcome to attend an open house from 2-7 p.m. on Friday, March 21, at the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee office , 1305 Park Ave., Monte Vista.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Rio Grande Water Users Association board meeting recap

March 16, 2014

Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Groundwater rules, endangered species and interstate lawsuits, public trust doctrine ballot initiatives on top of what could be the sixth belowaverage water year in a row add up to what Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock called a “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us.”

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” Paddock told water users at the association’s annual meeting in Monte Vista yesterday.

To make a bitter pill even harder to swallow, the assessments for association members increased by $2 per unit, from $25 to $27 per unit, at the recommendation of the board. Association members, who represent area canals and ditches on the Rio Grande, approved the increase. Association President Greg Higel said the assessment increase was not a unanimous recommendation from the board, especially since many of the ditch companies had already set their own assessments for the year. However, the board believed the assessments had to be increased to handle the pending challenges of the year, such as possible lawsuits that might affect water users along the river.

Higel said the board also voted to allocate 2,500 acre feet for Subdistrict #1 again this year. In addition, the board recommended an irrigation start date for water users association members of April 1, which is the standard start date for the irrigation season.

Water user Willie Hoffner voted against the assessment increase and suggested an earlier irrigation start date for folks on Saguache Creek who might not see water again for a while if they are not able to divert it now. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten said he would be meeting with the Saguache Creek water users later this month to discuss their preferred irrigation start date.

Cotten said the storms during the last week brought the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack up from 77 percent to 87 percent of average, but this basin is still the lowest in the state, with other basins way above 100 percent.

“If we can keep getting some storms coming through we have a good chance of reaching that 100 percent,” he said. “We will have to wait and see what the next couple of months bring.”

If things do not improve, this will be the sixth year in a row with below average stream flow on the Rio Grande, Cotten added. Since 2002, the river has registered only three years with above average stream flow , “which is very unusual, and even more unusual the last five years in a row have been below average.”

He said there has only been one other time since the gauges were put in at Del Norte in 1890 that there were five years in a row of below average stream flow , and never six years in a row.

The preliminary forecast for the Rio Grande this year, based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s February forecast, at least promises a bit higher numbers than last year. The February forecast for the Rio Grande is 520,000 acre feet, which is still below average but higher than the 459,900 acre feet that passed through the Del Norte gauge last year. Last year’s total was about 71 percent of the longterm average, Cotten said. If the 520,000 acre-feet forecast holds true, the Rio Grande’s obligation to downstream states this year will be about 133,800 acre feet, and the curtailment to meet that obligation could be about 13 percent. However, Cotten stressed that is a guess at this point, and there are many different factors to consider before implementing a curtailment .

Cotten also shared National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions for precipitation and temperatures for the next three-month period, which show this area as having equal chances for average precipitation and good chances for above average temperatures. Both Cotten and Paddock spoke to the water users yesterday about pending lawsuits that could have impacts on irrigators in the San Luis Valley.

The state of Texas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to file a lawsuit against New Mexico and Colorado concerning the Rio Grande Compact, and the U.S. government joined with Texas in the petition last week. The Supreme Court has accepted that lawsuit, so it will now begin moving forward. Colorado is a minor player in the suit at this point but was named because it is part of the compact. Texas’ main beef was with pumping below Caballo Reservoir in New Mexico.

“It didn’t have a lot to do with us but we got drug into that court case,” Cotten said. Paddock added that if New Mexico were to win such a suit, Colorado would definitely be affected because more water would have to be diverted from Elephant Butte Reservoir, one of the main storage facilities for Rio Grande Compact water, leaving less water that could be counted as usable water for compact purposes. If that total decreases below 400,000 acre feet, which was the case last year and will likely remain the case this year, reservoirs in Colorado built after the compact was ratified cannot store water. Platoro Reservoir Paddock added that no one has filed any specific claims against Colorado in the New Mexico/Texas suit, only including Colorado because it is a signatory on the Rio Grande Compact.

“Hopefully there won’t be any spillback on water users in the Valley,” he said. “There’s significant issues that could come up in that lawsuit that could be concerns to Colorado and that could be concerns to all of you.”

Other pending lawsuits, which would more directly affect the Valley, are suits by the WildEarth Guardians. The environmental group filed notice of intent to sue and has 60 days from the time of its notice before it can officially file suit, which would be March 22. That group is alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act protection of the silvery minnow and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and so far those who may be named in the suit include the State of Colorado, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They are claiming that the use of water out of the Rio Grande in Colorado is causing some injury to the endangered species in New Mexico,” said Cotten. “Our position is we have the Rio Grande Compact and we meet our compact obligations each and every year. We have done what we are supposed to do legally to deliver water down there.”

Paddock said if the WildEarth Guardians do bring suit against Colorado it would be a precedent-setting form of litigation nationally, and “it will be an incredibly high stakes lawsuit. They are asserting that endangered species overrule the compact. They are saying you can’t exercise your water rights so water can flow unimpeded to the state of New Mexico to support the silvery minnow. That’s the bottom line.” Regardless of the outcome, such a lawsuit would take years to argue and decide “and will involve every water user from the headwaters of the Rio Grande down to Elephant Butte Reservoir because they would all have the same issues .” He said, the State of Colorado “will not go quietly” if such a lawsuit were to proceed. Paddock and Cotten also reminded attendees of the Rio Grande Water Users Association annual meeting yesterday that groundwater rules will likely be filed with the court this spring. Cotten said the next advisory committee meeting is at 10 a.m. March 12 at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and the state engineer’s goal is to promulgate the rules in April. Paddock added if there are objections to the rules, the court would have to schedule a trial, if those are not resolved beforehand, and that could very likely take place by this time next year. If/Once the rules are ultimately approved, there will be a limited time period for wells to either be under an augmentation plan of their own or through a sub-district , Paddock reminded the water users. Sub-districts would also have a limited time to finalize their formations and plans of management, he added.

“We’re looking at a major change in water management over the next two to three years,” he said.

Capping off “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us,” according to Paddock, is the potential for ballot issues to go before voters this fall regarding a constitutional change from the current priority water system to the Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine would involve a permitting system, and whoever was in charge of the permitting could choose how water would be diverted and for what uses. For example, the most beneficial use of water could be determined to be instream flows in the Rio Grande rather than diversions for agricultural irrigation, Paddock explained.

“The Public Trust Doctrine is unpredictable,” he said. “It’s terrifying because it takes away people’s certainty of how they can use their water and when it is available.”

He said if those promoting the ballot initiatives collect enough signatures, the Public Trust Doctrine initiatives would probably appear on the ballots this fall.

