Mosca wastewater project progressing — the Valley Courier

March 27, 2015

Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process


From the Valley Courier (Phil Ray Jack):

Alamosa County Commissioners (ACC) received an update on the Mosca Wastewater Infrastructure Improvement Project Wednesday.

“The project is moving forward,” Rachel Baird reported , “and we are in the process of applying for the additional funding it will take to complete it.”

In January, the commissioners approved a $1.4 million plan for a new wastewater treatment system in Mosca. For years now, the small community located in northern Alamosa County has wrestled with a failing sewage system and the threats to public health caused by it.

According to some reports , the system has been in disarray for two nearly two decades, threatening residents’ health because the sewage is not being adequately treated before being discharged, and leaching into the area surrounding existing septic tanks. Seven of the 10 septic/leach fields systems have wells located within the minimum 100 foot setback distance, which makes them highly susceptible to contamination.

A preliminary engineering report describing the proposed system had been presented to the county during a previous meeting. Mosca’s new wastewater system will consist of three parts: a collection system, a wastewater treatment facility and a discharge system.

Ken Van Iwarden, who is representing Alamosa County in the process, explained that groundwater tests were conducted on March 17 by the Colorado Water Association. The results will not be known but will provide more information that will help with determining what type of system will be appropriate for the project.

Until the project is completed , the county will continue to regularly pump the failing system because there is no other option, costing county taxpayers upwards of $50,000 annually.

More wastewater coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meeting recap

March 16, 2015

Kerber Creek

Kerber Creek


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Scars from the San Luis Valley’s mining days are slowly healing.

Kerber Creek in the northern part of the Valley is one of the places where mining provided a temporary income and left a permanent scar on the area’s land and water.

Trout Unlimited and several partnering organizations are gradually working to revive the soil and water along Kerber Creek, which flows through Bonanza and Villa Grove, where mine tailings rendered land and fishing streams lifeless for many years. Yesterday the Valley-wide water organization, Rio Grande Roundtable, approved $30,000 out of its basin funds towards a $277,677 project covering about six acres in the middle portion of the Kerber Creek Restoration Project. Project Manager Jason Willis explained this would tie together restoration efforts already conducted in this section.

There are 13 tailing deposits in this small area alone, Willis explained, seven on one side of the creek and six on the other.

Work will begin in conjunction with 5,900 feet of in-stream improvements by Natural Resources Conservation Service this summer and wrap up this fall to improve vegetation and water quality on this stretch of Kerber Creek.

Willis explained that amendments such as limestone provided by the Bureau of Land Management will be added to the soil in phytostabilization efforts, and metal tolerant native species will be planted. The goal is to create a self-sustaining system similar to the undisturbed landscape that existed before the mining occurred, Willis explained.

He shared videotaped comments of landowner Carol Wagner who has owned a ranch along Kerber Creek since 1986. She explained how the quality of water in the creek had improved from extremely poor and unable to support fish habitat when she bought the property to a much more vibrant and beautiful state since restoration efforts began. Landowners such as Wagner contribute towards the restoration project , which includes several partners such as BLM, NRCS and the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

In addition to providing funds for the ongoing Kerber Creek restoration, the Roundtable yesterday heard a preliminary funding request , which will be brought back next month for formal action, from Judy Lopez for $45,300 over a three-year period from the basin account for education and outreach efforts such as newspaper articles, radio shows, educational videos, web page updates, project tours and administration. The roundtable also voted to establish an executive committee to help manage roundtable business such as planning the meetings, agendas and speakers and reviewing applications. The committee will consist of the three officers, who until the end of the calendar year will continue to be Chairman Mike Gibson, Vice Chairman Rio de la Vista and Secretary Cindy Medina, as well as roundtable members Peter Clark, Ron Brink, Judy Lopez , Heather Dutton, Steve Vandiver, Charlie Spielman, Nathan Coombs and Karla Shriver. Also during their meeting on Tuesday the roundtable members heard a presentation on geophysical and hydrophysical logging tools and techniques by Greg Bauer of COLOG who shared various tools to learn what’s going on beneath the surface. He said many of these tools could be used for well logging that could be accurate and cost effective. Theroundtablealso heard a report from Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten that the snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin is now up to 87 percent of average, about where the basin has been at this time of year for the past couple of years. The National Weather Service forecast through the summer calls for above-average precipitation.


