President Obama’s proposed budget includes $1.1 billion to fund Reclamation water projects

President Obama at Hoover Dam
President Obama at Hoover Dam

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request released today identifies a total of $1.1 billion for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, continuing the President’s commitment to be prudent with taxpayer dollars while setting consistent spending priorities for Reclamation. The budget would provide robust investments in the safety, reliability and efficiency of America’s water infrastructure and in conservation, reuse and applied science to address the nation’s water supply challenges, especially in the West.
As the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier and second-largest producer of hydroelectric power, Reclamation’s projects and programs are critical to driving and maintaining economic growth in the western States.

“President Obama’s budget for Reclamation reflects a strong commitment to our ongoing mission of effectively managing water and power in the West,” Commissioner Estevan López said. “Reclamation and its partners provide water and clean hydropower for communities across 17 states. With the resources provided in this budget blueprint, we can continue to be an engine of progress across multiple sectors of the western U.S. economy.”

The proposal for Reclamation’s Water and Related Resources account of $805.2 million includes $367.4 million for resource management and development activities. This funding provides for planning, construction, water conservation activities, management of Reclamation lands—including recreation— and actions to address the impacts of Reclamation projects on fish and wildlife. The request also emphasizes reliable water delivery and power generation by requesting $437.7 million to fund operation, maintenance and rehabilitation activities at Reclamation facilities, including dam safety.

The budget emphasizes Reclamation’s core mission to address the water demands of a growing population in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner; and to assist states, tribes and local entities in solving water resource issues. It also emphasizes the operation and maintenance of Reclamation facilities in a safe, efficient, economic and reliable manner—ensuring systems and safety measures are in place to protect the public and Reclamation facilities.

Reclamation’s funding request addresses Administration, Interior, and Reclamation priorities. The budget supports water rights settlements to ensure sufficient resources to address the requirements of legislation passed by Congress to settle litigation. The request includes increases for specific Indian water rights settlements that support the goal of strengthening tribal nations.

The FY 2016 budget proposal also balances needs for climate variability adaptation, water conservation, improving infrastructure, sound science to support critical decision making and ecosystem restoration.

Reclamation’s challenges – The extreme and prolonged drought facing the West affects major U.S. river basins in virtually every western state. The effects of the current drought on California water, its agricultural economy and its communities are topics of nationwide concern and extensive media coverage. The Colorado River Basin—crucial for seven states and several Tribes, in addition to two countries—is also enduring historic drought. About 33 million people rely on the Colorado River for some, if not all, of their municipal needs.

Reclamation’s dams, water conveyances and power generating facilities are critical components of the Nation’s infrastructure. Protecting and extending the lives of these structures are among the many significant challenges facing Reclamation over the next several years and beyond. They present major hurdles to achieving progress on water supply confidence, sustainability and resiliency. Reclamation’s water and power projects and activities throughout the western United States are a foundation for essential and safe water supplies, provide renewable hydropower energy and sustain ecosystems that support fish and wildlife, recreation and rural economies. Climate variability and competing demands are increasingly affecting already-strained systems. The Bureau of Reclamation’s FY 2016 budget addresses these challenges and reflects a very deliberate approach to accommodating mission priorities.

WaterSMART Program – The President’s proposed budget for Reclamation calls for $58.1 million for the WaterSMART Program – Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow — to assist communities in optimizing the use of water supplies by improving water management. The WaterSMART Program components include: WaterSMART Grants funded at $23.4 million; the Basin Studies Program, $5.2 million; the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, $20.0 million; the Water Conservation Field Service program, $4.2 million; the Cooperative Watershed Management program, $250,000; the Drought Response program $2.5 million; and the Resilient Infrastructure program, $2.5 million.

Strengthening tribal nations – To meet trust and treaty obligations, Reclamation’s budget request makes Indian water rights settlements among the highest priorities. The FY 2016 budget proposes $112.5 million for a new account entitled Indian Water Rights Settlements to ensure continuity in the construction of four of the authorized projects and to highlight and enhance transparency in handling these funds. The budget includes $89.7 million for the ongoing Navajo-Gallop Water Supply Project (Title X of Public Law 11-11) as well as $22.8 million to continue implementation of three settlements authorized in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. These settlements will deliver clean water to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico, the Pueblos of Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonsi & Tesuque in New Mexico named in the Aamodt case and the Crow Tribe of Montana.