“It is a significant threat to everyone’s established water rights.” is one of those.

Another even more substantial potential impact of Texas winning this suit and requiring more water to be delivered out of Elephant Butte would be less chance of the reservoir spilling. In a year when Elephant Butte spills, Colorado has no delivery obligation downstream.

“That makes a whole lot more water available in Colorado ,” Paddock said. “That’s pretty high stakes.”

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


San Luis Valley: #COWaterPlan public meetings start March 17

March 14, 2014

More Colorado Water Plan coverage


Colorado signs on to Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation agreement

March 8, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and wildlife:

An updated conservation agreement and strategy plan to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout was recently signed by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, three Native American tribes and several federal agencies.

The agencies started working on range-wide protection plans for the species in 2003. This is a continuation of the initial agreement, but also assures that the agencies will work cooperatively to maintain the viability of this special species of trout. The agreement provides overall guidance to each agency and sets a conservation strategy that will be used in Colorado and New Mexico where significant populations of the fish exist.

“This is a voluntary agreement, but all the parties are dedicated to working on important Rio Grande cutthroat trout issues,” said John Alves, southwest region senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The agencies that signed the agreement are: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, the Jicarilla-Apache Nation, the Mescalero-Apache Nation, and the Taos Pueblo tribe. The effort is also being supported by Colorado Trout Unlimited and the New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited.

As stated in the agreement, the goal of the new 10-year plan is to “assure long-term viability of Rio Grande cutthroat trout throughout its historic range by minimizing or removing threats to the species and promoting conservation.” The agencies have completed numerous conservations projects for the species throughout Colorado and New Mexico. To read about some of the projects, go to: http://cpw.state.co.us/Research/Aquatic/CutthroatTrout/Pages/CutthroatTrout.aspx.

The trout has been a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2008. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the species will be listed is scheduled for September.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is classified as a species of “greatest conservation need” by New Mexico, and as a “species of special concern” in Colorado. The agencies are working cooperatively to protect the populations to keep the species healthy. The cooperative effort might also provide the advantage of keeping the fish off of the federal endangered species list.

The fish is found primarily in high elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, the Canadian River and the Pecos River in Colorado and New Mexico. It now only occupies just 12 percent of its historic habitat in approximately 800 miles of streams. Biologists estimate that 127 conservation populations now exist in the two states, and 57 of those populations are considered to be secure.

The historic range of Rio Grande cutthroat trout has been reduced over the last 150 years due to many changes on the landscape, including: drought, water infrastructure, habitat changes, hydraulic changes, hybridization with rainbow trout and other species of cutthroat trout, and competition with brown trout and brook trout. As a result of these changes, Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are restricted primarily to headwater streams.

“This agreement provides a detailed road map of the ways local, state, federal and tribal agencies will work together to continue to conserve this trout,” said Kirk Patten, assistant chief of fisheries for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is unique. It is found only in the southwest and has the distinction of being the southernmost distribution of any form of cutthroat trout.”

For more than 20 years, agency biologists have been searching for Rio Grande cutthroat populations, studying habitat and restoring the species to streams. That work and more will continue under the conservation agreement.

Some of the work that the agencies will conduct includes: maintenance of Rio Grande cutthroat brood stock; stream surveys and habitat improvement; construction of barriers to keep non-native trout out of conservation waters; removal of non-native fish and restocking with this species; testing for disease; conducting genetic analysis; fencing sensitive riparian areas; and on-going monitoring of populations.

The agencies will meet annually to discuss projects and progress, and to plan conservation work. A full range-wide species assessment will be conducted every five years.

“Rio Grande cutthroat trout are facing many issues, including habitat loss, competition from the introduction of non-native trout, drought, fire and other changes,” Alves said. “A major, coordinated effort like this one is what’s needed to maintain this important species.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


San Luis Valley: ‘We’re relying more and more on habitats that we know are artificially created and maintained’ — Michael Blenden

March 8, 2014

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado’s effort to replenish its aquifers by cracking down on pumping groundwater threatens to leave the thousands of sandhill cranes that arrive here each February without the water they need.

“This certainly has the potential for changing the dynamics of what we have witnessed for the last 50 years,” said Michael Blenden, federal manager of the San Luis Valley complex of three national wildlife refuges and the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area.

The cranes will be fine this year, but rules are kicking in that would prevent federal wildlife managers from pumping the 2.67 billion gallons they typically draw to create artificial wetlands for migratory birds. Farmers also grow barley and lay it out to help sandhill cranes, which draw visitors from around the world.

“Drying up cranes, I don’t think that’s a realistic outcome,” Blenden said. “We certainly don’t want to go there. Our responsibility is the perpetuation of the migratory bird resource.”

The cranes — about 25,000 of them are amassing in the San Luis Valley this month — need the food and the protection the marsh provides. But state officials have been working for years to control overpumping of the groundwater and prioritize who gets scarce water in a semiarid region. They say the groundwater pumping must cease unless federal officials obtain rights to surface water and leave it in rivers to offset their tapping of aquifers. If a trade can’t be worked out, that could cost more than $1 million, Blenden said.

“Just like every other groundwater user, the refuges will have to remedy the injurious stream depletions that occur due to their groundwater use,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said.

State officials and refuge managers have discussed the impending requirements, which may also force tens of thousands of irrigated acres out of production. Farmers have formed cooperative districts to try to adapt.

Scientists believe sandhill cranes in lesser numbers probably have migrated through the San Luis Valley for thousands of years. A petroglyph on the west side of the valley, depicting what appears to be a crane, may be 3,000 years old, according to federal officials. The artificial wetlands has helped ensure the cranes’ survival and now draw 95 percent of the cranes across a six-state region, federal biologist Scott Miller said. Dried-up marshes would be less appealing and may not meet cranes’ need to gain strength for their flight to nesting areas in Wyoming and Idaho and breeding there, Miller said. Cranes roost at night in wetlands, sleeping while standing in water. Coyotes or other predators are hampered as sloshing sounds can alert cranes.

“We don’t want to put the state in a position of having some kind of confrontation with us. We are contributing to the groundwater problems, just as the agricultural community is,” Blenden said.

Yet climate change creates new challenges, and preserving wildlife is part of a national mission, he said.

“We’re relying more and more on habitats that we know are artificially created and maintained. We cannot just turn our backs, because things get a little rough, and let the cranes figure it out.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Cranes make annual return to San Luis Valley

March 4, 2014
Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In the San Luis Valley nature is now putting on one of its most memorable annual displays: the spring migration of greater sandhill cranes. In appreciation of this wildlife spectacle, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the 30th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration stopover at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing.”

