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.


Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust: Garcia Ranch Conservation Easement Completed!

December 24, 2013
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 Headwaters Land Trust website:

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is proud to announce the completion of a conservation easement on the beautiful Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River. Thanks to the generosity of owners Dr. Reyes Garcia and his daughters Lana Kiana and Tania Paloma, their working ranch will remain intact with its senior water rights in perpetuity. In addition, RiGHT greatly appreciates the funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, through the Rio Grande Basin Round Table, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area and the San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee which all made this wonderful conservation project possible.

Fulfilling the opportunity to conserve this exceptional property has been a labor of love for both the landowners and the land trust over the past two years, with roots that go back much, much further. As a retired professor of philosophy, environmental and indigenous studies, Reyes Garcia is deeply attuned to the legacy of his family’s land and the way of life it has provided for generations. With the Garcia family having originally settled in Conejos County in the 1850’s, he has a long history rooted in the special area between the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers.

In an article for RiGHT’s spring newsletter, Dr. Garcia wrote that he chose to conserve the land in honor of his older brother, Jose, who worked the land for 50 years until his recent passing. “Surely, a conservation easement agreement is a recommitment to a more original contract between humanity and the whole of the natural world …. as a sacred promise to cherish and safeguard one another. Surely, an easement agreement is a prism through which to envision a future much like the past many of us have known during our best years here in El Valle de San Luis – a future also much like the present in which we face so many of the challenges of a period of transition and big changes – a future that will continue as far as possible to be sustainable and wholesome.”

Conserving the land and water is a way “to make my own small contribution to preserving the family legacy of ranching and the land-based culture of the ranchero tradition,” Garcia wrote. “After my brother gave me the responsibility for irrigating in 1983, I came to understand this tradition includes putting into practice ecological values by virtue of an instinctual love of the land that engenders good stewardship and a deep respect for all life forms, the seasonal rotation of livestock and their humane treatment, the acequia irrigation system especially, the transmission of skills which make self-reliance possible, along with an emphasis on cooperation with neighbors and mutual aid.

“How can we not hope that another seven generations will lay up a treasure of similar experiences and memories? How can we not bring ourselves to do what is necessary to make this possible for those who come after us?” Garcia wrote.

“Conserving a spectacular property like the Garcia Ranch truly fulfills the core purpose of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust,” said Rio de la Vista, Co-Coordinator of the trust’s Rio Grande Initiative. “The rare opportunity to protect such a beautiful confluence of working lands, important water rights and exceptional wildlife habitat is always fulfilling. And this easement is all the more special due to the long-lived legacy of the Garcia family in Conejos County. We are immensely grateful to them for working with RiGHT to provide this ‘gift to the future’, of intact land and water that can sustain life and livelihoods far into the future.”

For a short film about the Garcia Ranch by co-owner Lana Garcia, click this link.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.


‘In water, we never use the word fair. It is not part of the vocabulary’ — Nathan Coombs

November 30, 2013
Students pulling samples

Students pulling samples

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Colorado youth are tomorrow’s water leaders, and in the Valley they are getting a head start. Natural resource education opportunities are abundant between the Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans, and teachers are connecting their students to one of the Valley’s most priceless resources – water – through Colorado Academic Standards approved lessons in nature’s classroom.

“Water, where it comes from affects us and what happens in our community,” explained Conejos Water Conservancy District Manager and Conejos County Conservation District Supervisor Nathan Coombs to a group of North Conejos School District students earlier this year. “And we have to measure water to know if it is going to the right places… the value of water is tremendous.”

After breaking down water management in the Conejos District to a few key vocabulary words – priority, compact, curtail, diversion, aquifer, ground water and surface water – Coombs brought it to life standing over the Conejos River on the Manassa Ditch No. 1 with the 65 middle school students, discussing the 97 diversions between the Platoro Reservoir and where they were standing. “In the river, it doesn’t matter where you are,” Coombs said. “It’s all about your number.”

He added, “In water, we never use the word fair. It is not part of the vocabulary.”

After detailing how the rivers in Colorado deliver water to seven states, Rio Grande Compact obligations and how it takes 44 hours in a raft to float on the Conejos River from the reservoir to Las Sauces, the students couldn’t stop asking questions and volunteering answers.

Water leaders like Coombs make these experiential lessons an option for Valley teachers with help from interested classroom teachers and environmental educators like the Rio Grande Water Conservation Education Initiative (RGWCEI) specialist Judy Lopez.

“This gives the students a real life connection,” said Conejos science teacher Andrew Shelton while watching his students turn on to their natural environment this fall. “This is a farming community , and it really hits home with them.”

RGWCEI works with the Valley’s conservation districts , school districts, community members and producers with a goal to create an educated populous that not only respects the Valley’s natural resources, but also understands the big part agriculture plays in conserving those resources, Lopez said.

“Not only are they getting lectures, but hands on experience that will ultimately build an intrinsic value system,” she said. “Science today tends to be taught within the context of labs and boxes. These experiences create problem solvers.”

About 85 percent of Valley students either stay here or return after college, she added, making natural resources lessons during younger years much more important .

“The youth are going to value the Valley more,” Lopez said. “They will be responsive to the natural resources as citizens, parents and families.” Students of all kinds Natural resource education in the Valley isn’t limited to the K-12 classroom. Last spring, the Rio Grande Leaders Course graduated a number of locals looking to understand and protect the Valley’s water. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD), Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) and RGWCEI sponsored course provided 25 community members the opportunity to engage in education and networking to prepare to take a future role in safeguarding , developing and managing the Valley’s water resources. It included information on Valley hydrology, water rights administration, notable court cases, current events and local partners and projects. Course attendees included young farmers, federal agency employees and other interested individuals , making for interesting dialogue and numerous perspectives on water use.

