Taos students complete unique acequia project — The Taos News

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District via TaosNews.com:

Earlier this year, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a grant for more than $37,000 from the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) to put Taos youth to work mapping and documenting the condition of acequias within the town of Taos.

Ten Taos youth participated and earned an income, transferable University of New Mexico science credits and Taos High School science credits. Taos SWCD hired three trainers — David Gilroy, Miguel Santistevan and Enrique Gonzales — to teach the students about the cultural, financial, biological and historical importance of acequias.

The students also earned their American Red Cross first aid certification and were taught how to work as a team and how to use GPS units and ArcView geographic information systems.

As they walked the acequias, they were accompanied by mayordomos, who were each interviewed. Students had many guest speakers who taught them about the identification of weed infestations, legal issues that acequias face, water table/recharge issues and more.

Late last month, the Taos SWCD held its 75th annual meeting and potluck at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center, located at 202 Chamisa Road. The guest speakers were the YCC students, who presented the outcome of the project.

About 110 community members attended, including Taos Mayor Dan Barrone, Town Manager Rick Bellis, City Councilman Fritz Hahn, County Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell and more. The YCC students later presented at a town council meeting, and another presentation was scheduled before the county commission.

“I think it is so important for Taos youth to learn about the acequias that define Taos, to understand the gravity of ignoring restoration needs and to get involved in protecting what remains. This project may become an annual endeavor for Taos SWCD – we’ll be assessing the success when this year’s program is complete,” said project organizer Tanya Duncan.

#RioGrandeRiver: “It looked like taking samples from a mud puddle” — Ashley Rust

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

When the Papoose and West Fork fires burned 88,000 acres in the upper Rio Grande basin in 2013, water and wildlife officials feared the worst.

With 53,000 acres of the burn scars classified as moderate or severe, they feared rainstorms would wash dirt and ash into streams, suffocating fish and even clogging irrigation works on the San Luis Valley floor.

Those concerns have been squelched, if not by laymen’s observations, then by the work of a researcher at the Colorado School of Mines who’s spent the last three years studying water quality below the burn scars.

With some exceptions on the river’s tributaries, the Rio Grande’s water quality and its fish have survived fine.

“Nothing really changed on the Rio Grande,” said Ashley Rust, a doctoral student in hydrological science. “Everything looks great and still continues to look great.”

Rust, whose work was partially funded by the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team, installed six water-quality probes on the main stem of the Rio Grande and another four on tributaries that run through the burn scar.

There were no metals that exceeded water quality standards. There was initial concern that abandoned mines were burned and held the potential to leak pollutants…

Nor were there any increases in the amount of nutrients, such as phosphates, nitrates and nitrites, that sometimes happen after fire.

But measurements for suspended solids, an indicator of how much dirt is in the water, and turbidity, or water cloudiness, have spiked on the Rio Grande’s tributaries during rainstorms.

Problem areas, such as Trout Creek southwest of Creede, have either especially steep slopes or severely burned soils.

Those areas have had turbidity measurements that reach 50 nephelometric turbidity units — roughly the point at which trout begin to die from suffocation. Some measurements reached as high as 3,000.

Perhaps the biggest fish kill tied to the burn scars came on Trout Creek at the beginning of August 2014, when a hillside gave way following a rainstorm.

Rust heard of the fish kill and went to take samples.

“It looked like taking samples from a mud puddle,” she said.

She returned to the stream last year and found newborn fish downstream from the debris flow and fouryear- olds above it, leading her to conclude that the population will come back without stocking.

Rust’s findings coincide with what anglers have found, especially on the Rio Grande.

Many eyes are on the proposed expansion of the #RioGrande del Norte national monument

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A proposed national monument expansion may not receive a ringing endorsement from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, but the district is willing to keep an eye on the process.

The board for the district, which represents water interests throughout the San Luis Valley, discussed the proposed expansion of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on Tuesday and met with Ana Lee Varga, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, which is spearheading the expansion.

Varga is currently working with Tami Valentine, one of the opponents of the expansion , to bring people together to discuss the issue. Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) General Manager Cleave Simpson said he was willing to represent the district’s water interests in this “stakeholder” group. “There is no change in their status, no draft proclamation ,” Simpson told the water board during their Tuesday meeting. “They are trying to put together a stakeholder meeting.”