Specifics of the budget request include:

America’s Great Outdoors Initiative – Reclamation has a responsibility to focus on the protection and restoration of the aquatic and riparian environments affected by its operations. Highlights of Reclamation’s ecosystem restoration activities, many of which support Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery programs, include:

$16.7 million is for the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program to provide long-term Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for river operations.

$24.4 million for ESA recovery implementation programs, including $17.5 million to implement the Platte River Endangered Species Recovery Implementation Program and $4.4 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Programs. $6.8 million of the $18.0 million Klamath Project supports wildlife refuge and environmental needs, the remainder supports studies and initiatives to improve water supplies to meet the competing demands of agricultural and tribal and facilities operations and maintenance activities.

$37.0 million for the California Bay-Delta Restoration, equal to the FY 2015 budget. The account focuses on the health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and improving water management and supplies. The budget will support the co-equal goals of environmental restoration and improved water supply reliability, under the following program activities: $1.7 million for a Renewed Federal State Partnership, $7.2 million for Smarter Water Supply and Use, and $28.1 million for Habitat Restoration. These program activities are based on the Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta issued December 22, 2009.

$49.5 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund to continue funding a variety of activities to restore fish and wildlife habitat and populations in the CVP service area of California.

Within California’s Central Valley Project (CVP), $11.9 million and an additional $1.5 million in the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund are for the Trinity River Restoration program.

$9.5 million, as part of the Middle Rio Grande Project budget, targeted to support environmental activities developed through an Endangered Species Act Collaborative Program.

$18.0 million for the Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project for implementation of the biological opinions for the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Other project highlights –

$123.0 million to operate, manage, and improve CVP. More than one-half of that amount provides for operation and maintenance of project facilities, including $20.3 million for the Replacements, Additions, and Extraordinary Maintenance program which provides for modernization, upgrade, and refurbishment of facilities throughout the Central Valley. The remainder supports studies and initiatives to improve water supplies and environmental needs.

$36.5 million for rural water projects to undertake the design and construction of five projects and operation and maintenance of tribal features for two projects intended to deliver potable water supplies to specific rural communities and tribes located primarily in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.

$12.8 million for the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which will continue funding grants to implement conservation measures and monitor the effects of those measures on the river diversions. Funding is also included to continue construction on fish passage facilities at Cle Elum dam.

$88.1 million for the Dam Safety Program to continue dam safety risk management and risk reduction activities throughout Reclamation’s inventory of dams. Corrective actions are planned to start or will continue at a number of facilities. A focus continues to be modifications at Folsom Dam (California).

$26.2 million for site security to continue Reclamation’s ongoing site-security program, which includes physical security upgrades at key facilities, guards and patrols, anti-terrorism program activities and security risk assessments.

The Bureau of Reclamation, throughout the 17 western states, is committed to helping meet the many water challenges of the West. A driving force behind bureau initiatives is resolution of water issues that will benefit future generations and providing leadership on the path to sustainable water supplies.

CPW: Elkhead Reservoir and native fish to be discussed at open house in Craig

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Residents of Craig and the surrounding areas will have the opportunity to discuss the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and Elkhead Reservoir fish management with several key partners during an open house, Thursday, Feb. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. at Craig City Hall, 300 West 4th Street.

The open house format will allow program representatives to answer questions and provide information about the multi-faceted program and its goals of protecting four endangered native fish – the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail and razorback sucker – found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

“People who attend will learn what they can do to help us achieve what we all want, that is to bring this recovery effort to a successful conclusion,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We understand that people have questions and concerns, so we welcome this opportunity.”

Among the various topics up for discussion will be how Elkhead Reservoir’s predominantly non-native fishery affects local native fish populations, and actions that Recovery Program partners are taking to manage non-native fish populations in the Yampa River and throughout the upper Colorado River basin.

According to principal investigators working on native fish recovery, escapement of non-native fish such as northern pike and smallmouth bass, found in significant numbers in Elkhead Reservoir and several other waters in Western Colorado, are among the primary obstacles to the full recovery of the endangered fish.