“It opened my eyes,” said Aliesha Carpenter, originally from La Jara and now married to a fourth generation Center potato farmer during the course’s closing ceremonies in March. “It wasn’t just about agriculture. It was about wildlife, the Sand Dunes and life for people. Without it, our agricultural economy would disintegrate. There needs to be a younger generation in agriculture.” Bureau of Land Management (BLM) assistant field manager Paul Tigan added, “I think the course helped with the understanding of the long term context of water management in the Valley. Federal employees have a tendency to come into a place, stay for a few years and then move on. This is a good opportunity to develop a context and to understand .”

RGWCEI is also reaching out to education professionals through its annual teachers workshop series. The series, now in its seventh year, offers educators from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn how to teach in the outdoors and from the outdoors. It includes a one-week experiential learning course annually over a three-year timeframe. The series is broken into three sectors: From Watershed to Cup Year One: Following Water Through the “Creekulum;” From Watershed to Sustainability Year Two: Building a “Stream” of Consciousness; and From Watershed to Table Year Three: Following Water Down the Food Chain. The series is based out of the Trinchera Ranch in Fort Garland, but uses the entire Valley as its classroom.

“It’s a way for teachers to reconnect,” Lopez said. “They learn how to teach in the outdoors, and it gives them a background. A teacher’s biggest fear is that they don’t know enough. They get to be on the ground with natural resource specialists and leave with hands on lessons , creating more confident educators.”

Completion results in three graduate credits, an extensive education in the Valley’s natural resources and their systems and the ability to build natural resources-based activities through the K-12 Project Wet curriculum, an outdoor environmental education tool. State supported initiative

In May 2010, the Colorado Kids Outdoors Grant Program Legislation, HB10-1131 was signed into law, recognizing the importance of the outdoor environment on the health of the state’s residents, especially youth.

It aims to prepare students to address present and future environmental challenges and innovations that impact quality of life, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Colorado Environmental Education Plan (CEEP) published in 2012. Colorado’s environment , economy and communities depend on informed citizens who can make decisions about air and water quality; the health of farms, ranches, forests and wildlife; how to meet energy and other resource needs; how to create and sustain healthy communities; and how to provide opportunities for residents to partake in the state’s natural beauty while protecting it for future generations.

In 2011, a partnership was born between CDE and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to write CEEP, and to foster awareness needed to promote, coordinate and sustain standards-based environmental education across the state.

The plan is designed to support implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards while developing students’ knowledge and skills related to the environment and getting students to spend more time outside, according to CEEP. The timing of this plan is advantageous as districts, schools and teachers are revising curricula and improving instructional practices to address the strategic imperative of developing all students’ postsecondary workforce readiness. Its strategies support teachers in addition to encouraging the integration of high quality environmental education opportunities and use of the outdoors in ways that are relevant, connected and meaningful for their students.

More education coverage here.


New series of articles from the Valley Courier will focus on Colorado’s supply gap

July 24, 2013

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Here is Part I of the The Valley Courier’s new series about Colorado’s water supply gap, written by Judy Lopez. Here’s an excerpt:

The Rio Grande Basin encompasses approximately 8,000 square miles, including the San Luis Valley. This high mountain valley extends approximately 100 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west.

Water in the Rio Grande Basin is currently over appropriated (and has been since the 1890s). All of the waters of the Rio Grande and Conejos River and their tributaries are subject to the terms of the Rio Grande Compact. This combined with the fact that the Valley’s groundwater resources have been over used and areas across the basin face groundwater depletions mean that the need for decision making is increasingly urgent. By 2050, a shortfall of 180,000 acre feet (AF) is expected, which includes the agricultural groundwater shortage which is being addressed by pending rules and regulations and fallowing farm land via the groundwater sub-district. The goal of each of these actions is to achieve sustainable aquifers through better management and reduction of groundwater pumping.

The whole case revolves around the fact that water is recognized as one of the most vital substances to sustain life. Then why is it one of the most undervalued resources in the world? Universally people do not understand the variety of services that water provides to sustain a nation’s economic development and the health of its population. Where would the manufacturing, electronics, or agriculture industries be without water?

Water helps to provides psychological benefits, too. In a report from the American Waterworks Association, “People derive pleasure from recreational activities and find comfort knowing that the water they drink is of the highest quality”. With this said, in developed countries, knowledge of water resources by the majority of the population is at best minimal.

Why? One reason could be that water utilities have been successful in providing high-quality water on demand. They are so good at in fact that the process of sanitizing and delivering water remains of little or no concern. So much so that most of the developed population is complacent about water resources, by valuing the outcomes and giving little regard to the inputs. One could predict that the misuse and abuse of water is the direct result of the perception that water has little or no value at all.

The real value of water is not the price or cost associated with its production – the real value of water is related to the services it provides. While water to sustain human life can be assigned a particular value; water used for environmental purposes, such as developing and maintaining wetlands, is assigned another value. The value is dependent upon a person’s background, belief system and interests.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


The Rio Grande Roundtable approves $237,000 streamflow forecasting pilot project

July 13, 2013

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The state water board, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), is so interested in how the project will affect stream flow forecasts in the future it is willing to put $215,000 into it.