The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground in Socorro, New Mexico. Large wetland areas and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds every year. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and fuel-up for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years.

The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall, having a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elegant hopping dance as they attempt to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and are easy to spot. Wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and in the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge.

The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March and many linger through the month. So, even if you can’t go the weekend of the festival there’s still plenty of time to see the birds.

Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen in the area.

The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters. Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building.

The crane festival is organized by the local crane festival committee, with help from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande County, SLV Ski Hi Stampede, Monte Vista school district, and the city of Monte Vista.

Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.

For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, see: http://www.cranefest.com.

To learn more about sandhill cranes, go to:

http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/Profiles/Birds/Pages/SandhillCrane.aspx.

For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/StateWildlifeAreas/Pages/swa.aspx.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin Roundtable: The Rio Grande Basin Plan is essential to the Valley’s future #COWaterPlan

March 1, 2014
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable via the Valley Courier:

The last decade has brought many changes to Colorado’s water supply outlook. Even with the recent economic recession, the state will continue to experience significant population growth. Other pressures on Colorado’s water supply include: severe drought, meeting multiple needs (e.g., municipal, agricultural, environmental , and recreational) with existing resources, and agricultural impacts due to water shortages, urbanization and transfers to new uses.

The state’s river systems generate an average 16 million acre feet (AF) of renewable water each year, however two-thirds of this water is obligated to leave the state under various interstate compacts and agreements. In addition, of the 16 million AF, about 80 percent of the water is on the Western Slope, while approximately 80 percent of the state’s population resides on the Eastern Slope. Most of the irrigated agriculture lands are on the Eastern Slope as well. Colorado’s dry climate creates many challenges for water users, who frequently move water vast distances from its source to its area of use.

These types of challenges made the water law structure that is common in the eastern United States, (riparian law) unrealistic. Riparian law says that only those with land adjoining the stream have a right to use the stream water. Colorado adopted a different system – prior appropriation . This system is commonly summed up as “first in time, first in right.” This means that those with senior (older) rights can begin to use water before junior (newer) rights holders in times of water shortages. (CFWE, 2014)

Colorado needed a clear classification of law to recognize and protect water rights, with consistent administration and enforcement, yet with the flexibility to allow those rights to be transferred, sold, or exchanged. The Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a set of laws governing water use and land ownership adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s.

The four major principles are: All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities; A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources; Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use; and, Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of surface water and groundwater to meet owners’ water supply needs.

Today’s water managers are tasked with solving the state’s water issues against overwhelming obstacles. This why the State Water Plan is so important. The plan will provide a framework for water managers moving forward. The plan will allow for wise and thoughtful water supply planning that addresses critical issue within each basin securing future water needs across the state. The plan must be done in a manner that considers all solutions and addresses the varied water needs of Colorado and its citizens.

The Rio Grande basin Roundtable has been tasked with preparing a multidimensional basin plan for the upper Rio Grande. Water management is an issue that touches every resident in the San Luis Valley, particularly as it pertains to aquifer sustainability.

The basin’s water is under continuous curtailment as it works to meet Compact compliance. This is why water users in the basin keep water inventory current and are taking steps to ensure reservoirs can store constructed volumes. The Rio Grande Basin Plan will provide a variety of tools that all water administrators can use to preserve the social, cultural and economic resilience of the Rio Grande Basin. As the Water Administration goals are formed the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered. The most effective methods for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at www. riograndewaterplan.webs. com and; 3) attend any one of the five BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, Tom can be contacted at tom@ dinatalewater.comThis is the fourth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. VALLEY The last decade has brought many changes to Colorado’s water supply outlook. Even with the recent economic recession, the state will continue to experience significant population growth. Other pressures on Colorado’s water supply include: severe drought, meeting multiple needs (e.g., municipal, agricultural, environmental , and recreational) with existing resources, and agricultural impacts due to water shortages, urbanization and transfers to new uses.

The state’s river systems generate an average 16 million acre feet (AF) of renewable water each year, however two-thirds of this water is obligated to leave the state under various interstate compacts and agreements. In addition, of the 16 million AF, about 80 percent of the water is on the Western Slope, while approximately 80 percent of the state’s population resides on the Eastern Slope. Most of the irrigated agriculture lands are on the Eastern Slope as well. Colorado’s dry climate creates many challenges for water users, who frequently move water vast distances from its source to its area of use.

These types of challenges made the water law structure that is common in the eastern United States, (riparian law) unrealistic. Riparian law says that only those with land adjoining the stream have a right to use the stream water. Colorado adopted a different system – prior appropriation . This system is commonly summed up as “first in time, first in right.” This means that those with senior (older) rights can begin to use water before junior (newer) rights holders in times of water shortages. (CFWE, 2014)

Colorado needed a clear classification of law to recognize and protect water rights, with consistent administration and enforcement, yet with the flexibility to allow those rights to be transferred, sold, or exchanged. The Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a set of laws governing water use and land ownership adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s.

The four major principles are: All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities; A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources; Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use; and, Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of surface water and groundwater to meet owners’ water supply needs.

Today’s water managers are tasked with solving the state’s water issues against overwhelming obstacles. This why the State Water Plan is so important. The plan will provide a framework for water managers moving forward. The plan will allow for wise and thoughtful water supply planning that addresses critical issue within each basin securing future water needs across the state. The plan must be done in a manner that considers all solutions and addresses the varied water needs of Colorado and its citizens.

The Rio Grande basin Roundtable has been tasked with preparing a multidimensional basin plan for the upper Rio Grande. Water management is an issue that touches every resident in the San Luis Valley, particularly as it pertains to aquifer sustainability.

The basin’s water is under continuous curtailment as it works to meet Compact compliance. This is why water users in the basin keep water inventory current and are taking steps to ensure reservoirs can store constructed volumes. The Rio Grande Basin Plan will provide a variety of tools that all water administrators can use to preserve the social, cultural and economic resilience of the Rio Grande Basin. As the Water Administration goals are formed the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered. The most effective methods for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at http://www. riograndewaterplan.webs. com and; 3) attend any one of the five BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, Tom can be contacted at tom@dinatalewater.com

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Rio Grande River: US siding with Texas?

February 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico could threaten the delivery of Rio Grande water to Texas, the federal government argued in a motion filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The motion dismisses arguments made by New Mexico in ongoing litigation with Texas over the river, with the U.S. government effectively taking Texas’s side in the case.

Be sure to click through to read the whole document with Mr. Fleck’s highlights.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Custer County Stockgrowers Association annual meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

February 27, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

One of the most significant issues addressed during the meeting surrounded water. It is a problem not only for the county, but the state as a whole.

