“As groundwater contamination problems go, the stuff leaking from septic systems isn’t terribly sexy” — John Fleck

October 29, 2014
Septic system

Septic system

From the Albuequerque Journal (John Fleck):

That, says University of New Mexico engineering professor Bruce Thomson, is precisely the problem.

“It’s groundwater contamination that’s happening all around us, and we’re not paying any attention,” said Thomson, an expert in treating human waste who delights in describing his academic specialty as “turd mechanics.”

Septic systems drain away household waste into settling tanks, with the water spilling out into drain fields and the natural filtration of the soil doing the cleanup work. But when they don’t work – because homes are packed too closely together, or the systems are old or poorly maintained, contamination can result. The key problem is nitrates, which can render water dangerous to infants…

The Carnuel neighborhood, located in Tijeras Canyon, is a good example of the problem that septic systems can cause. Homes in the area depend on wells for their water and use septic tanks to dispose of their waste. Measurements of water quality taken in the area show the problem, Thomson said. The higher up the hill you are, the lower the levels of nitrates. But for residents downstream from the clusters of septic systems, the contamination from uphill neighbors has left well water of questionable quality.

It’s a classic example of what economists would call an “externality” – when the actions of one person impose costs on someone else.

“You have an area where the groundwater is essentially undrinkable because of contamination from septic systems,” Hart Stebbins said of Carnuel. When that happens, taxpayers are often on the hook for coming in and helping fix the problem by providing piped-in clean water. That is what is happening in Carnuel, where the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is now building a water distribution system extension to serve the community.

More water pollution coverage here.


A River In Peril: Documenting Damage On The #RioGrande — FronterasDesk.org

October 28, 2014


From FronterasDesk.org (Lorne Matalon):

…one man wants to advance the conversation about watershed loss beyond platitudes.



He thinks prospective attempts to rescue this vital watershed are stymied by a lack of information, that the general public doesn’t consider the Rio Grande’s fate with the same intensity as it does other major rivers such as the Colorado River.

Colin McDonald calls it a long shot, but he wants to change that perception.
 
The lanky 33-year-old is on a trip funded by a fellowship from the University of Colorado. 
 


There are parts of the riverbed that are dry to the point some writers have dubbed it ‘rio sand.’



McDonald wants to gather information that he hopes might frame a substantive discussion on the near-term future of a river that provides water to millions of people in the United States and Mexico.

That data he’s collecting include taking water and soil samples and speaking with people on both sides of the river along the way.


The report concludes that a third of the Rio Grande’s water will be gone by the end of the century.

The U.S. and Mexico have squabbled about the Rio Grande’s water since the creation of the binational International Boundary and Water Commission, which had its genesis in the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo in 1848.

And in the U.S., Texas is grumbling that New Mexico is diverting water it should be sending downstream. Texas has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

McDonald says climate change and drought are hurting the Rio Grande. But he believes the choices humans make about the river also cause damage.

“By far the biggest influence on this river are the decisions we make on how much water comes out and how it’s used,” he said while paddling at a furious pace near the end of day that began in the darkness of early morning and ended at sunset.

“The vast majority is taken out for agriculture, which is what the values were when those dams were built,” McDonald said.

He’s referring to dams such as Elephant Butte in New Mexico built in 1916.

“Endangered Species Act wasn’t even an issue,” he said referring to a controversial law
passed in 1973.

“Ecology wasn’t a word,” he added.



Since then, the population has grown exponentially and that reality has exacerbated the effects of prolonged drought.

Then there’s the Rio Grande’s status as a border.



He thinks immigration and border security are on the front burner in Washington and Mexico City. And that that preoccupation dilutes any urgency to rescue the Rio Grande.
 


Then he mentions the Hudson River in New York.

“You mess with the Hudson?” he asked rhetorically. “There are a lot of people that are upset. 
You mess with the Rio Grande? I mean, there’s still raw sewage being dumped into this river.”



Results of water samples he is taking are being sent to the EPA’s National Assessment Database. The river receives raw sewage from the U.S. and Mexico in certain spots.

On the Mexican side, Sergio Ramirez said he used to catch a lot of fish. But he says those days are long gone.