The local basin-wide water group, the Rio Grande Roundtable, on Tuesday unanimously approved the Conejos Water Conservancy’s $237,000 request for basin and statewide funding: $200,000 from statewide funds and $37,000 from basin-allocated funds. The conservancy district is taking the lead in sponsoring the project.

The total project cost is about half a million dollars with funds coming from state and local water grants, the CWCB match, local match and other grant funds.

Conejos Water Conservancy Manager Nathan Coombs and Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said this project would provide more information to the Colorado Division of Water Resources and others to more accurately predict stream flows. The project will ultimately assist area irrigators as well because it will improve management of the Valley’s river systems. If the project is successful here, it will likely be installed in other parts of the state.

Joe Busto, with the CWCB Watershed Protection & Flood Mitigation Program, said improved forecasting translates to real dollars for irrigators. Improved forecasts assist the state in better managing water resources, which is even more critical in times of drought. Busto said this type of project is a high priority for the state.

Currently there are gaps in this basin and others where snowfall data is lacking…

The project would use radar mounted by Red Mountain west of La Jara Reservoir to collect more information about snowfall and snowmelt. Busto said SNODAS (Snow Data Assimilation System) spatial modeling provides 100,000 data points in Colorado, with 4,000 of those in the Rio Grande Basin. The radar data will enhance those data points, he explained…

The pilot project will focus on the watershed in Conejos and integrate radar data with other forms of snowfall measurements and modeling systems. Complete coverage for the basin would require radar on the top of Bristol Head and in Center, Busto explained. That could be a long-term goal but would be more complicated to install. Busto said the Conejos watershed is simpler, so it is a good place to test this out.

The pilot will run seven months, he added, with the radar installed in November…

David Gochis, National Center for Atmospheric Research, said additional measurements are needed on the ground to verify how well the radar is working. If the radar is validated, it would prompt more confidence in applying the radar precipitation estimates elsewhere, Gochis said.

He said a SNOTEL site is currently located at Lily Pond, and the state has survey sites at Platoro and a couple more sites further west, but additional measurement instruments are needed to verify that the information the radar is providing is correct. One obstacle to installing more measurement instruments is the wilderness boundary, Gochis said, because instruments cannot be placed in the wilderness area. They could be clustered around Platoro, however, he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting recap: ‘My mantra has been let’s try to solve and not fight’ — Scott Verhines

March 31, 2013

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Alamosa hosted the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting, which rotates among the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Although the states are currently involved in litigation over compact administration, pending lawsuits were hardly mentioned during the meeting, and state engineers said they hoped the states could resolve their differences.

In January, Texas filed suit against New Mexico over Rio Grande Compact disputes, with Colorado caught in the middle since it is part of the compact. The suit alleged New Mexico was not delivering to Texas the water owed that state under the compact.

“I am just hoping the three states and the commission continue to endeavor to work in a cooperative way,” said Dick Wolfe, compact commissioner for Colorado and the state water engineer.

Scott Verhines, Wolfe’s counterpart in New Mexico, said, “My mantra has been let’s try to solve and not fight … It behooves all of us to look for an opportunity to solve rather than fight.”

Pat Gordon, Texas’ compact commissioner and state engineer, said although he could not elaborate on all of the litigation issues, he agreed with Wolfe’s desire “that hopefully we can resolve all these issues.”

He said, “Water would solve a lot of issues.”

That seemed to be the consensus of all three states, which are entering yet another substandard water year.

“This is our fifth year in a row, consecutive year in a row, of below average conditions,” Commissioner Wolfe said. “We are seeing some pretty sustained below average conditions which certainly makes it difficult not only for users in Colorado but our downstream states as well.”

He said in the last 10-12 years, there have only been two or three years above the long-term average.

Wolfe reminded the water commissioners that 2012 experienced below average flows on the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems, with the Rio Grande producing 65 percent of average and the Conejos system 56 percent. He said 2013 will continue in a similar fashion but may be slightly better than last year. The March 1 forecast predicted 70 percent of average flows on the Rio Grande and 69 percent on the Conejos system, he reported.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


San Luis Valley water is safe from the USFWS and the southwestern willow fly-catcher

March 23, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A federal wildlife manager assured Colorado officials Thursday that the protection of habitat for an endangered bird would not lead to demands on the state to relinquish water.

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher along 23 miles of the Rio Grande and a 2.9mile stretch of the Conejos River. “The designation itself does not affect water delivery or water users,” Wally Murphy, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s protection of endangered species in New Mexico, told the Rio Grande Compact Commission.

San Luis Valley water officials had been alarmed by the January designation after spending years working on a habitat conservation plan to protect the bird’s habitat on private land in the valley. The service excluded 114 miles of private stream bank along the Conejos and Rio Grande that were covered in the conservation plan.

But State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who represents Colorado on the commission, pressed Murphy on whether the operations of Platoro Reservoir or the Closed Basin Project might be impacted. “Habitat is ultimately driven by water to some extent so it seems like there is a nexus there,” Wolfe said.

Murphy said there would be no call for water. Platoro, which has a capacity of 59,000 acre-feet and sits near the Continental Divide, provides flood control and irrigation water for farmers and ranchers along the Conejos. The Closed Basin Project draws groundwater from the northeast corner of the valley and sends it downstream to assist with Colorado’s requirements under the compact.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


Colorado is being dragged into Rio Grande River Compact dispute between Texas and New Mexico

January 13, 2013

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The suit, filed in U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, alleges New Mexico is not delivering to Texas the water owed that state under the compact, which also includes Colorado. [Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten] had just learned of the suit Tuesday morning and said he was not exactly sure of the specifics. He said the main disagreement was between New Mexico and Texas, but since Colorado is part of the multi-state 1938 Rio Grande Compact, it was included.