Sandhill Cranes making spring migration through the San Luis Valley; Festival this weekend — CPW

March 10, 2015

Frome email from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The annual spring migration of greater sandhill cranes is in full force in southern Colorado. If you’ve never seen this beautiful event, be sure to put it on your bucket list.

“People in Colorado should take time to see the cranes; the migration is truly one of nature’s wonders,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

The annual San Luis Valley Crane Festival is scheduled for this weekend, March 13-15.

The cranes start arriving in late-February, flying from their winter nesting grounds, primarily in New Mexico. The large wetland areas, wildlife refuges and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years. The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall with a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elaborate and elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are most abundant at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, located 6 miles south of the town of Monte Vista on Colorado Highway 15. The birds also are easily seen in farm and ranch fields around Monte Vista.

Wildlife watchers can also see the birds at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge located southeast of the town of Alamosa, and at the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas. Plenty of birds can also be seen in the many agricultural fields near Monte Vista and Alamosa.

The cranes are most active at dawn and at dusk when they’re moving back and forth from their nighttime roosting areas. Be sure to dress warm as temperatures can be very cold in the valley.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and local experts talk about the migration and the refuge. If you want to take a tour, be on time because the buses leave promptly.

The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters.

Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building. The crane festival is organized by the local crane festival committee, with help from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande County, SLV Ski Hi Stampede, Monte Vista school district, and the city of Monte Vista.

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

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

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen throughout the San Luis Valley.

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

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

To learn more about sandhill cranes, see: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SpeciesProfiles.aspx.

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

For more information about the San Luis Valley wildlife refuge complex, see: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/monte_vista.


Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact — John Fleck

March 8, 2015
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact is one of the keys to allocating the river’s supply among Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas:

Neither Colorado nor New Mexico shall increase the amount of water in storage in reservoirs constructed after 1929 whenever there is less than 400,000 acre feet of usable water in project storage….

Operationally, this is critical. It means that in drought conditions, irrigators cannot store spring runoff in essentially all upstream reservoirs for summer use. There’s been some flexibility written into the law in practice, but it only operates at the margin. It basically means that during droughts, one of the water managers’ most important tools (storage) is constrained.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


“It’s called the forgotten reach…there’s no water there, and there’s no people” — Colin McDonald #RioGrande

February 12, 2015
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From KSAT.com (Justin Horne):

It was over a year ago that Colin McDonald, a former environmental journalist for the San Antonio Express-News, stepped away from his desk job and decided to set out on a journey few people have attempted before: traversing the entire length of the Rio Grande. His goal was to bring awareness to what he called a “disappearing river”.

“I started on June 20 at Stony Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado,” said McDonald.

These are the headwaters of the nearly 1,900-mile long river. According to McDonald, it is a river rich with history and with plenty of stories to tell.

“They weren’t being covered for a broad audience, and that’s what I wanted to do,” said McDonald.

Video he captured along the way showed a wide range of landscape from raging rivers to serene surroundings and everything in between.

“I can paddle for two or three days and not see anybody.”

We caught up with McDonald near Brownsville as he was set to finish the last leg of his seven month expedition. He told stories of his encounters, from interactions with locals, to interviews he conducted with Pueblo Indians in New Mexico over water rights. He ventured into Mexico, to explain differences between how water from the river is utilized by Mexico and the United States.

“This river has basically been governed by 19th century water law, but is trying to deal with 21st century problems,” said McDonald.

McDonald also explained that parts of the Rio Grande in Texas cannot be paddled, because it is dried up. He walked these parts of the expedition.

“It’s called the forgotten reach because it’s left out, there’s no water there, and there’s no people,” he said.

All along his journey, McDonald took water samples to test water quality. He found much of the river to be clean, despite raw sewage flowing into the river from Nuevo Laredo. He also studied the impact of global warming on the waterway.

In the end, McDonald believed his journey restored his faith in humanity.

“I was taken in by the police chief of Eagle Pass; taken in by biologists in New Mexico; just people that have incredible insight and passion about the river,” said McDonald.