Ramirez is an alfalfa farmer. He says he doesn’t understand how decisions are made to hold or release water. 
 


“I have no idea who control the dams. I’m not sure which country holds authority on this water,” he said in Spanish.



He said he only knows he can’t make a decent living without steady water.
 


Allen Standen is a hydrologist who has studied the Rio Grande for years. He’s joined McDonald for part of the trip.

“We’ve been floating for probably three hours now. And with the exception of seeing some egrets, we haven’t seen virtually any mammals in this river. We haven’t seen any turtles or anything,” Standen said.

McDonald is also alarmed. And he’s worried that the issue’s been clouded by high-profile disputes that focus on the legal distinctions between ground and surface water. He says these distinctions don’t matter.

“If somebody sucks the aquifer dry, there won’t be water in the river. If someone sucks this river dry, there’ll be less water underground. It’s hard to model and to map. But the physical reality is that it’s the same water,” he said.

That water is the prize in a series of legal disputes. He believes until those local cases are resolved, there won’t an opportunity to craft a truly regional effort to save the Rio Grande.


More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Too much of a good thing — The Pueblo Chieftain #RioGrande

October 23, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Too much water has become a bad thing in the Rio Grande basin. That might seem like nonsense in a region that has seen below-average stream flows for most of the last 12 years, but inaccurate stream forecasts coupled with the demands of the Rio Grande Compact have put water managers and users in a pinch. The compact governs how much water Colorado must send downstream and includes separate delivery schedules for the Rio Grande and Conejos River.

Those deliveries run on a sliding scale with the highest demands in wet years and the lowest ones in dry times. Each spring, the state engineer’s office relies on stream forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to balance how much runoff can be diverted by irrigators with how much must go to New Mexico.

The service draws that forecast partly from the eight automated snow gauges and a string of manual snow survey sights in the basin. But this year’s projections were low by roughly 50,000 acre-feet on the Conejos and almost 150,000 acre-feet on the Rio Grande, Division Engineer Craig Cotten said. That has left Cotten and his staff in the position of curtailing or limiting the amount of water that irrigators would otherwise be entitled to according to their respective water rights.

“The most senior water rights on both rivers are being curtailed dramatically in order to meet the compact,” Steve Vandiver, director of the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District told the basin’s roundtable earlier this month.

Moreover, the service’s snow measurement and forecasting program may have an uncertain future. Last year, the service proposed eliminating 47 of the 110 manual snow survey sites in Colorado to meet agency budget cuts. While those sites were saved, the threat of future funding cuts along with the inaccuracies plaguing the forecast have led officials in the Rio Grande basin to look at other options.

The Conejos Water Conservancy District is in the middle of a $237,000 project that will install a temporary radar system, six weather stations and a string of new stream flow gauges. The aim is to get a more accurate forecast that will reduce curtailments for water users. In 2012, the Conejos district estimated that those curtailments cost water users in the basin up to $13,000 per day.

“We can’t realistically blame Craig because it’s the forecasting error,” said Nathan Coombs, the district’s manager. “We don’t have anything else that helps us.”

The Conejos basin is home to two of the automated snow gauges run by the service.

The radar, which will be located either at Antonito or Alamosa, will give officials a clearer picture of where storms are happening, while the six weather stations will allow them to determine how much the storms are depositing.

Moreover, the project will add flow gauges to key tributaries of the Conejos such as Elk Creek and the South Fork of the Conejos.

“If we can start measuring better what these tributaries are doing, that will give us an indication of what these sub-basins are looking at,” Coombs said.

The snowpack and stream flow data gathered by the district will be turned over to researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. In turn, those researchers will try to use that data to create a forecasting model. Coombs said the district will stack up that end product with the service forecasts.

“If there’s enough discrepancy to pursue it, that’s how we’ll go,” he said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board played a role in funding the Conejos project and also has pursued the use of satellite technology to help increase the accuracy of snowpack measurement.