“Water ownership, immunization and management are the key issues with the water problems,” Kattnig explained.

“For us, water is vital to our Valley and our industry. We know we will have to change, but it is incumbent upon us as landowners to be at the table as these decisions are being developed.”

Local water laws were developed for the mining industry here, and as industrial utilization of water declined, agriculture became the biggest user. Today, given the size of Custer County’s population and voting strength, Kattnig said that water policies can be changed. These issues affect not only Custer County and the Arkansas River Basin, but also the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and the Platte River basins.

“People in San Diego and Los Angeles have a voice in water in the Colorado River,” Kattnig said, “and indirectly there is potential impact for water in Custer County. These water laws were made through legislation, and can be changed with legislation.”[...]

Among the dignitaries in attendance were the president of the Colorado Cattlemen Association, Gene Manuello, and the Director of the Southeast Quarter and past CCA president David Mendenhall. Together they produced information concerning Senate Bill 17, which covers the use of agriculture water transfer to new municipal developments. This bill limits the percentage of water used for lawn landscaping and to promote xeriscaping.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Water: How long will the Southwest’s acequias survive?

February 25, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Dartmouth study details threats to historic communal irrigation 

ij

A patchwork of fields around Taos, New Mexico

Staff Report

FRISCO — The historic communal irrigation systems known as acequias Southwest are in decline as snowmelt dwindles and water priorities shift. Social and economic shifts favoring modernism over tradition, are also factors on the decline, according to a new study from Dartmouth College.

Similar trends have been observed in other parts of the world, where rural communities that once fended for themselves are becoming integrated into larger economies, which provide benefits of modern living but also the uncertainties of larger-scale market fluctuations. The study appears in the journal Global Environmental Change.

View original 299 more words


2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference recap

February 16, 2014

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle


From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Radishes and turnips are saving Valley water.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Subdistrict No. 1 Program Manager Rob Phillips said on Thursday during the final day of the 2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference he was confident producers with green manure in their crop rotations are utilizing irrigation water more efficiently.

At first , he said, the RGWCD was skeptical of 2013 potato circle pumping numbers because they were coming in very low, around 13 to 14 inches versus the average 15 to 20.

“But I can see why,” Phillips said to a full audience in Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Arena. “It (green manure) is building the soil.”

Planting green manure, also known as a cover crop if it is not incorporated into the Earth, is similar to placing an umbrella over the soil. The crops offer protection from water stressing erosion and weed growth, making the soil stronger to combat disease, insects and other environmental challenges through organic recycling and nutrient transfers.

These water saving crops include legumes, grasses and root crops like radishes and turnips, and green manure mixes of all kinds are showing up more and more in Valley crop rotations in response to the drought. During the growing season, living green manures retain soil moisture when crop transpiration rates are greatest and rainfall is seasonally at its lowest.

Residues left over from killed and incorporated green manures increase water infiltration and reduce water evaporation from the soil surface, specifically in no-till planting, and allow conservation tillage systems to provide moisture that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Covering the soil with green manures also reduces crusting and subsequent surface water runoff.

RGWCD Manager Steve Vandiver agreed on Thursday green manure is working to reduce the amount of Valley water pumped, and that it is an option producers should consider to meet reduced pumping goals.

“It’s a finite resource,” said Vandiver about the pivotal role water plays in the Valley’s economic structure. “If the aquifer goes away, you are going to be taken down with it… Be thoughtful about reducing your pumping overall. Let’s do more than required in these drought times.”

There are a variety of ways to incorporate green manure into traditional crop rotations .

In the Valley, summer green manure crops are often grown in time with cash crops and are irrigated to reach desired stages of growth. Some Valley producers are planting green manure crops in the fall, and their growth is subject to timing and rainfall once irrigation is shut off for the season. Although they are at the mercy of Mother Nature , non-irrigated green manure crops emerging before winter sets in are providing valuable biomass that assists water retention, prevents soil erosion and contributes to a healthy soil structure regardless of their size. In addition to the increasing green manure rotations in Valley fields, studies revolving around the most appropriate types of green manures for the area and their subsequent effects on nematodes in potato fields are also growing.

Agro Engineering agronomist Patrick O’Neill presented data at the conference on an intensive Colorado Potato Administration Committee (CPAC) sponsored test study looking at 500 plots containing 97 green manure varieties and/or mixes. The study’s goals, he said, include further understanding how green manure crops lend to water savings, biofumigation, weed suppression, nutrient recycling and overall soil health, and whether they will work for animal grazing or hay.

“Water limited irrigation systems mean there is more ground left out of cash crop cycles,” O’Neill said. “Cover crops can be used as a tool in the interim.”

He added, “Your farm’s situation is unique, and each field where cover crops are being considered should be addressed individually.”

During the 2012 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reported green manures use less than 17 inches of water a year, particularly when sordan grass is incorporated into the crop rotation. Green manures also proved to lower erosion rates and water use in their studies.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


Center: ‘We haven’t sacrificed yield at all’ — Brendon Rockey

February 16, 2014

sanluisvalleyearlywinterriograndeinitiative
From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Preaching to a slightly different choir, Center farmer Brendon Rockey shared with members of the Rio Grande Roundtable yesterday how his family’s farm has changed its agricultural practices to improve soil health and save water. He explained how Rockey Farms, in its third generation of San Luis Valley farmers, gradually moved away from traditional practices of using herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other “cides” to address threats to its potato crops. Now the farm uses a “pro” rather than “anti” approach , Rockey explained. He used the term biotic to describe the type of farming his family has embraced, beginning with his uncle’s “We are looking at the big picture,” he told members of the Valley-wide water group in Alamosa on Tuesday.

Rockey explained that the “cides” that farmers have been using over the years, including his family farm until recent years, were not only killing off the pests, fungi, weeds and nematodes that were causing problems for potato growers but were also killing off beneficial insects, fungi, plants and worms.

“A lot of those have a good ability to control diseases for us if we would let them,” Rockey said.

Many fungi will kill harmful nematodes for the farmers if they would use them instead of killing them. Also, 90 percent of the nematodes are beneficial , he said.

In addition to using “cides” problems ranging from insects to weeds, farmers have boosted production with synthetic fertilizers that have created the negative side effect of high concentrations of salt.

“Most of the problems we are dealing with today our problems we have created ourselves,” Rockey said.

With degraded soil structures came less efficient water use, Rockey added. For example, 20 years ago the sprinklers would sink in a particular potato field every year, and the farmers would blame the soil type in that field , when the real problem was waterlogged soil. With changes in the way the family farms now, that doesn’t occur, Rockey added. The soil is literally stronger. “We are still trying to control the same diseases but the approach is different,” Rockey said.