Higher streamflow, groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 curtailments, boost unconfined aquifer by 71,440 acre-feet in 2014

January 25, 2015
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Irrigators and water officials looking to conserve groundwater in the San Luis Valley got a small dose of good news this week. The volume in the unconfined aquifer — the shallower of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies — increased by 71,440 acre-feet in 2014.

“We did turn the corner,” said Allen Davey, an engineer who conducts the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s groundwater monitoring.

The increase was the first since 2009.

Davey attributed the hike to better stream flows than had been seen in recent years.

He also pointed to a decline in pumping in Subdistrict No. 1, which has used a combination of fees on pumping and the fallowing of farm ground to reduce demand on the aquifer in the north-central part of the valley.

The unconfined aquifer has traditionally been used by farmers in the valley to water crops like potatoes, barley and alfalfa when the availability of surface water declines in mid- to late-summer.

Recharge to the shallow aquifer occurs from streams entering the San Luis Valley floor, canal leakage and irrigation return flows.

Despite this year’s slight improvement, the unconfined aquifer has declined by more than 1.2 million acre-feet since monitoring began in 1976.

An acre-foot is the equivalent of roughly 325,000 gallons of water.

The long-term decline is of concern to the managers of Subdistrict No. 1, who have the goal of increasing the volume of the unconfined aquifer by 800,000 to 1 million acre-feet.

David Robbins is an attorney for the Rio Grande district, which acts as the umbrella organization for the subdistrict.

He said the subdistrict’s board is wrestling with the question of whether to seek a change in its water management plan.

“There are many within the subdistrict boundaries and elsewhere who are concerned there hasn’t been a more dramatic increase in water supply within the subdistrict,” he said.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


San Luis Valley: Is Closed-Basin Project water a legal source of supply for groundwater sub-districts?

January 17, 2015
Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Whether or not Closed Basin Project water can be used to offset injurious depletions in the San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district is a question resting with the Colorado Supreme Court.

If the higher court decides project water is not appropriate for that purpose, water management sub-districts would have to find about 9,000 acre feet of water from other sources, according to Steve Vandiver, general manager for the sub-districts ‘ sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Vandiver reported on the status of the sub-districts and associated legal action during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting this week in Alamosa .

“We are still waiting on the Colorado Supreme Court decision on the use of Closed Basin Project water for our depletions’ replacement,” Vandiver said. “Nobody knows when it will come out.”

He said the court held a hearing the end of September, and decisions usually follow within four or five months.

The sponsoring water district and its first and subsequently pending sub-districts are hopeful the higher court will allow the Closed Basin Project water to be used to replace depletions caused by wells in the basin (San Luis Valley), Vandiver said. He said if the court decides against that, it would double the amount of money that has to be spent to meet water replacement obligations and require another 9,000 acre feet of water to be acquired and stored.

“It’s a very critical decision ,” he said. “We still have to meet the requirements, whether or not we can use that source for replacing depletions.”

Opponents to the use of Closed Basin Project water for depletions maintain it is double dipping to use water from the federal water salvage project to both meet Rio Grande Compact obligations and sub-district depletions at the same time. They also argue that it would be inappropriate to use well water, which would always be junior to surface senior water rights, to replace depletions to senior rights caused by other wells.

Sub-district #1 has used Closed Basin Project to help replace depletions since 2012. Vandiver said this week that currently Closed Basin Project water is being used on a daily basis to replace depletions owed during the current annual replacement plan year, which ends the end of April. The next annual replacement plan for Subdistrict #1 is due April 15.

He said WildEarth Guardians filed a Freedom Of Information Act request for all documents regarding the Closed Basin Project since its inception, but he did not know what the group intended to use the information for.

Vandiver said the subdistrict likely to be completed next is Sub-district #2, covering wells in the alluvial system directly tied to the Rio Grande. It has the fewest number of wells and well owners. Many have already filed petitions to be in the subdistrict , and the sub-district’s working group hopes to finish the petition process by the end of this month and present their sub-district for formal approval to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board during its March meeting .

Sub-district #4 goes underneath Sub-district #2 and picks up all the confined wells, Vandiver added. Other subdistricts cover other areas in the Valley such as Conejos River, San Luis Creek and Saguache Creek.

Vandiver said all of the subdistricts are moving forward so they can be in place before the state rules and regulations governing groundwater come into force.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


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