“Non-native fish often escape from reservoirs, ponds and other bodies of water into rivers where they not only compete with natives for available habitat, they also eat them,” said Hebein. “Based on years of data analysis, we have determined that non-native predators are the main reason we have yet to fully recover our native fish populations. It’s a major problem that we can overcome, but it will take significant effort from the partners and cooperation from the public.”

Recent reports that the reservoir might be drained and chemically reclaimed to remove the non-natives led to much discussion and concern in the community; however, at a joint workshop with Moffat County Commissioners and the Craig City Council last December, Hebein announced that CPW and its partners are implementing the installation of a net across the reservoir’s spillway to reduce the number of northern pike and smallmouth bass that escape into the Yampa River. Netting the spillway would provide time to implement other non-chemical management actions to reduce the numbers of smallmouth bass and northern pike in the reservoir.

“We anticipate that there will be many questions about the net and Elkhead’s future,” said Hebein. “We look forward to the opportunity to explain the complexities of the issue to the public.”

Hebein says that the public will have the opportunity to provide both written and verbal comments during the meeting.

For more information about the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, visit

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Reclamation plans environmental high flow release from Glen Canyon Dam #ColoradoRiver

November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows
November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows

From Arizona Public Media (Zachary Ziegler):

Staring Monday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will increase the amount of Colorado River water Northern Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam releases.

On a normal November day, the dam lets out no more than 9,000-cubic feet of Colorado River water each second.

But by Monday night, 37,500-cubic feet per second of Colorado River water will work its way downstream and through the Grand Canyon.

The release will last until Friday as part of an experiment to see whether high water flows could rebuild sandbars downstream, said Glen Knowles, who is with the Bureau of Reclamation.

This is the third year in a row a high flow release from the Glen Canyon happens and it appears to be working.

Knowles said bureau scientists are seeing an increase in fresh sediment showing up on sandbars and along the banks of the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Cross it off your fish list: First pikeminnow conquers river ladder — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Colorado Pike Minnow
Colorado Pike Minnow

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A Colorado pikeminnow has become the first of its species to make its way up the fish passage in the Colorado River to the Grand Valley Water Users Association roller dam, where it was collected and released to travel upstream, possibly to the top of the pikeminnow’s range near Rifle.

The fish, which turned up Friday in the collection area of the roller dam, is significant for several reasons, said Dale Ryden, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Colorado River Fishery Project.

“Now we know that this particular species can negotiate this particular fish ladder” at the roller dam, Ryden said. “The efforts we have put in to provide passage for this species in the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction have not been in vain.”

The fish passage was completed in 2004 and cost about $4.8 million to build.

The fish, which was about 23 inches long and of indeterminate sex, was estimated to be 5 to 8 years old. It was untagged, meaning it is was wild.

No other pikeminnow have negotiated the path to the roller dam and into the fish passage yet, though three other species — razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub — already have done so, Ryden said.

The so-called 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley up to De Beque Canyon is already well-known as an important spawning and breeding area for the pikeminnow, the largest of the minnows and the top native predator of the Colorado River through its range.

The pikeminnow’s travels into the waters above the diversion dam, which was completed in 1916, will give biologists a chance to learn more about how the fish might have lived in the upper reaches of the range before the diversion dam and the Price-Stubb dam below cut off their access upstream, Ryden said.

It’s hoped that other pikeminnow will follow the example of this first one and find their way through the diversion dam and into the 40 to 60 miles of potential native range unseen by the species for nearly a century. Before the dams were built, only cooler water near Rifle limited the range of the fish.

“Fish tend to find other fish, it’s the nature of the river,” Ryden said, adding that if the fish found on Friday remains above the roller dam, it might emit pheromones that would attract others of its species to higher reaches of the river.

While this marks the first time a pikeminnow has negotiated the Grand Valley fish passage, pikeminnow long ago mastered the Redlands fish passage on the Gunnison River in Grand Junction.

As many as 17 pikeminnow have passed through that collection facility so far this year, exceeding the previous annual high of 12.