Now Rockey Farms adds rather than taking away, he explained. One of the ways the farming family does this is by adding soil primers such as companion crops like legumes and green manure crops that enrich the soil in rotation with potato crops.

“Did that have direct water savings? Green manure crops use less than 6 inches of water. We were also surprised how much water we saved on the potato crops.”

Rockey Farms could grow a potato crop on 14 inches, while the average water use for potato crops in the Valley is 18 inches. Using less water on the potato crops, and using it more efficiently, means less rot and blight as well, Rockey said. It also means less expense to the farmer, because running sprinklers costs money.

Other area where Rockey Farms has changed its practice is in the way it uses beneficial predators to fight insects such as aphids that are harmful to their crops. In the past the family would introduce aphid predators like lady bugs to the fields, but the beneficial predators would only stay a day and then leave because they needed more food diversity than the aphids to keep them there. The Rockeys are experimenting with diverse flowers that would help keep beneficial predators like ladybugs and lacewings in their fields longer.

“This next summer we are trying to figure ways to bring more flowers into potato crops,” Rockey said.

Rockey offered to share the lessons his family has learned over time with other farmers wishing to improve their soil health and reduce water consumption.

He concluded that the changes in farming practices have not adversely affected production.

“We haven’t sacrificed yield at all,” he concluded.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Endangered species listing for the Rio Grande cutthroat?

February 10, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Another possible endangered species listing is placing a high demand on the Valley’s resources, and it’s more than caught the attention of the six county governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) warranted but precluded , according to the Federal Register, Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish prior to making the next annual resubmitted petition 12-month finding.

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish, which is also found in New Mexico, is endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing, is scheduled for September, according to agency officials. For the next few months, the FWS will continue to monitor new information about the RGCT in addition to considering public comments.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (CCA) devoted much time to learn about the condition of the RGCT, and moved to set a work session in February to decide how they would support the long time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) led Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team (RGCT CT) efforts to keep the RGCT off any lists.

The RGCT CT’s findings and strategy suggest the potential listing is inappropriate , and an action that could affect the Valley’s economy and public and private land use while costing the six Valley counties thousands of dollars to accommodate on top of costs only starting to add up to fight a threatened or endangered ruling.

For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded.

Between 2003 and 2011, CPW expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts, according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

The RGCT CT’s undertakings are ongoing, and the group heads into 2014 monitoring 10 conservation populations and documenting new RGCT populations throughout the area, said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves on Monday. Longtime broodstock development also continues at Haypress Lake. Since 2005, CPW has stocked 86,000 to 143,000 RGCT in high lakes and streams for angler recreation or to create new conservation populations.

RGCT CT activities, Alves added, include genetic testing to determine species, purity and level of introgression with other cutthroat species. Populations with more than 90 percent RGCT are considered conservation populations and populations with more than 99 percent RGCT are considered core conservation populations used for developing broodstocks or new populations. Other activities, he said, are focused on habitat improvement using man-made barriers to secure RGCT populations from non-native fish, replacing culverts and mitigating livestock grazing and logging in addition to a myriad of public outreach initiatives.

Other federal and state agency funded conservation plans taking into consideration water, land and their uses that do not directly address RGCT habitat and population, but support the productivity of the Valley’s ecosystem as a whole, are already helping to maintain and preserve the environmental condition of the downstream land if the fish was capable of living in the warmer river waters cutting through the Rio Grande Basin. The RGCT CT and its supporters do not foresee such a scenario unfolding because the species is primarily found in cold streams and lakes.

“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD ) does not believe listing the RGCT as an endangered species is warranted in light of the current status of the RGCT and ongoing voluntary conservation efforts,” RGWCD General Manger Steve Vandiver stated in a letter to the FWS presented at the CAA meeting. “The RGWCD has supported the ongoing voluntary conservation efforts in the San Luis Valley and in the Rio Grande Headwaters.”

The voluntary efforts are the doing of governments and agencies in Colorado and New Mexico including the CPW, the FWS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management , the National Park Service, the Jicarilla Apache Nation,the Mescalero Apache Nation and the Taos Pueblo Waterchief. Colorado Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT) also support the efforts the CCA is considering signing onto next month in addition to looking at other possible county actions regarding listings based on a model partially started in the Valley.

Saguache County is facing the possible listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, an action that would touch 11 other Colorado counties. The governments, working with active sage-grouse groups including the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-Grouse Work Group, united last year to revise the species’ needs and actions to date, revisit strategy and consider the impacts of future federal intervention like potential road closures.

The collaborative, whose methods are appealing to the CCA and neighboring sage-grouse and RGCT listing threatened Hinsdale County, has made progress with the recent reintroduction of several sage-grouse on Poncha Pass, and they are maintaining . The FWS will be made aware of the reintroduction’s progress before making a ruling in March.

“The implications of a listing are very huge,” said Hindsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier about creating government, agency and community task forces via telephone during Monday’s meeting. “There are things we can do.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence, actual or potential. Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“Designating critical habitat outside the area currently occupied by RGCT would create an additional hardship for the residents of the San Luis Valley without providing any additional benefit to the RGCT,” Vandiver stated. “These residents already face the effect of a prolonged drought and the risk that the state may seek to restrict or curtail the operation of their irrigation wells, thus making it nearly impossible to continue successful farming or ranching operations.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide.

Some RGCT populations thrive on private Costilla County lands like the Trinchera Ranch, Alves said. Ute Creek, where the species was first discovered in 1857, runs through the now FWS conservation easement protected ranch, further complementing its reputation for protecting natural resources.

“This is a reason we have a good start on the conservation itself,” said Alves, commending the Trinchera Ranch for its vision to protect the RGCT, which some science points out is truly being conserved because of the introduction and poor management of nonnative trout species.

“The most significant threats are the presence of non-native trout and habitat loss,” stated Council of Trout Unlimited New Mexico Chair Arnold Atkins and Colorado Chair Rick Matsumoto in a letter to the FWS. “The effects of the presence of brown trout in a cutthroat stream have been documented in the scientific literature, and the experience of our members bears out what the literature tells us: once brown trout enter a stream, the native cutthroat disappear or are dramatically reduced in numbers, typically within a decade or less.”

In Colorado, and to a lesser degree in New Mexico, according to the Trout Unlimited letter, the presence of nonnative brook trout has had a similar effect.

“Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout or other cutthroat subspecies remains a significant threat, although the agencies have taken steps to reduce it, including stocking triploid rainbows or not stocking rainbows at all in watersheds where RGCT are found,” the chairmen wrote. “… Trout Unlimited’s objective is to ensure that the RGCT continues to exist and that RGCT populations are protected and restored over a broader and more resilient range of waters.”