“The State of Texas is requesting no action from the State of Colorado. They are included only because they are a signatory to the compact,” a January 8 release from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) stated.

TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein said, “It is unfortunate that we have had to resort to legal action, but negotiations with New Mexico have been unsuccessful, and Texas is not getting the water that it is allocated and legally entitled to.”

Rubinstein alleged New Mexico was trying to circumvent and ignore the compact, and by filing suit against New Mexico, Texas was attempting to rectify alleged harm New Mexico had caused Texas water users…

Texas is alleging that New Mexico has allowed hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water to be illegally diverted from the Rio Grande downstream of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the storage facility for the three-state Rio Grande Compact.

“Essentially, New Mexico is delivering water to Texas at Elephant Butte Reservoir and then re-diverting Texas’ water below the reservoir as it is being released to Texas,” TCEQ officials stated.

“The illegal diversion of this water is negatively impacting water flows in the river, taking water that is released for the Rio Grande Project beneficiaries, including the State of Texas … Grave and irreparable injury has occurred and will be suffered in the future by Texas and its citizens unless relief is afforded by the court to prevent New Mexico from using and withholding water which Texas is entitled to, and which New Mexico is obligated to deliver, under the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project Act.”

Cotten said the engineer advisors for each state are scheduled to meet on the compact in February, and the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting will be held in Alamosa this year on March 21 at Adams State University.

As far as Colorado’s deliveries to downstream states in 2012, the state over-delivered its obligation by about 6,000 acre feet, Cotten explained. The over deliveries were all from the Conejos River system, which sent about 9,000 acre feet more than was required to downstream states. The Rio Grande under-delivered about 3,000 acre feet, so between the two rivers, the state ended up with a credit of about 6,000 acre feet.

Cotten said he hoped Colorado would be able to work with Texas to relinquish that credit water to Texas in exchange for the ability to store water up here. Since Elephant Butte Reservoir has been so low, Colorado has been prohibited from storing water in post-compact reservoirs in Colorado, according to provisions of the Rio Grande Compact.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Drought news: Fall rainfall totals in the San Luis Valley disappoint

October 10, 2012

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The gauging station at Culebra Creek, outside of San Luis, has recorded water levels below 2002 drought levels for most of the summer…

Where the Rio Grande’s annual forecast was 415,000 acre feet last month, it is now 410,000 acre feet, Cotten reported to the Rio Grande Roundtable, which met in San Luis on Tuesday. Cotten said the forecast has gone down about every month this year. The 410,000-acre feet flow for the Rio Grande this year is 63 percent of the long-term average, Cotten added.

Although Colorado is still delivering some water downstream, its obligation on the Rio Grande is currently zero, so there are no curtailments on the irrigators along the Rio Grande.

The same is true for the Conejos River system, the other main contributor to the state’s Rio Grande Compact. The annual forecast on the Conejos River system is about 180,000 acre feet, or 55 percent of the long-term average, with zero curtailments made at this point and zero obligations required downstream…

Cotten also shared results of Allen Davey’s longitudinal unconfined aquifer study, which reflect a decrease of more than a million acre feet since 1976 to the present. Roundtable member Steve Vandiver said the latest figure is 1.2 million.

When asked if his office has been seeing a large number of applications for replacement wells because of the drought, Cotten said many people had already redrilled their domestic wells to deeper depths in 2002 and 2003 so his office is not seeing that many requests this year. He has had requests to redrill irrigation wells to deeper levels, which his office is objecting to, he said…


San Luis Valley groundwater sub-district plan garners nearly a hundred pages of objections from surface water users

May 27, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

…opponents have said the plan fails to show the work leading to its conclusions.

The filings argue that it lacks data and used a faulty methodology in producing a groundwater pumping estimate of 308,000 acrefeet for the upcoming season. Nor does the plan detail recent adjustments to a state computer model designed to project groundwater use and depletions to surface water. Moreover, the objectors request an explanation of how the projected injury to surface water users was reduced from 5,016 acre-feet in a draft of the plan to 4,706 acre-feet in the final version.

Opponents of the subdistrict also argued in a Friday filing that the standard of review adopted by the court requires the implementation of the subdistrict’s plan be delayed until objections are resolved.

Also, without a plan in operation, the objectors argue that groundwater wells that injure the rights of senior surface users must be curtailed, a move that would break with nearly a century of unregulated groundwater use in the valley.

A status conference in the case has been set for Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


Colorado Water 2012: ‘There was and continues to be tension between the Western and Eastern Slopes’ — Mike Gibson

May 23, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series. Mike Gibson describes the workings and role of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable with respect to the IBCC and other basin roundtables. Here’s an excerpt:

There was and continues to be tension between the Western and Eastern Slopes as some feel water should be moved to the Front Range, and many on the Western Slope do not share these ideas. Similarly, these diverse opinions were held in other river basins…

Members of the [Rio Grande Roundtable] RGRT have participated in discussions to address the issues facing other basins and the state. It has been concluded that meeting the shortfall in municipal water (600,00 acre-feet by 2050) will be achieved by conservation, implementation of projects under construction or design, new projects in the future, such as new reservoirs, potential new sources of water, and transfers from the agricultural sector. While the latter may be the easiest way to meet the shortfall, there is general consensus that such transfers should be minimized to preserve the agricultural lifestyle and economy of the State. These deliberations also considered the necessary water for recreational use and maintenance of the natural environment…

The Water Supply Reserve Account has been funded to $41.8 million of which $4.8 million has come to the Rio Grande Basin. The process to obtain these funds is for the proponents to discuss their project with members of the roundtable and its chairman. If it is determined the applicant and their project will meet the necessary criteria for funding, a formal application is completed and presented to the roundtable for their endorsement. The request is subsequently reviewed by CWCB staff and finally presented to the CWCB for approval.