“We’ve had this conversation a lot,” Travis Smith who represents the Rio Grande on the board, told The Chieftain. “Forecasting drives our compact decisions.” Smith, who has been heavily involved in fire recovery issues in the Rio Grande’s headwaters, said temporary radar near Wolf Creek Pass that’s been installed to warn of late summer and fall monsoon storms, may end up playing a role for winter snowstorms as well.

But moving state officials toward improved forecasting can be difficult given that two of the biggest water management organizations in the state — Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — do their own forecasting independent of the service.

Still, Smith sees a potential ally in the Arkansas River basin, where water managers are dependent on service forecasting for its voluntary flow management program and reservoir operations.

Mike Gibson is chair of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, which also divvies up state funds for water projects and funded a portion of the Conejos pilot project. He wants all options left on the table.

“I personally feel we need to pursue all avenues available until we come up with a better system than we have now,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Alamosa water rates to increase

October 21, 2014
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s good news, but not as good as originally reported. Contrary to an earlier misperception, water rates in the City of Alamosa will increase next year just not above what the city council had scheduled to do several years ago.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks clarified that although the city will not have to go above the increases the council had set a few years ago, there will be rate increases next year.

She said in 2011 the city council passed an ordinance setting rate increases for five years. With additional costs to replace filters in the water treatment plant this year, city staff were concerned they might have to increase fees above the 2011-approved levels for 2015, but the staff were able to incorporate the additional costs for the filters into the budget without increasing water fees above the levels set out in the 2011 ordinance.

The city faces additional water system challenges in the future, such as the possibility of stricter arsenic regulations, and the staff will closely monitor those developments regarding their potential budget impacts.

City water customers are charged a monthly service charge plus a monthly volume charge according to their metered use. According to the ordinance the council approved in 2011:

  • In 2012 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons was $1.22 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.54 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $1.97 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons ; and $2.56 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • In 2013 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons increased to $1.26 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.59 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.04 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.64 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • In 2014 the ordinance increased the water fees to $1.30 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.64 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.11 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons; and $2.72 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons. Next year, 2015, the ordinance set the following rates, which reflect a slight increase over the 2014 water fees: $1.35 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.70 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.19 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.80 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • The ordinance the council passed in 2011 extends through 2016, increasing the above rates from 2015 to 2016 by 6 cents, 7 cents, 9 cents and 10 cents, respectively.

    The public hearing for the city’s 2015 budget is scheduled this Wednesday, Oct. 15, during the 7 p.m. city council meeting at city hall, 300 Hunt Ave., Alamosa. To view the budget online go to www. cityofalamosa.org and click the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    Subdistrict remedies stream depletions — the Valley Courier

    October 21, 2014
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From the Valley Courier (Rob Phillips):

    This is the 15th article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the formation and implementation of the Basin Water Plan. The primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to remedy injurious depletions to senior surface water rights and keep those water users whole.

    The Subdistrict has several methods to do this. First, the subdistrict has purchased and leased water, both native to the Rio Grande Basin and water imported from the West slope. This water is stored and released as directed by the Division Engineer to replace stream depletion replacement within stream reaches of the Rio Grande as they occur. By doing this, the river itself is kept whole with wet water replacing the depletions in time, location and amount.

    The subdistrict can also use what are known as forbearance agreements. Colorado law allows the subdistrict to remedy injurious depletions by a means other than supplying wet water. The subdistrict can do this by agreeing with a ditch that, rather than replace depletions with water, the subdistrict will pay the ditch some amount of money for each acre-foot of water the ditch does not receive because of depletions caused by subdistrict wells.

    Each day the Division Engineer tells the subdistrict which ditch is “on the bubble,” that is the most junior ditch that is in priority that day and that is not receiving its full water supply under that priority. The subdistrict then looks at the Annual Replacement Plan to see the depletions caused by subdistrict wells on that day, water that the ditch on the bubble would have received. The subdistrict keeps track of the total amount of water due to each ditch that has a forbearance agreement and pays them at the end of the year. The ditch can then do what it wants with the money, for example upgrading the ditch or simply dividing it up among the ditch users. Forbearance agreements allow ditches and water users to remain whole, while not locking up scarce water resources. So far, the subdistrict and the forbearing ditches are very happy with this arrangement and look forward to continuing working together to reach the best solution for everyone. How the subdistrict is working towards aquifer sustainability