The FWS is accepting comments at the following address : Susan Rogers Oetker, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd. NE Suite 200, Atlanta, Ga., 30345.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


#COWaterPlan will address the protection of agriculture

February 10, 2014
San Luis Valley via National Geographic

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From the Valley Courier:

Today’s agriculture landscape includes not just farming and ranching, but forestry, fruit cultivation, dairy, poultry, mushroom, bee keeping, marketing, processing, distribution of agricultural products etc. VALLEY For decades agriculture has been associated with the production of food crops. Accordingly, agriculture and farming were both one and the same, as long as farming was not commercialized. But as time In addition to food, agriculture also provides feedstuffs for livestock. This portion of agriculture ensures not only meat supplies, but also dairy products. Therefore, agriculture may be defined as the production, processing, marketing and distribution of crops and livestock products.

It is the agricultural sector that feeds this country’s trade. Products like wheat, soybeans, rice, cotton, tobacco etc. constitute the main items of exports from the US. Thus agriculture helps to balance foreign trade exchanges. Agriculture provides not only food and raw materials, but it also provides employment opportunities to a large proportion of population.

Colorado’s agriculture is no less important. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, “Agriculture is one of largest contributors to the state’s economy, supporting more than 173,000 jobs in Colorado, generates more than $40 billion of economic activity annually, and exported nearly $1.8 billion of food and agricultural products in 2012. Colorado ranks first in the nation in millet production, ranks in the top ten in the nation in nearly 25 commodities. There are over 1 billion eggs laid in Colorado each year. Cattle and Calves is Colorado’s number one agricultural commodity with 2.7 million head of cattle in the state. ”

It is safe to say that agriculture is a big deal in Colorado . It is for that reason the preservation of agriculture’s water is being addressed in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan will leverage and incorporate nine years of work that has been done by Colorado’s Basin Roundtables , the Inter Basin Compact Committee, and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The goal of the plan will be to determine how to implement water supply planning solutions that meet Colorado’s future water needs while supporting healthy watersheds and environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Agriculture is essential to Colorado’s economy and way of life. Yet, the state faces the potential for the permanent dry up of thousands of acres of farmland statewide, unless new solutions become implemented to address the looming gap between supply and demand. Agriculture represents more than 80 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, “Colorado’s Water Plan will develop a number of strategies designed to minimize the permanent buy-and-dry of irrigated agricultural land and begin to counter Colorado’s projected supply gap a gap potentially equivalent by 2050 to the amount of water necessary to supply all of Denver’s households for a full year.”

Some of these strategies include offering financial incentives for agriculture/ municipal partnerships that maintain land and water for agricultural uses, identifying alternatives to the permanent transfer of agricultural water to municipal use, and identifying the type and amount of infrastructure projects and methods to meet our current and future water supply needs. The Water Plan will be driven by input from each basin roundtable. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered during the Basin Implementation Plan process. The most effective method for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa); 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. webs.com and; 3) attend any one of the 5 BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, who can be contacted at tom@dinatalewater.com. It is suggested that input be submitted to the Basin Roundtable by February 28.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water needs of minnow not met, environmentalists say — Albuquerque Journal

February 7, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia


From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

The “notices of intent” allege violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and start a 60-day clock ticking toward possible litigation. The notices highlight growing tensions between human water use and the Rio Grande’s natural ecosystem in what is shaping up to be the fourth consecutive year of drought, and set the stage for potentially bruising litigation this summer.

Human water diversions have left the Rio Grande ecosystem with too little water to maintain the minnow and other species that depend on the river’s flow, including the valley’s iconic cottonwoods, said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program coordinator for WildEarth Guardians.

Last year, the group filed a formal “notice of intent” that triggered negotiations with federal officials over environmental issues and river management, without litigation. Asked if WildEarth Guardians plans to actually file suit this time, Pelz on Tuesday said, “Yes.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two agencies named in the new filings, declined comment.

Human management of the Rio Grande, with dams upstream to regulate the river’s flow and levees to confine it to a narrow channel, have substantially changed the habitat for the minnow. The fish once lived from Española to the Gulf of Mexico, but is now only found in central New Mexico.

Low river runoff has caused minnow populations to crash further in recent years, according to data collected for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative program, a joint effort by local, state and federal water managers and users.

The potential for a fourth straight drought year poses serious risk for the endangered species, Pelz said in an interview. “The minnow has not spawned in the last three years,” Pelz said, “which is crucial to their recovery and survival.”

More than 95 percent of the fish found in surveys last summer came from hatcheries, which are being used to augment the dwindling natural fish population…

While the Endangered Species Act focuses on specific species, especially the minnow, more is at risk than just a single kind of fish, Pelz said. “The cottonwood forest is reliant on flood flows, and there being enough water in the river,” she said.

Water managers say they have been doing their best to meet the needs of the environment and farmers and other human water users, given the limited supply nature has to offer.

“We’re trying to find creative ways to get everyone what they need,” said David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the valley’s largest farm irrigation water provider.

Among the possibilities is the use of upstream dams to manage flows to create high flows in late spring for spawning, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Rio Grande basin manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. But no decisions about that can be made until April or May, Schmidt-Petersen said…

With a 60-day clock now started, WildEarth Guardians’ filings raise the possibility that key late spring water management decisions will be made in the midst of federal litigation, University of New Mexico law professor Reed Benson, an Endangered Species Act expert, pointed out. But it is not clear whether there is time for the court fight to influence how much water is used by humans or left in the river for fish in 2014, Benson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


“Colorado’s obligations under the ESA are ‘above and beyond’ the requirements of the compact” — Wildearth Guardians

February 3, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Wildearth Guardians has given notice that it plans to sue the state of Colorado over the amount of water pumped out of the Río Grande before it crosses into New Mexico each year. The group argues that irrigation in the San Luís Valley leaves so little water in the river that it imperils habitat of two endangered species — the Río Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Jennifer Pelz with Wildearth Guardians told The Taos News that while the lawsuit is based on requirements under the Endangered Species Act, it is meant to address the health of the Río Grande in general. “My focus is the river, the silvery minnow just happens to be the canary in the coal mine,” Pelz said.
Sporadic flows in the Río Grande have long alarmed environmentalists because of the effect on vegetation and wildlife that have adapted to the natural cycle of ups and down. The current drought has left some parts of the Río Grande dry, and diversions up and down the river have significantly altered its natural pattern.

River guides in Taos County have also taken issue with how water in the river is managed. Some have pointed out that Colorado irrigators pull out as much as 98 percent of the river during peak irrigation season, which often coincides with rafting season. They contend that low flows are killing business and hurting the local economy.