The WSRA funds that have come to the Rio Grande Basin have covered a variety of “water projects” across the Basin, including reservoir studies and rehabilitation; on-site improvements to diversion structures and head gates; repairs of water conveyance structures; river restoration; the conservation of agricultural land and its associated water; and outreach and education. Recipients have included irrigation and reservoir companies and non -profits involved with conservation and restoration. The projects have been geographically widespread, from Creede, to Fort Garland, to San Luis and have been completed on the Rio Grande, Alamosa, and Conejos rivers and their tributaries. Since WSRA funds have been available, the Valley has addressed many outstanding issues that were known but did not have a mechanism to be implemented.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Rio Grande River basin: Groundwater Sub-district No. 1 fallowed acreage at 9,100 acres for this season

April 20, 2012

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver told the water board during their meeting in Alamosa on Tuesday that some of the irrigators who were going to fallow their land in the first sub-district area this year opted to go with prevented planting instead because it would pay them more than the sub-district.

Vandiver said the sub-district ended up with about 9,100 acres under contract for fallowing this year.

“It was higher than that, and as insurance programs kicked in for prevented planting, people started withdrawing their contracts,” Vandiver told the board. “A number of people withdrew their offers to fallow.”

Farmers could receive $500-600 per acre under prevented planting, while the sub-district was only paying $200-300 per acre, Vandiver explained.

He said at least 18,000 acres would be fallowed to some extent under the prevented planting program, and although that would not entail 100 percent dry up, “there’s a considerable amount of ground that’s going to have a lot less growing on it this year than it has before.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


CWCB: Funding approved for Terrace Reservoir spillway replacement and Conejos River stream gages

March 30, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $407,000 grant to install gauging stations in the Conejos River basin and signed off on a $1 million loan and a $1.5 million grant to replace a spillway at Terrace Reservoir. Terrace Reservoir, which backs up the Alamosa River, has had the size of its storage pool restricted by the state since the 1980s due to the inadequate size and poor condition of the reservoir’s spillway…

The Terrace Irrigation Co. owns the reservoir and has 24 shareholders. It irrigates 9,300 acres in Conejos and Rio Grande counties. The restrictions required the storage pool to remain roughly 2,000 acre-feet below the reservoir’s 15,182 acre-foot capacity. The added capacity would accommodate a 2,000-acre foot instream flow water right that is being worked on by the CWCB and the Alamosa Riverkeepers…

Construction could begin this summer once the State Engineer’s office signs off on the spillway’s design, Reinhardt said. Terrace’s project also will benefit from $2 million in Natural Resource Damage funds, which came from fines assessed to the operators of the Summitville gold mine that has since been turned into a Superfund cleanup site.

The second project to earn funding from the state called for the installation of 72 river gauges and four remote-controlled headgates by the Conejos Water Conservancy District. The district, which has 86,000 acres of irrigable land in the southwestern corner of the valley, hopes the gauges will allow for a more accurate accounting of the Conejos River’s deliveries under the Rio Grande Compact.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here.


Colorado Water 2012: ‘…about 10 of the oldest priority dates in the Rio Grande system belong to the Conejos River’ — Nathan Coombs

March 29, 2012

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Here’s the current installment for the Colorado Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier written by Nathan Coombs the Manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District. Click through and read the whole article for the history of the area. Here’s an excerpt:

In the 1850-70’s when the railroads were carving out rights-of-way through Northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley, the US military was expatriating hostiles, and farmers and ranchers were focusing on water. This was the era of the canal building and ditch digging. Land was being cleared and the essential element- water was being acquired. In this high desert, the ranchers and farmers were quick to learn the importance of this life-giving substance.

Settlers to the Conejos River area, which rivals the San Luis area for antiquity of civilization and establishment, were not any different. These water users filed for and received their adjudicated decrees. In fact about 10 of the oldest priority dates in the Rio Grande system belong to the Conejos River. Early on these pioneer/settlers were legally and progressively seeking and putting to beneficial use water. With their shoulders bowed to the work they kept their vision focused on the future.

The southern end of the San Luis Valley has always had strong developmental ties to the rivers. The oldest communities in the area were established along the waterways and dependant on the rivers for their success. Ditches like the Guadalupe and the Headsmill (priorities 1&2 respectively) were developed for 1,000’s of acres of land and industry, with examples like the Finley Ranch and the Antonito grist mill and the Town of Antonito’s drinkable water supply developed from their priority on the Conejos River. Although these structures had to be hand built to divert the water, the area developed and progressed.

The people of the Conejos did not sit back and expect gravity to do the work. They looked up, up stream, 10,000 feet up in fact. In the early 1940’s The Conejos Water Conservancy District was formed to be the local vehicle that would seek partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation in building a reservoir. The San Luis Valley Project study identified the Platoro site at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level as the most feasible. As soon as WWII ended and funding became available construction began. This $3 million project was completed one year ahead of schedule and under budget. (Where have those days gone?)