Currently the monument, designated by President Barack Obama in 1993, covers 242,000 acres in New Mexico in the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau areas up to the Colorado state line. Conejos Clean Water and others have proposed to expand the monument into the San Luis Valley.

In meeting with the RGWCD board on Tuesday, Varga said Adams State University Professor Armando Valdez volunteered to help draft language as a starting point for the monument expansion, specifically detailing traditional uses that would be protected.

“This is a staring point, not a final draft,” Varga said.

Varga said Valdez included language recommended by RGWCD Attorney David Robbins protecting traditional uses such as grazing. Other traditional uses included in the draft are fishing, piñon wood and herb gathering.

RGWCD board member Lewis Entz said that while the group proposing the monument expansion is saying traditional uses like grazing and hunting would still be permitted, that has not always occurred under monument designations in the past. Some monuments restrict grazing, for example.

“Once you develop this into a monument, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Varga said that’s why it is important to get the stakeholders together. She said the Conejos County commissioners are supportive of a stakeholder group to discuss issues around the monument expansion.

RGWCD board member Lawrence Gallegos, a Conejos County resident, said it is true that grazing has been limited on some national monuments but not all.

“There are several national monuments that grazing and traditional uses are still allowed ,” he said.

“At this point we just need to monitor where things are going,” he added.

Varga said half of the Conejos Clean Water’s board are ranchers, and they do not want to see cattle or other traditional uses eliminated on the proposed monument.

“When we started this initiative, we did not want to drive a wedge in the community in any way,” Varga said. “What we are trying to do is bring community members together.”

Varga said she hoped the stakeholder group could meet in the next few weeks. She and Valentine are currently trying to find a neutral facilitator to lead the discussion. Conejos Clean Water will not facilitate the gathering, she said, and neither she nor Conejos Clean Water Executive Director Justin Garoutte would sit at the table, but a board member would represent Conejos Clean Water at the meeting.

Other constituencies that would be represented would include the Farm Bureau, planning commission, ranchers and small business owners , Varga said.

Varga said since the group could not find a neutral facilitator to oversee the meeting pro bono, the proponents and opponents were going to split the cost of hiring someone.

Varga said so far the dialogue has been for or against, and she would like to see people talking together about it.

She said Conejos Clean Water and other supporters feel strongly that there would be positive impacts from the monument expansion, such as protecting sacred lands. National monument designation could also bring funding with it, she said.

Entz said he was concerned about the inclusion of the already designated Rio Grande Natural Area in the monument expansion and said a map of the proposed area seemed to overlap the two.

Varga said there was no official map yet, and the proponents were willing to exclude areas such as the Pikes Stockade, which has already been taken out of the equation.

RGWCD board member Dwight Martin, a Conejos County resident, said many people oppose the monument expansion. Groups that have publicly stated their opposition to it include the Conejos County Commissioners, Conejos Water Conservancy District, Conejos County segment of the Colorado Farm Bureau, San Luis Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association “and a myriad of individuals.”

Martin said 300 letters and 832 signatures have been sent to Colorado congressmen in opposition to this designation, and at a meeting he attended, there was a room full of landowners, who probably represented 90 percent of the land owned in Conejos County “not one jumped up and said they were in agreement this monument should be in place.”

Gallegos said there were also groups, such as three or four municipalities, that publicly stated their support for the monument expansion. There are as many letters in support for it as in opposition, he added.

“I think there’s not a reason for us to move forward in either support or opposition to it at this point until we really know what direction it’s going to go,” Gallegos said. “I don’t feel like we need to antagonize half of the community by taking a stand one way or another.”

Martin said he was concerned about the water language that might be included in the monument designation. He said his main concern was the water issues and potential impacts the designation might have on water and specifically the Rio Grande Compact.

“I think that it’s probably a water grab,” he said.

He added he understood Forest Guardians were looking for water upstream of New Mexico, and he was concerned this might be an attempt to take some of the Valley’s water.

“If water has to be given up, it’s a threat to all of us,” he said.

Martin said the federal government could determine the water needs for the monument .

Robbins said congress has and can state in a monument designation what water rights the monument would be entitled to. Those rights can also be limited in a monument designation, he added.