“We’re seeing a slug of young fish that are being collected for the first time,” Ryden said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also has noted more than 20 razorback suckers passing through the Grand Valley fish passage. The previous high in any year was two.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Biodiversity: Will the rain crow sing again?

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Feds map critical habitat for yellow-billed cuckoo

Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado? Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The long endangered species odyssey of the yellow-billed cuckoo may be one step closer to resolution, as federal wildlife officials this week proposed designating more than half a million acres of critical habitat for the birds, sometimes known as rain crows for their habit of singing before a storm.

The bird was once common along most rivers and streams in the West, but the decline of the species, eyed for protection since 1986, shows how much human activities have degraded riparian riverside habitat. Yellow-billed cuckoos are neotropical migrants that winter in South America and nest along rivers and streams in western North America.

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San Luis Valley: Counties oppose endangered species listing for Rio Grande cutthroat

Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With a recommendation due by the end of the month whether or not to list Rio Grande cutthroat trout as endangered, local officials are ramping up efforts to prove this species does not need to be listed. The SLV County Commissioners Association, encompassing the six counties in the San Luis Valley, earlier this year joined four other nearby counties in a memorandum of understanding asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the RG cutthroat as endangered. On Monday the Valley commissioners, joined by Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier and Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin , reaffirmed their desire to do all they can to show Fish and Wildlife the species does not need to be listed because it is already amply protected in this region.

Hinsdale County has taken the fiscal lead on coordinating this effort, enlisting the help of O’Loughlin and consultant Tom Spezze to draft the memorandum of understanding as well as a conservation agreement plan. Dozier told the SLV county officials on Monday the share of each of the 10 participating counties would be about $4,000, if the counties divided up the costs for O’Loughlin’s and Spezze’s work equally. That would cover the work that has been completed to this point (approximately $24,000, about $20,000 for Spezze’s efforts and the remainder for O’Loughlin’s ) plus the work that will be performed from now through January. Dozier said Spezze is offering his time at a reduced rate.

“Both of them have been watching their hours carefully ,” she said.

Dozier said if the costs were split according to occupied habitat for the species, some counties would bear a much greater share than others, and since there will undoubtedly be other species the counties will have to work together on in the future, it would probably be best to just split up the costs equally among them. She said her county officials see this as a wise investment compared to the economic harm this listing could cause the county.

Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn said he saw this type of effort as ongoing since there are many other species that could be potentially listed in the future.

The county commissioners said they would discuss the funding again at their next association meeting in September. The association will hear regional budget requests on September 29. The Valley commissioner association voted on Monday to continue using Hinsdale County as the fiscal agent for this project.

Dozier thanked the counties for signing the memorandum of understanding (MOU.) She said Las Animas County signed a letter of support but not the memorandum of understanding. Other counties involved are San Juan and Archuleta Counties.

“We are all in this boat together,” Dozier said. “It’s important we work together.”

She said each county has a vested interest in whether the RG cutthroat trout are listed or not, so it is vital the counties let their collective voice be heard at the state and ultimately the federal level.

The listing of a species can affect an area that never even had the species, she added. For example, Hinsdale County is included in the Gunnison sage-grouse critical habitat even though that species never existed in the county or within 18 miles of it.

O’Loughlin explained the next step after the MOU is a conservation agreement “showing the Fish and Wildlife Service we are doing what we can as local counties to help conserve the species.”

It is a similar process to the one Gunnison County went through on the sage grouse, he said. The conservation agreement brings the local counties to the table to have a voice on the RG cutthroat trout discussion .

O’Loughlin said the next range-wide conservation team meeting is in January and he hoped the counties represented by this conservation plan would be able to participate in that meeting.

Spezze said the recommendation is due the end of this month whether to propose listing RG cutthroat trout as endangered or whether to continue its status as not warranted for listing. Spezze added that whether or not the species is proposed for listing, the 10-county group is still ahead of the curve in developing a conservation strategy.

“It gives us a seat at the table.”

Spezze explained there are two ways to be involved, as a signatory to the conservation effort, which would obligate the group financially , or as a participating entity. Trout Unlimited, for example, is a participating entity but not a signatory.