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: Rio Grande compact requirements will likely prevent an increase in the pool at Platoro Reservoir

March 14, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Although compact requirements are a moving target throughout the year, Division 3 Water Engineer Craig Cotten said the amount of water moved past the state line in winter and early spring can limit curtailments on local irrigation ditches. “They really depend on how much water we get through the wintertime, especially in March,” he told a meeting of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable Tuesday. “Our flows are going up so we’re getting a lot more through.”[...]

Irrigation ditches along the Rio Grande would face a 15 percent curtailment on all flows as of now. The state’s obligations under the compact, which governs the use of the Rio Grande between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, vary according to streamflow…

The Conejos River, which runs through the southwestern corner of the San Luis Valley and shares in the state’s compact requirements, is expected to produce 265,000 acre-feet this year. The state must send 85,000 acre-feet downstream. Irrigation ditches there currently face a 20 percent requirement.

Water users in the Conejos Water Conservancy District will likely not have the luxury of increasing storage at Platoro Reservoir, a 59,000 acre-foot reservoir that sits at the river’s headwaters in the San Juan Mountains. Platoro can only increase its storage when there is 400,000 acre feet or more of usable water in Caballo and Elephant Butte reservoirs in New Mexico.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable ponies up $407,000 to increase SCADA installations along the Conejos River to facilitate streamflow monitoring

January 15, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

While the move still requires approval of state water officials, the Conejos Water Conservancy District hopes the proposal will return some water to its users while allowing for a more accurate accounting of delivery requirements under the Rio Grande Compact. The district, which has 86,000 acres of irrigable land in the southwestern corner of the San Luis Valley, wants to add 72 electronic gauging stations and automate four of the most-used headgates in the river basin. The district and ditch companies inside its boundaries would put up $92,000 in matching funds.

The Conejos, like the Rio Grande, is subject to the Rio Grande Compact, which has fluctuating requirements for how much water must be sent downstream to New Mexico and Texas, depending on the amount of snowpack in a given year. As much as 70 percent of the river’s flow is allowed to head downstream in a wet year and as little as 25 percent in a dry year…

The added gauges may also help the district pin down return flows from diversions, a task that’s complicated by a jumble of river channels and irrigation ditches near the junction of the Conejos with the Rio Grande. The district also hopes the gauges would allow for a more accurate tracking of releases from Platoro Reservoir, which has a capacity of 59,000 acre-feet.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


The long-range forecast for the San Juans is for slightly below average precipitation — blame La Niña

November 3, 2011

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

According to the National Weather Service, La Niña, a condition where colder-than-average sea surface temperatures off the coast of Peru push the jet stream further north, usually dumps precipitation farther north. First hitting the Pacific Northwest, these systems tend to travel through the Northern Rockies before expiring over the Ohio River Valley.

“Colorado is the transition zone where the northern mountains get more snow than the southern mountains,” said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist at the NWS station in Grand Junction. Droughts and fires across the Front Range and Southern Plains suggest that conditions this season will most likely resemble last year’s, although cold air masses in the Arctic could cause conditions in Colorado to change quickly. But although Arctic weather conditions can impact weather in the Rockies more rapidly than South American sea surface temperatures, forecasters are unable to predict its impact further than two weeks in advance…

Joe Ramey, another of NWS Grand Junction’s team of meteorologists, said that precipitation during the weeks leading up to the April ski area closure approached average levels. He compared this year to the 2000-2001 winter season, which produced La Niña weather patterns after a La Niña had occurred the year before.

“The 2000-2001 season gives us the best idea of what will happen this year,” he said, adding that he expected below average precipitation in the Southern San Juan Mountains. From Telluride north, he expects near average snowfall, especially toward the end of the season.


Rio Grande River basin: Conejos River irrigators will shut down on October 20 to meet Rio Grande Compact requirements

October 15, 2011

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Because more water flowed through the Conejos River system this year than was originally forecasted, more must be delivered downstream to New Mexico and Texas to satisfy Rio Grande Compact obligations. To meet that compact obligation before the end of the year, irrigators must shut off their water early this year. The presumptive ending date for the irrigation season in the Rio Grande Basin (the Valley) is November 1. This year on the Conejos, the season will end on October 20…

[Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten] had recommended the early or middle part of next week for the shut-off time and said that would give his office time to notify the public. He said even if the irrigation season had ended yesterday, the compact obligation still might come up short this year. Cotten said the only alternative would be to end the year with a debt to downstream states, but the debt would have to be paid next year, and next year may not provide a more generous water supply than this year. He said going to debt is allowed but not recommended…

Cotten said the annual forecast on the Conejos River system is now 255,000 acre feet, up 5,000 acre feet from the month before. “We don’t know where the water is coming from sometimes,” he said…

Of the 255,000 projected annual index on the Conejos, 78,400 acre feet must be delivered downstream. From Oct. 8-31, 5,800 acre feet must be delivered, which would require an 85 percent curtailment on irrigators, Cotten explained. Irrigators have been under a 50-percent curtailment on the Conejos system since September 20…

Lawrence Gallegos, who owns water rights on one of the oldest ditches in the state, asked if the Valley’s aquifer was depleted further this year. Cotten said the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s monitoring system in the central part of the Valley indicated a significant drop in the unconfined aquifer this year, in fact even slightly lower than the 2002 drought year levels. “Actually the aquifer is lower than it ever has been before,” Cotten said. He said if the aquifer dropped in the central part of the Valley, it undoubtedly dropped in the southern part of the Valley as well.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Roundtable recap: Runoff was up and down for the water year, mostly down