    Throughout the recent drought, the aquifer has been shrinking as producers pump more water than is recharged back to the aquifer. The other primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to recover and sustain the Unconfined Aquifer below the subdistrict to the level that existed in the early 1980s. The primary way the subdistrict plans to do this is by reducing the amount of irrigated acres within the subdistrict, which will reduce the amount of pumping from the aquifer. This concept is built into the Subdistrict’s Plan and requires 20,000 acres be retired by the fifth year from judicial approval of the plan, 30,000 acres less by the end of the seventh year, and up to 40,000 acres less by the end of the tenth year all from a base year of 2000.

    One tool the subdistrict has to meet these goals is financial incentives and participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to retire up to 40,000 irrigated acres. Currently, 1,970 acres were enrolled in the program in 2013 while another 1,370 acres are currently proposed in 2014. However it is not just CREP acres that count towards the 40,000-acre goal, any program or change that retires acres reduces pumping and assists in achieving and maintaining sustainability . But remember, the subdistrict can only provide incentives, it does not have the power to require wells stop pumping.

    Conclusion

    The producers of the closed basin area within the San Luis Valley stepped forward when no one else did and created a subdistrict and imposed fees on themselves to replace their wells’ depletions and work to recover and sustain the unconfined aquifer. They did this not because rules or regulations were in place requiring this action, but because they believed these things had to be done.

    The process has never been easy and the debate about the best way to achieve the subdistrict’s goals continues. But the subdistrict, led by its board of managers, has continuously worked towards those goals and they remain the leaders in the Valley for replacing depletions and working towards sustainability . Currently, other proposed subdistricts within different hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley are going through the same processes in an attempt to have their plan up and running before the state engineer’s ground water rules are approved within the Rio Grande Basin.

    These forming subdistricts have watched and learned from Subdistrict No. 1’s struggles and accomplishments . Those other subdistricts will provide the same protection to their wells, a locally based and operated group that provides an alternative to state administration of ground water withdrawals in Division 3 while protecting senior surface water rights and providing for a long-term , sustainable ground water system.

    The Plan of Water Management, Annual Replacement Plans and other information on the subdistrict and the aquifers are available on the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s website: http:// http://www.rgwcd.org/page9.html

    Meanwhile Sub-district No. 2 is gearing up for operations according to this report from Lauren Krizansky writing for the Valley Courier:

    Well owners residing in the Valley’s second sub-district are ready to push forward with a petition after months of voluntary work.

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Cleave Simpson updated the Alamosa County Commissioners (ACC) Wednesday morning on the latest happenings regarding the creation of the next sub-district , which sits in both Alamosa and Rio Grande Counties.

    Sub-district No. 2, also known as the Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , is comprised entirely of unconfined wells, and is taking on a different form than Sub-District No. 1, he said. The zone is much smaller, only 300 wells compared to 1,000, participation is voluntary and there is no “sustainability requirement” because the wells do not tap into the confined aquifer.

    “We are not drawing a boundary,” Simpson said. “We will go to each individual landowner… There are not the same benchmarks to meet.”

    Out of the second sub-district’s 300 wells, 152 average more than 10 acre-feet a year, making them subject to the state’s demand to either join a sub-district or to develop an augmentation plan. There are 10 non-private wells in the mix and 60 private well owners.

    “It will be a patchwork of parcels,” Simpson said.

    Out of those well owners, he said between 12 and 15 have regularly participated in the workgroups over the past few months, and they represent more or less half the wells in the second subdistrict .

    In addition, the City of Monte Vista, the Town of Del Norte, Homelake, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and two school districts are in the zone, but will not join the second sub-district because government entities cannot legally be assessed.

    They will be held, however, to the same standards, he said, and have the option to contract with Sub-district No. 2, which would include them in its Annual Replacement Plan.

    Although assessment methods and fees to replace depletions are still to be determined, he said Subdistrict No. 2 is ready to petition for legitimacy.

    “They are ready to go to the public,” Simpson said. “They are ready to start these discussions.”