A participating entity would be showing political support but would not be obligated directly and financially. Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson said some folks are discouraged by the efforts against the Gunnison sage-grouse listing that seem to be futile in light of the federal government’s unyielding hand to do whatever it wants, regardless of local input.

“I am hearing a lot of people say we are not going to do anything”until they see what happens with the sage-grouse .”

Spezze said the decision on whether to list the Gunnison sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act is expected by the end of November. In May the D.C. District Court granted a six-month extension to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make the final decision.

O’Loughlin said whatever the decision is, there will likely be legal action afterwards . He said it could be years before the outcome is reached.

Dozier said Gunnison County has told the government if it lists the Gunnison sage-grouse, the county will file a lawsuit.

“Will the states succeed against the feds in a lawsuit ? We don’t know,” she said.

“What do we do in the meantime?” O’Loughlin asked. “I look at it and say we should probably do something.”

He said he believed it would be better to be proactive with the RG cutthroat trout.

Dozier added what the counties are doing now is laying the groundwork for whatever may occur in the future with this species. O’Loughlin said, “I don’t want to give Fish & Wildlife any reason to say you didn’t do anything.”

He added, “My job is to ensure we have done everything we can to be as solid as we can to get the outcome we want, which is an unwarranted decision for each of these species.”

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen said, “I believe it will end up in court, so everything we have done will show them we have made efforts.”

Rio Grande County Commissioner Pam Bricker said, “I do think we need to move forward and be proactive.”

Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph said conservation efforts need to continue, regardless of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision. Dozier said O’Loughlin will revise and strengthen the conservation agreement within the next week and send it out to the counties again for their county attorneys’ review and subsequent approval during public meetings.

She also asked for the association’s approval of the conservation agreement once it is finalized.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

“We are going to have to be sure [Colorado] protects #RioGrande compact apportioned water” — David Robbins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

WildEarth Guardians have not backed off from seeking more water from Colorado to keep fish afloat in New Mexico. This week the environmental group wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor asking the department to become more actively involved in management of the Rio Grande to protect endangered species like the silvery minnow and provide water for wild and scenic river and recreational uses as well as bolstering bosque and wildlife refuge areas in New Mexico. The group specifically asked, for example, that the department “engage” the states of Colorado and New Mexico “in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water.”

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) is watching the WildEarth actions closely since they could ultimately affect water use in Colorado. The group maintains that downstream states are already receiving their “fair share of water” through Rio Grande Compact requirements that have been in place for decades.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told the water district’s board of WildEarth’s latest move this week and said although the environmental group acknowledges the compact, it does not agree with it.

“There is no panacea that will right the wrongs of the past century on behalf of the Rio Grande,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians . “The fate of the river, however, depends on the willingness and leadership of state and federal agencies to create a water right that belongs to the Rio Grande ” The wild west approach to managing water in the Rio Grande Basin cannot continue without further serious consequences for flows in the river. Interior is in a unique position to implement and navigate new strategies and to reform the archaic system of water management under which it currently operates.”

WildEarth in its letter to the Department of Interior recommended: 1) expanding “the scope of the solutions” by engaging the states of Colorado and New Mexico in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water, 2) providing funding so the Bureau of Land Management can determine the flows necessary in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River to preserve recreational , scenic and other values of the designated reach in central New Mexico, and 3) investigating and planning to remove or modify the dams and reservoirs that segment the Rio Grande to reconnect isolated habitat.

Robbins said the water district needs to keep track of this situation.

“We are going to have to pay more attention. We are going to have to be more involved. We are going to have to be sure the state of Colorado protects compact apportioned waters for beneficial use within Colorado.”

Robbins said it was ironic that within a few days of Gary Boyce’s video presentation on the internet proposing to take San Luis Valley Water north WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to the Department of Interior proposing to send more water south.

“We are going to end up having to deal with a proposal to take water north for the metro area, Front Range and demands that federal agencies take an active role trying to force more water out of the Valley going south,” Robbins said.