September 14, 2011

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division III Craig Cotten described the roller coaster ride to members of the basin-wide water group, the Rio Grande Roundtable, on Tuesday. “It was kind of a strange year, way below average, above average and then way below average again,” he said…

The annual index supply forecast for the Rio Grande at Del Norte varied up and down, with the latest preliminary annual flow sitting at 505,000 acre feet, quite a bit less than the average 650,000 acre feet, according to Cotten. Of that amount, the Rio Grande will have to supply 128,700 acre feet to downstream states to satisfy Rio Grande Compact obligations. Curtailment of irrigators on the Rio Grande is about 10 percent currently. Cotten said since ditches are not running in the wintertime, curtailment at that time was 100 percent, and when the ditches on the Rio Grande system began diversions on March 28, curtailments were 7 percent, dropping to 6 percent, then back up to 10 percent, 14 percent, 17 percent, 19 percent and a high of 22 percent, as predictions changed with varying runoff flows…

The Conejos had below average flows through half of June. “They were significantly below average, especially during the first part of May, way lower than what we usually have,” Cotten said. Then the Conejos system picked up to above average flows, which remained above average. The annual forecast on the Conejos River system is 245,000 acre feet, which is lower than the average 325,000-350,000 acre feet, according to Cotten. Of that total, the Conejos owes 72,000 acre feet to downstream states to complete its Rio Grande Compact obligation. To meet that compact obligation, irrigators are experiencing a 40-percent curtailment right now on the Conejos, Cotten said.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.


Rio Grande River basin: Revised runoff numbers trigger 22% and 46% curtailments on the Rio Grande and Conejos rivers repectively

July 21, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The adjustment, which came in part because of a high-elevation snowpack that eluded runoff forecasts, means irrigation ditches on the Rio Grande and Conejos rivers will face increased curtailments. Between now and October, the state will have to send 24,000 acre-feet downstream on the Rio Grande and another 17,000 acre-feet will have to come from the Conejos, Division Engineer Craig Cotten said Tuesday. Irrigation ditches on the Rio Grande will face a 22 percent curtailment, a 16 percent increase from June 1. Ditches on the Conejos will have a 46 percent curtailment, up from 13 percent June 1.

This year differed from the prior two runoff seasons when stream flows fell sharply after peak runoff occurred. “It started dropping at about the time that we anticipated it dropping but it didn’t drop nearly as fast,” Cotten said…

While this year’s runoff remained below average, water managers were expecting even less water in the stream system and a smaller compact requirement. State water officials typically base their runoff on a number of factors, including the 10 snow gauges the Natural Resources Conservation Service has set up in the mountains above the Conejos and Rio Grande. This year’s snowpack included heavy pockets at elevations above those gauges, Cotten said.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.


Rio Grande River basin: Some ditches to start running early

March 24, 2011

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

At the request of the majority of water users attending the Rio Grande Water Users Association meeting Wednesday afternoon, Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten agreed to permit an early irrigation start date for irrigators on the Rio Grande main stem (District 20.) Irrigators in District 27 (La Garita Creek and Carnero Creek) will also be permitted to turn on their water on March 28, not quite a week before the normal start date. In keeping with a new irrigation policy, the presumptive irrigation season for the Rio Grande Basin (the San Luis Valley) is April 1 to November 1. However, the current dry, warm conditions in the Valley have prompted irrigators to seek an earlier irrigation season start date this year. The irrigation season for La Jara Creek drainage began on March 16. Saguache Creek irrigation season began a couple of days ago, and Schrader Creek has also been permitted to turn on…

Some farmers said a small amount of water immediately would make a big difference in their crop success, and they believed they would require less water later in the irrigation season if they could begin irrigating sooner, on this end of the season. On the other hand, every week irrigators wait to turn on their sprinklers and ditches means less curtailment during the irrigation season to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states, Division of Water Resources staffer Patrick McDermott said. He estimated that each week the irrigators held off, the curtailment would drop by 1-2 percent. Cotten estimated curtailment to meet the compact at 11 percent but said return flows have been 4 percent, so he was looking at a 7-percent curtailment, if the irrigation season began April 1…

Cotten said as of Wednesday, the Rio Grande at Del Norte was only running 200 cubic feet per second (cfs). Taking reservoir water out of storage would only push the cfs up to 250, he added…

Cotten said this is the first year the new irrigation policy has been in effect, so it is a learning process for his office as well as irrigators. This is also the first year well users have to follow the same irrigation season as surface water users.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Roundtable recap

September 15, 2010

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division III Division Engineer Craig Cotten told attendees at Tuesday’s Rio Grande Roundtable meeting that the dry appearance of the river, particularly in Alamosa, is a sign the state is current on its debt to downstream states so more water can be diverted to area irrigators without having to send it all down the river. “We are looking really good on the Rio Grande,” Cotten said. “We are meeting all of our obligation right now with return flows. That’s why the river is fairly dry through Alamosa, because we have got a little bit of water going to the West Side and Chicago Ditches and not a lot of water going through Alamosa.”

Cotten said 2010 turned out to be a less-than-average year with water flows on the Rio Grande. The annual forecast for the river is currently 540,000 acre feet. An average year would run 650,000 acre feet, “so we are a fair amount below average at this point in time,” Cotten said. The current forecast is even lower than the June 1 prediction of 575,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, Cotten pointed out. Of the 540,000 acre feet flow on the Rio Grande for the year, 140,000 acre feet are obligated to New Mexico and Texas to meet Rio Grande Compact requirements. “We do have a fairly good obligation to downstream states, but we have already been able to deliver quite a bit of that water to the downstream states,” Cotten said. He said currently only about 5 percent of the state’s obligation on the Rio Grande is still owed, and that obligation is being met through return flows.