However, Colorado farmers point out that the drought is hurting them as well. Officials there point out that the state is still meeting its obligations under the Río Grande Compact, which spells out exactly how much water Colorado must deliver to the state line every year.
The notice from Wildearth Guardians contends that Colorado’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act are “above and beyond” the requirements of the compact.

Pelz said the notice is meant to bring Colorado into the discussion with wildlife managers and irrigation districts in New Mexico to talk about how to manage flows for the health of the river. “We’ve always known that [Colorado] had a role,” Pelz said. “Now is the time that everything is on the table.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here. More Rio Grande silvery minnow coverage here.


Rio Grande River Basin: ‘Asinine — That’s the best word I can think of’ — Ruth Heide

February 1, 2014
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The editor of the Valley Courier believes the WildEarth Guardians potential lawsuit is unwarranted and that the Rio Grande Compact is the law of the river. Click here to read the editorial from Ruth Heide Still Waters: Of minnows and men:

Asinine.

That’s the best word I can think of to describe the recent intent by the WildEarth Guardians to sue Colorado for not providing enough water downstream to keep the silvery minnow afloat.

What about the Rio Grande Compact do these folks not understand? We’re not hoarding our water up here at the headwaters just to dry up minnow habitat, for crying out loud. Colorado is keeping its part of the bargain of the longstanding interstate compact governing how the Rio Grande is managed from the headwaters in Colorado through New Mexico to Texas. We as a state have been complying with the terms of that compact for years. This past year we even sent more water downstream than we were required to, so we have a “credit” with our downstream neighbors.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Already stressed by a five-year drought, water use in the Rio Grande basin could be affected by legal action from downstream states. The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas against New Mexico and Colorado over groundwater pumping, primarily in New Mexico.

“Colorado’s belief is that this is not a compact issue,” said Craig Cotten, Water Division 3 engineer.

That decision came just days after Wild Earth Guardians filed its 60-day notice of intent to sue the state of Colorado in federal court over depletions of water in reaches of the Rio Grande in New Mexico considered critical to endangered species. The group charges that Colorado water administration has endangered habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board met with the attorney general’s office and other state agencies in executive session this week to discuss a state response.

The actions come at a time of advanced drought in the Upper Rio Grande in Colorado, Cotten said. Water supply for ditches and wells has suffered through 12 years of drought, including the last five where moisture has been less than 70 percent of normal.

About 75 percent of the 6,000 high-capacity wells in the San Luis Valley are active, but farmers are voluntarily cutting back production in hopes of reaching sustainable groundwater levels in 20 years, Cotten said. The state is attempting to draft groundwater rules for the Rio Grande after efforts failed during the 1980s. For farmers there is little choice.

“They can obtain groundwater augmentation plans, join a groundwater management subdistrict or shut off the wells,” Cotten explained.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


Rio Grande River Basin: The US Supreme Court allows Texas lawsuit against New Mexico to go forward

January 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Albuequerque Journal (John Fleck):

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled Texas can proceed to the next step in its lawsuit against New Mexico over the use of Rio Grande water. The brief order suggests the court thinks it may have jurisdiction over the interstate water dispute, but the order invites New Mexico to shortcut a potentially lengthy proceeding by filing a motion to dismiss the action.

Texas has charged that groundwater pumping in New Mexico is draining water from the Rio Grande, depriving Texas water users of their share of the river. New Mexico counters that it is in full compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, the interstate water deal that divides the river’s waters, and that the Supreme Court has no business even taking up the case.

Today’s ruling is a step toward the Supreme Court giving Texas its day in court, but it leaves the door open for New Mexico to cut that courtroom time short.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin: WildEarth Guardians hope to snag higher springtime streamflow via a lawsuit against DWR

January 22, 2014
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Colorado’s use of Rio Grande water is depriving the river of spring flows needed to keep the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow alive, an environmental group charged in a legal notice filed this week.

The notice by the Santa Fe-based group WildEarth Guardians opens a new legal front in the struggle over environmental flows in the Rio Grande, a struggle that until now had focused on tradeoffs among water interests within New Mexico.

The filing, a formal notice of intent to sue the Colorado Department of Natural Resources over its water management on the Rio Grande, charges that irrigation in the San Luis Valley, north of the New Mexico-Colorado border, is significantly reducing the spring runoff peak, which the minnow depends on for spawning.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


‘There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down’ — LeRoy Salazar

January 20, 2014
Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A water purchase nearly four decades ago may provide a major solution in the current challenge to keep farmers in business in the San Luis Valley. Representatives from the San Luis Valley Irrigation Well Owners Inc. received unanimous support from the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday to perform a feasibility study to see if surface water rights they own can be used to offset depletion requirements for various groundwater management sub-districts throughout the Valley. The budget for the study is $180,000, with the local roundtable approving $8,000 of its basin funding for the project and supporting a request for $142,000 in statewide funds, which will be considered at the state level in March. The well owners group will provide $30,000 as its match.

The nonprofit well owners corporation was formed in 1973 to address groundwater rules and regulations that appeared imminent at the time, SLV Irrigation Well Owners Vice President Monty Smith told members of the Valley-wide roundtable group on Tuesday. In preparation for the rules/regs at that time, the well owners group, comprised of people who own irrigation wells, began an augmentation plan that incorporated the purchase of Taos Valley #3 water rights on the San Antonio River for augmentation water, Smith added.

“The augmentation plan was never completed and never needed to be used,” Smith explained.

“Thirty eight years later we find ourselves in a situation where we need to use that water and we need to complete the project.”

He added, “We feel this water is an absolutely crucial piece of our replacement for not only the Conejos area but it provides benefit for the entire basin. We need to figure how it can best be used.”

Agro Engineering Engineer Kirk Thompson provided more information about this potential water project and its importance to Valley water users, especially now that state groundwater rules and regulations for the Rio Grande Basin will soon be promulgated. Thompson said the Taos Valley #3 water rights were a relatively junior water right on the San Antonio dating to 1889. They were originally adjudicated for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and used for irrigation and storage. Since that time, however, a portion of the water rights was abandoned, leaving 245 cfs, which is what the well owners bought in 1976 for their augmentation plan. They converted 230 cfs of the 245 cfs total from irrigation to augmentation water and left the remaining 15 cfs in irrigation, Thompson explained. The well owners are considering converting that 15 cfs into augmentation water as well.