    It depends on where the state is with its pending water rules and regulations in coming months, he said, but the second sub-district hopes to submit its petition to the district court in January 2015.

    “The (water) model and rules and regulations are not final ,” Simpson said. “That could cause a delay.”

    Once Sub-district No. 2 is established, he said a board of managers (BOM) will be appointed via a court-approved process.

    If there is no opposition to the to the second subdistrict’s formation, he said the BOM’s first task will be to draft a management plan, and, if it is also goes unchallenged , fees assessments will begin in late 2015 with collection notices delivered to Sub-district No. 2 participants in conjunction with their January 2016 county issued tax documents.

    Due to its uniqueness, he said the second sub-district has options when it comes to mitigating its groundwater depletions.

    “There could be some reduction in irrigated agriculture,” Simpson said, “but we might see changes in technologies, crops requiring less consumption and increases in (water) efficiency.”

    He added the value of the zone’s water could also increase, but that is also to be determined.

    Sub-district No. 1 has resulted in increased values, in some cases almost double, and is drawing interest from buyers from outside of the Valley. The Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district is the second out of six identified in the Valley to come to fruition under the watch of the RGWCD. Alamosa County will eventually have three within its borders. In addition to Subdistricts No. 1 and No. 2, the fourth sub-district will also fall within its jurisdiction, but it is still in an infant stage.

    “It’s good to see the well owners come together,” said Alamosa County Chair Michael Yohn. “Everyone has to be accountable for their water use.”

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


    San Luis: Third Colorado Congreso de Acequias recap

    October 17, 2014
    San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

    San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Conejos County Citizen (Sylvia Lobata):

    A historic Spanish agricultural irrigation system of unlined water ditches that irrigate farmers’ fields, with water flows directed by the movement of tarps and dirt along each ditch, the unlined acequias are also believed to recharge the area’s shallow aquifers and support biodiversity.

    Costilla County has 70 acequias covering 35,000 acres and serving 270 families, while Conejos’ 50 acequias, serve 45,000 acres and 100 families, linking the water users to their 16th century Spanish heritage, maintaining that culture across some nine generations in these isolated farmlands.

    When heirs were being identified during the lengthy lawsuit to ensure access to the vast “Mountain Tract,” also known as the Taylor Ranch, the owners and heirs of many early homesteads, or varas, were identified by their connection with acequias. “Without water, there is no life,” says Norman Maestas, president of the San Luis-based Land Rights Council.

    Many acequia properties were never officially incorporated, adding problems to use of the ancient ditches.

    In 2009, largely at the urging of Costilla County water users, the Colorado legislature passed a bill “to promote and encourage the continued operations of acequias and the viabilities of historic communities that depend on those acequias.”

    From the beginning, the congresos have drawn landowners and irrigators, agencies and officials, nonprofits, University of Colorado law students and others.

    Law students have taken on the challenge of developing legal protection for the acequias.

    Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association Program Director Sarah Parmar in a recent interview, said there is still much to be done about educating legislators and the public about acequias, while finding a place for the ancient systems in the state water plan.

    This year’s congreso agenda provides knowledge heavily focused on acequia bylaws and conflicts to support the community in Colorado water conversations.

    Parmar explained that, “we want everyone to understand what the purpose of bylaws are and that they can be used in a way to continue tradition. Bylaws are also a tool to help people coming into and returning to the community. More integration of bylaws into practice can prevent arguments.”

    Those arguments come when water is scarce, she explained. Differing memories instead of bylaws are often recalled regarding the matter of sharing the resource.

    The acequia association and the CU Law School partner through the Getches-Wilkinson Center to provide free or low cost legal assistance and educational materials to affected communities, helping establish their priority rights to water under Colorado law.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    “NRCS does their best, based on the SNOTELs they have” — Steve Vandiver #RioGrande

    October 16, 2014

    NRCS Streamflow Forecast June 1, 2014

    NRCS Streamflow Forecast June 1, 2014


    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Nobody’s crystal ball worked very well this year when it came to predicting river flows. In a Valley-wide water meeting yesterday, former long-time Division Engineer Steve Vandiver indicated the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) crystal ball might be cracked.

    “NRCS does their best, based on the SNOTELs they have,” he said.