The Conejos River system is also meeting its obligation to downstream states, Cotten explained. That river system is also below average in total forecast flow, Cotten added. An average annual flow on the Conejos River system is 325,000 acre feet. This year’s adjusted forecast is 285,000 acre feet, which is down from the June 1 prediction of 315,000 acre feet. Of the total flow, the Conejos River system is obligated to send 99,000 acre feet downstream, “and currently we have delivered all the water we need to during the irrigation season,” Cotten said. During November and December the Conejos system will deliver more water downstream, and that will be sufficient to meet the Rio Grande Compact obligation, according to Cotten…

In addition to reporting on the status of the Rio Grande Compact and the Valley’s major rivers, Cotten reported to the Rio Grande Roundtable that groundwater rules are still under construction and the state engineer is hopeful they will be promulgated by the end of the year. Modeling work is currently being conducted for different areas of the San Luis Valley to determine how much impact wells have on rivers so adequate replacements for injurious depletions can be made. Cotten said that modeling work is nearly completed and he hoped it would be finished in the next month. With that completed, the advisory group that is working with the state engineer to develop groundwater regulations can finish up the sustainability portion of the regulations, Cotten explained…

Cotten also updated the group on the status of the first water management sub-district case. The sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District is designed to reduce irrigation in the closed basin area of the Valley to protect senior water rights, help meet Rio Grande Compact obligations and replenish Valley aquifers. The sub-district’s plan of management proceeded through the court, objections, trials and judicial ruling and is now pending a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court, which Cotten said might not occur until next spring.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin: Annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting recap

March 29, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Although last year’s spring runoff came earlier than usual, Colorado sent 299,300 acre-feet of water across the New Mexico state line. The state also accrued a 1,500-foot credit…

The compact, signed in 1938, uses a sliding scale that allows Colorado to keep much of its water in dry years while hiking delivery requirements in wet years. In a year with an above-average snowpack, flows in excess of 560,000 acre-feet on the Rio Grande must be sent downstream. On the Conejos River, which is managed by a similar sliding scale, flows in excess of 224,000 acre-feet must be delivered to New Mexico in an above-average year…

Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who serves as the state’s commissioner, said they would keep a close eye on the efforts of the other two states to deal with endangered species like the silvery minnow and the southwest willow flycatcher, which impact how the other two states manage the Rio Grande. Although Colorado is working on a habitat conservation plan for the flycatcher, a small bird, the management decisions the other two states have to make on the river for the species have not effected Colorado.

San Luis Valley water leaders Doug Shriver and Ray Wright died in a freak snow-slide accident a while back. The Compact Commissioners passed a resolution acknowledging their efforts. Here’s a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin: Water year recap

October 25, 2009

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

[Chris Landry executive director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies] and his team compared snow core samples to determine the number of dust events during a winter season. He reported an increase in dust events from 2008 to 2009 from 7 to 12 at the site studied in the Rio Grande Basin. The concentration of dust was heavier as well. In 2008 the concentration was 12 grams per meter while in 2009 it was 55 grams per meter. He said that is an enormous amount of material. “The San Juans in particular experienced the most dramatic advance in the state in snowmelt timing,” Landry said.

He said the reason for more dust might have simply been because this past winter was windier. He said not much data is available about the source of the dirt, presumably blowing in from the western desert. Landry said the dust layers on snow were fairly consistent statewide from Rabbit Ears Pass in the north to Wolf Creek Pass in the San Luis Valley.

The report from Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division III Craig Cotten bore out the fact that the snow melted off early this year. He told the water board the reasons for the early run off were probably dust on the snow and warmer temperatures in May. He showed graphs illustrating a dramatic decline in river flows in May. However, Cotten said irrigators were curtailed less than usual this year because of winter recharge and deliveries to downstream states. “We only had a month of curtailment on the Rio Grande this year,” he said.

On the Conejos system, curtailments were also zero during most of the run off period, from April 15 to July 9, Cotten said. The Conejos system went back to zero curtailment the end of August. He added, “We also had the entire suite of ditches in priority and diverting. The most junior priority on the Conejos system diverted for almost three months this year.”

Both river systems will likely over deliver the amount of water required by the Rio Grande Compact interstate agreement with downstream states. At this point Cotten is estimating an over delivery of 9,700 acre feet on the Rio Grande, about the same amount of water carried over in credit last year. He told the water board the ditches would be turned off October 31 under standard operating procedure but if the weather is warm the first part of November, water may run longer in order to recharge the Valley and reduce the amount of over delivered water downstream.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.


Platoro Reservoir: Dam safety upgrades

July 1, 2009

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., secured a request for $646,000 in the energy and water appropriations bill. Salazar sits on the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, which approved the funding. The bill must still gain House and Senate approval. Platoro Reservoir is used for flood control and for re-regulating the flows of the Conejos River for irrigation in the San Luis Valley Project of the Bureau of Reclamation. Flows are crucial to the Rio Grande Compact with Texas and New Mexico The reservoir is used by the Conejos Water Conservancy District as well as a large number of hunters, fishermen and recreational enthusiasts. Funds will go toward further inspection of deteriorating inflow pipes, and to install a system to carry increased bypass flows. “Platoro Reservoir, built in 1951, can no longer handle our wintertime by-pass flows creating a critical dam safety issue,” Salazar said. “This funding will help preserve the life and use of the reservoir for agriculture, flood-control and recreational use.”


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