Martin asked if a group like WildEarth Guardians could sue the federal government if it did not like the water language that was included in the monument designation. Robbins said that would depend on how the monument boundaries were drawn. He said if the boundaries did not include flowing rivers such as the Conejos River and the San Antonio, “the federal agencies would not have any more authority than they have today.”

If those rivers are included, however, “you want to pay more attention.”

That is why the water district is paying so close attention to this issue, to make sure the existing Rio Grande Natural Area is not negatively affected, Robbins explained.

“We want to make sure any proclamation by the president or ” congress would contain specific recognition of the existence of the natural area and specific statements it would not upset or change any management prerogatives of the management area or ” water resources in the Rio Grande,” Robbins said. “If the monument touched the Conejos or San Antonio, we would want to do the same thing there.”

Robbins said the best solution would be no overlap of the monument and the natural area. He reminded the board the natural area extends a quarter mile on either side of the center of the Rio Grande.

“I really believe there won’t be any rivers within the boundaries if everything is done properly,” Robbins said. He said he believed the congressional delegation was sensitive to the district’s and the Valley’s water issues.

Robbins also explained that if the area under consideration for monument expansion were included in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, it would still be under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. One of the major differences in use, he added, would be that now the BLM land could be used for gas and mining leases but under monument designation could not. That is one of the reasons proponents are recommending the monument designation.

Robbins said the same restriction was tied to the Rio Grande Natural Area as well, no mineral development.

More coverage of the recent meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Board from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier:

Although rain was a welcome sight during a Tuesday water meeting in Alamosa, it may not be a frequent occurrence as the year progresses.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten on Tuesday shared the longterm precipitation forecast for this region, which calls for below average precipitation. He said the forecast for July through September calls for “equal chances” in this region but through November the weather service forecast calls for below average rainfall.

Water users on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems are currently under curtailment to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations , Cotten told members of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday. The curtailment on the Rio Grande is currently about 9 percent and on the Conejos about 13 percent.

Cotten said the annual forecast for the Rio Grande is 690,000 acre feet, of which the obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact will be about 200,000 acre feet. From now through October the Rio Grande will have to deliver about 11,500 acre feet to meet that obligation, Cotten explained.

The forecast for the Conejos River system is 290,000 acre feet, of which 102,000 acre feet are obligated through the Rio Grande Compact.

Cotten reported that the Conejos River was higher through June over last year’s flows during that time period but this month is a fair amount lower than last year and significantly lower than average.

The Rio Grande showed a similar pattern, he added, with fairly high flows in May, compared to last year, and higher than average. The first part of June was similar to last year, but after the peak the river dropped hard. The latter part of June the Rio Grande was below average and has continued to be below average this month.

My book is now a thing that exists in the physical world — John Fleck @jfleck

waterisforfightingoverandothermythsaboutwaterinthewestjohnfleckcover

From InkStain (John Fleck):

There was a weird moment this afternoon when I was writing something and needed to dig out a reference from my book. (I do this a lot. It’s all there, the book has a lot of footnotes.) For a split second I started to follow the usual path on my hard drive to the final page proofs…. Click…. Pause….

Walk into living room, grab book off table, thumb through it. Yes, there it is, page 6, in the introduction.

I’ve been walking by the stack of books all weekend, reaching out and touching them, sometimes opening one up and reading a page.

During the flurry of attention around the release of Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates at one point described the moment of terror when he was in the midst of the hard part of writing, when he realized the risk of abject public failure. To write a book is a deeply arrogant, deeply public act: “Please pay a substantial sum of money for what I have to say and spend hours reading it.” To fail at this is to fail in a very public way. I’m no Ta-Nehisi Coates, so my terror was of a different scale entirely, but it was no less real.

So I pick it up and I read a page and I’m pretty happy, and also relieved. It came out OK.

Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West is available for pre-order, on the bookshelves at your favorite local bookstore Sept. 1.

Proposed bill would block expansion of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument — The Pueblo Chieftain

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A $32 billion appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday aims to block the expansion of a national monument into Conejos County.

The funding measure for the Department of Interior and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes a provision that would bar the use of any funds for a monument created by President Obama under the Antiquities Act.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., voted in favor of the bill, which would block monument funding in five other Colorado counties and 41 counties in seven other states.

The Colorado counties are Chaffee, Dolores, Moffat, Montezuma, and Park…

Organizations Conejos Clean Water, based in Antonito, and the Conservation Lands Foundation of Durango have spent the last year trying to drum up support for the expansion of New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument onto 64,000 acres in Conejos County.