The well owners bought the water for the purpose of augmenting injurious depletions in the streams resulting from well pumping, Thompson said. Since 1976, the 230 cfs, also known as the Middlemist water, has been left in the San Antonio for the benefit of the entire river system, Thompson said. Since the state did not promulgate groundwater rules in the 1970′s , there was no formal requirement for augmentation in the intervening 38 years, he added.

Since this was a junior water right, some years the Middlemist water produced zero effect on the river system, and in other years it provided as much as 29,000 acre feet, Thompson said. Most years averaged about 10,000 acre feet of water from this water right to the river systems.

“This is a significantly large amount of water we are talking about and a valuable consideration as we move forward,” Thompson said.

Thompson reminded the attendees at the Tuesday roundtable meeting that the state is in the process of promulgating rules governing groundwater use in the San Luis Valley, and wells will no longer be allowed to pump unless their injurious depletions to surface rights are covered in a groundwater management sub-district or augmentation plan. Thompson said the state engineer’s goal is to have the rules/regulations to the water court by this spring, and Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten confirmed that in his report to the roundtable.

Cotten also confirmed that the well owners’ augmentation plan would have to go back to court, since it never was finalized in the ’70′s . The plan would have to be more specific on how it would provide augmentation and would have to prove it could deliver water where it needed to go, he said.

Thompson said the well owners group wants to perfect its Middlemist/Taos Valley #3 water right so that water can be used for augmentation purposes in a way that will benefit well owners in sub-districts throughout the Valley. Individual augmentation plans for every well owner would not be realistic at this point, so most well owners plan to join sub-districts as a means of meeting the pending state regulations. The purpose of the well owners’ project is to consider ways in which their surface water right could benefit those sub-districts , Thompson explained.

“As of today, there’s certainly not enough augmentation water currently perfected to go around and ” will be in very short supply and probably at high value,” Thompson said.

He said the average total depletions that well owners throughout the entire basin will have to replace will be about 30,000 acre feet every year. If the approximately 10,000 acre feet the Middlemist water produces every year could be used to offset those depletions, it could amount to about a third of the annual requirement.

Smith said, “This is a way to carry on our living and our way of life that we all enjoy in this Valley and to keep the Valley a viable place to live. I have farmed my entire life. I am third generation. My goal is to be able to continue to preserve my wells, to replace my injuries to the streams. This is one piece in that puzzle to bring that all together.”

The group asked the roundtable for help in funding a hydrologic feasibility study to consider the potential for using the Taos Valley #3 water for either surface water storage or groundwater recharge. Thompson said storage options are limited, so he believed recharge was a more viable option. The feasibility study would look at how the recharge could be accomplished so the water would go into the ground where it was needed to replace injurious depletions. The study would look at both confined and unconfined recharge options..

Those who will be involved in conducting the feasibility study will be Thompson of Agro Engineering, Eric Harmon of HRS Water Consultants, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering and in an advisory capacity, Steve Vandiver of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District , the sponsoring entity for the water management sub-districts .

The study would be the first of a multi-phased project . Phase 2 would look at physical infrastructure to get surface water where it needs to go, and the third phase would involve the court process to perfect the water right as an augmentation right, Thompson explained.

He said the well owners want to begin some wintertime well monitoring right away, using their $30,000 match. They want to begin this study as soon as possible since Harmon envisions the feasibility phase as taking a full year.

“If we don’t have the feasibility done this year we are talking another one or two years to get into the courts,” Thompson said. “If rules are released this spring, the subdistricts are under the gun to get formed and under the gun to find sources of water to replace injurious depletions in short order.”

LeRoy Salazar added, “There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down ” We don’t have a lot of time.”

Salazar said this project is key to replacing injurious depletions to surface water rights; creating a sustainable water table; and maintaining the Valley’s economy.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Drought news: Another dry year for the San Luis Valley? #COdrought

January 18, 2014

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s still early in the snowfall season, but at this point water administrators are predicting another below-average year.

“Most of our stations in the Valley are 80-90 percent,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten reported this week. The San Antonio site is at 66 percent, while Ute Creek is 99 percent of normal, he said, “but every day we don’t have snow that goes down.”

He added, “We are projecting another below-average year at this point for most of the rivers and streams here in the Valley, but we do have some months still to go. If we do get some moisture, we can definitely get above that 100 percent.”

Cotten said both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems were below average last year. The Conejos system produced about 152,000 acre feet or about half of the 300,000-acre-foot average, and the Rio Grande ran at 460,000 acre feet, also substantially less than the long-term average of 650,000 acre feet annual index.

The good news was that Colorado met its obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact, Cotten said. The state ended the 2013 year with a credit, he said. The exact numbers will be finalized during an engineer advisors’ meeting next month and ratified during the annual Rio Grande Compact meeting in Santa Fe in March.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released its first water forecast for the year. The NRCS is predicting limited water supply west of the Continental Divide and normal water supply east of the Continental Divide.

“Right now the West Coast is all red,” NRCS Hydrologist Tom Perkins said. “Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry.”

He added, however, “But that could all change by the end of the season. This is early in the season who knows? It always changes.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West.

As of the first part of this month, the Rio Grande basin snowpack was in the 80 to 100 percent of normal range according to NRCS, with the same range in most of the basins in the state. The Upper Rio Grande basin currently has some of the lowest forecasts in the state. San Antonio River at Ortiz is forecast to flow at 66 percent of average for the April to September period and the Los Pinos River near Ortiz is expected to run at 77 percent of average for the same period. However, the Rio Grande at Thirty Mile Bridge is expected to run at 94 percent of average.

Snow accumulation in the mountains was above normal during October, November and early December, with the second half of December much drier.

NRCS State Conservationist Phyllis Ann Philipps was encouraged by the early winter moisture.

This is a great start to the 2014 water year,” she said. “As we saw in 2012 and ¦ See DRY page 3 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season; so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years.”

Snowpack totals for January 1 for the Rio Grande basin were at 99 percent of the median, an improvement over last year when the snowpack was just 67 percent of median on January 1.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver was also encouraged by moisture last fall that provided some recovery in the Valley’s aquifers.

The unconfined aquifer study prepared by Davis Engineering for many years reflected a recovery during the August-October time frame last year. Vandiver said there’s only been one other year, 2006, in quite some time that showed that same type of recovery. The unconfined aquifer study area reflected a jump of 80,000-85 ,000 acre feet, Vandiver said.

This proves “the aquifer can recharge if we have the water and we reduce the pumping,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act

December 29, 2013
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important ”river law” topics is the application of the Endangered Species Act to water management and use. The ESA is a crucial law for western rivers because it has been far more influential than anything else in making the environment a relevant factor in water management, especially in the operation of federal water projects. And federal river restoration efforts are overwhelmingly driven by ESA considerations.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


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