He said there have been efforts by people in New Mexico to buy senior water rights in Colorado to try to send more water downstream, but the compact that governs how much water goes downstream is between states, not individuals. If someone were to buy water rights in Colorado and retire them in hopes of sending more water downstream, it would just mean that the next water right in line would get to use the water, and it would not affect the total volume sent to downstream states.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off said it is interesting the WildEarth group wants to improve the bosque in New Mexico but does not seem to care about Colorado’s scenic areas. Robbins said the cooperation the Valley and Colorado have experienced in protecting riparian areas in this state does not exist in the same manner in New Mexico, but Colorado should not have to “disassemble what’s good in Colorado because they would like to see that happen in New Mexico.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For more than four decades, Colorado has followed the letter of the law that dictates how flows on the Rio Grande are divvied up with downstream neighbors New Mexico and Texas.

But a New Mexico environmental group concerned with the survival of an endangered fish says that is not enough. WildEarth Guardians told Colorado officials in January it intended to sue the state over its management of the Rio Grande, claiming that the miserly flows that cross the state line in May and June of dry years were not enough to preserve the Rio Grande silvery minnow. Last week, the group wrote to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has the responsibility of preserving the fish and also plays a large role in managing the river in New Mexico, asking that it exert more influence over Colorado.

“We just see the federal government playing some role in making the conversation more broad,” said Jen Pelz, an attorney for the guardians who specializes in water issues.

Pelz said she has not gotten a formal response from the state regarding the January notice.

But David Robbins, an attorney for the Alamosa-based Rio Grande Water Conservation District, was clear in his review of the letter to the Interior with the district’s board.

“It’s wrong and it deserves to be resisted strenuously,” he said.

Water users in the valley have lived up to the compact’s obligations and aren’t required to go beyond it, he said.

“We don’t have to let the water go downstream,” Robbins said. “We’re entitled to use it in our state and we always want to remember that.”

Colorado has complied with the 1939 Rio Grande Compact for more than four decades after settling a lawsuit brought by New Mexico and Texas. Following the 1968 settlement, Colorado’s state engineer initiated the practice of curtailing surface water rights — even those that predate the compact — to ensure that enough water made it downstream to satisfy compact requirements.

The delivery requirements vary from year to year, depending on the size of Colorado’s water supply. When the Rio Grande has a wet year, more water must be sent downstream. In dry years, water users in the San Luis Valley keep a bigger share.

But there are no requirements that dictate what time of year the water has to be delivered. When the irrigation season begins April 1 in the valley, irrigators divert water for nearly 600,000 acres of potatoes, barley, alfalfa and pasture. Moreover, what the plants don’t soak up in late spring and early summer, often percolates down to the unconfined aquifer, which many water users then tap to finish their crops after the stream flows have dwindled.

But for Pelz, the compact, with its emphasis on the role of the states, is not enough to solve the river’s problems.

“No one really looks at it as a whole river,” she said.

The timing of Colorado’s diversions are a problem, WildEarth Guardians argued, because in dry years the compact allows Colorado water users to take nearly all of the river’s flows. The group’s letter to interior officials noted that on May 18 of last year, the Rio Grande reached its peak flow and Colorado was diverting 98 percent of the river before it crossed the state line. That leaves an insufficient amount of water left over when the minnow enters breeding season in May and reduces the chances of the fish’s survival, the group said.

And the dry years in which this scenario occurs are likely to become the norm as climate change advances, the group said in the letter.

Pelz estimated that shutting down irrigators for three days would produce the flows needed to clean out sediment and produce the habitat needed for the minnow.

“It doesn’t take shutting down the San Luis Valley for two weeks,” she said.

But Robbins pointed to a host of problems in New Mexico that could be solved before asking Colorado to send additional water downstream.

For example, New Mexico has five dams that hinder the minnow and Colorado has nothing to do with their operations.

Moreover, Robbins said that as early as 1916, the minnow was effectively healthy despite the fact that Colorado already had reached its peak use along the Rio Grande.

And the conservation district has undertaken its own plan to preserve habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a federally endangered species that also is of concern to WildEarth Guardians.

The demands from the south for more water out of the valley also come just as valley rancher Gary Boyce has developed a new proposal to export water to the Front Range.

The timing of the two developments was not lost on Robbins.

“If everybody in the room and all of your neighbors are starting to feel a little bit pulled asunder or under threat of being drawn and quartered, you’re probably awake and your senses are working,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.