    However, there are only about eight SNOTEL sites in the entire basin. SNOTEL is an automated system of snowpack sensors. Most of the SNOTEL sites in this basin provide information for the Rio Grande, with only two in the Conejos River system area. Vandiver said he was concerned about the apparent move by NRCS to rely on electronic data such as SNOTEL without confirming it through manual snow courses, a move that he believed would “lessen their ability to give us a good forecast.”

    Vandiver added, “It’s vitally important we keep up with a forecasting system that means something.”

    NRCS forecasts are the primary tool used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 office to determine how much water the basin has to send downriver each calendar year and how much water irrigators will have available to them during the growing season. This year the NRCS forecasted annual stream flow for the Rio Grande at the beginning of the irrigation season was nearly 150,000 acre feet lower than the current forecast of 640,000 acre feet and the Conejos River system was almost 50,000 acre feet lower than the current forecast of 225,000 acre feet.

    Because the earlier forecasts were off, the water division must send more water downriver now to make its annual obligation to the states of New Mexico and Texas as required by the Rio Grande Compact, Vandiver explained. That means an earlier cut off on the irrigation season on the Conejos River water users and greater curtailments on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River irrigators. Vandiver explained that because of the way the Rio Grande Compact was structured , the more water this basin receives, the higher percentage of it must be sent downriver, and the obligation percentage on the Conejos is already higher than the Rio Grande. In a big water year, which doesn’t happen very often , the Conejos system would have to send 70 percent of its water downstream, he said.

    In normal water years, the basin has to send about a third of its water downstream to New Mexico and Texas.

    “The delivery schedules dictate how much we can use,” Vandiver explained. Currently Conejos River system users are seeing a curtailment of more than 40 percent and the Rio Grande irrigators about 28 percent.

    “On the Conejos system we are probably going to have to shut off early just to meet the compact,” Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said yesterday during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting. He added the Rio Grande could probably make it to the first of November, the scheduled ending point for the irrigation season, but not extend past that point.

    He said he will meet with Rio Grande irrigators before making the final decision on when to shut off the irrigation season this year. Vandiver, who held the division engineer position prior to Cotten and Mike Sullivan, described the headaches of managing water deliveries in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) so that Rio Grande Compact deliveries are made and irrigators receive the water due them.

    He said there are so many variables that affect runoff and stream flow every year from rain to dust on snow. He said NRCS has depended on various snow measurement sites around the basin through the years but has not had the funding and manpower recently to maintain, improve or increase those sites. When SNOTEL sites are not maintained, they are not able to provide accurate information for annual forecasts. For example, he said the SNOTEL site at Wolf Creek had problems ranging from large trees laying across it to a gopher hole in the middle of it that were not fixed before last winter, so the site did not work right, and it is one of the key sites in the SNOTEL system.

    Conejos River irrigators are embarking on a $237,000 pilot project to use a portable radar system coupled with meteorological stations and river data collection sites to determine if there might be a better way to forecast runoff and stream flows in the basin, or at least to augment the information provided through NRCS. The Rio Grande Roundtable and state water board provided funding for that pilot project.

    Nathan Coombs, manager for the Conejos Water Conservancy District that is spearheading this project, said it is not the group’s intention to influence or circumvent NRCS “We don’t need to pitch that aside and start over” but to collect data on a parallel track and see if it is useful for future forecasting efforts. Coombs said the best place for the radar truck to be set up would either be Antonito or at the airport in Alamosa. He added the radar coverage would provide information for both the Conejos and Rio Grande.

    Cotten said his office is not mandated to use NRCS forecasts , “but there’s nothing else out there really.”

    He added the weather service had started doing some forecasting.

    “We are looking at their forecasts also.”

    He said the NRCS and weather service forecasts were about 100,000 acre feet apart from each other this year, and it appeared the weather service’s forecast was closer to the truth this time, “which doesn’t always happen.”

    Roundtable board member Cindy Medina suggested the roundtable or another group take the lead on presenting a package of basin snow measurement needs to legislators like Senator Michael Bennet who could work with NRCS to make sure funding is in place to meet those needs.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


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