But their efforts have been met with opposition by ranchers in the county who fear a designation would hinder grazing on the targeted area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Conejos Clean Water has argued that a potential designation would protect grazing, in addition to barring the area from oil and natural gas development.

The Antonito-based group joined 100 other groups earlier this month in urging the House to eliminate the monument provision, arguing that monument designations have been an economic boon to nearby communities.

“We do not support any bill that jeopardizes the ability to permanently protect our public lands,” Anna Lee Vargas, an outreach coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, said in an email.

The White House intends to veto the bill should it make it through the Senate for a host of reasons, including the monument provision. [ed. emphasis mine]

The administration’s formal statement said the measure would debilitate a program that’s successfully been used to protect the nation’s cultural and natural heritage.

#RioGrande: Texas gets boost in New Mexico water fight — Midland Reporter-Herald

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

From The Texas Tribune (Jim Malewitz) via The Midland Reporter-Herald:

More than three years after Texas filed a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexican farmers were slurping up too much water along the river — illegally curbing the flow downstream into Texas — the justices appear likely to take up the challenge.

That’s after Gregory Grimsal, a court-appointed special master, issued a draft report recommending that the court deny New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the complaint, a major development in the high-stakes dispute.

“This is a big victory for the state of Texas,” said Russell Johnson, a water rights lawyer who is not involved in the case. “The special master has in essence swept aside the impediments to Texas pursuing a claim.”

If Texas ultimately prevails, it could receive more than just extra water. New Mexico could be forced to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, experts say.

Like most interstate water skirmishes, this one is complicated and has deep historical roots. Grimsal’s report, currently in draft form, spans 273 pages.

Here are five things you should know about the battle.

  • — The Rio Grande holds some of the most studied and squabbled-over waters in North America. And it’s drying up.
  • The river is lifeblood for folks in three U.S. states and Mexico. It’s an international border. It’s ravaged by drought. The river begins about 12,000 feet above sea level in Colorado and flows southeast after cutting through New Mexico. It forms the Texas-Mexico border between Chihuahua State and El Paso, where it flows through a concrete channel.
  • Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full
    Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full
  • Before reaching Texas, the Rio Grande collects at New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir, which is currently just 13 percent full.
  • Of the American West’s four iconic river basins, the Rio Grande is “facing the largest climate-change water-supply deficits,” according to a December 2015 report in the journal Ecological Applications.
  • — The three-state Rio Grande Compact prevents states from claiming more than their fair share of the water. Except when it doesn’t.
  • In the 1910 Rio Grande Project, the federal government established an irrigation system aimed at helping agriculture and industry in the states the river flows through. But that project, which also upheld a 1906 treaty that promises Mexico 60,000 acre-feet of water annually, didn’t specifically address state-by-state allocation. Historically, Texas has received 43 percent of the water, with New Mexico getting 57 percent.

    Congress approved the Rio Grande Compact in 1938, which determined how much water folks in Texas — the most downstream state — should get before those upstream sucked it up. Or so Texas argues.

    Now, the states are fighting over whether the compact actually requires New Mexico to cede a certain amount of water to Texas.

    — Both states’ arguments have quirks.

    Texas claims New Mexico is siphoning off more water than the compact allows by drawing too much from the river itself and pumping too much groundwater from wells nearby.

    The groundwater argument “is probably what makes New Mexico go batshit crazy,” said Johnson, the water rights attorney.

    That’s because Texas law does not recognize the nexus between groundwater and surface water — that over-pumping can lower river levels. Since New Mexico’s law does make the connection, however, Texas argues that it has the responsibility to ensure its wells are not curbing the river’s flow.

    New Mexico points out that the compact does not explicitly state that it must deliver 43 percent of water to the state line. Rather, the agreement aims only to ensure enough water flows into the Elephant Butte Reservoir and is properly stored, the state claims. Previous agreements, in fact, had split the water between the two states.

    That line of defense may be “ignoring reality,” Johnson said. “That seems to fly in the face of what the compact was intended to do — apportion the water between the states.”

    — This time, the feds are siding with Texas

    Despite Texas’ often-testy relationship with the federal government, the Obama administration actually supports the state’s position here.

    In 2014, the U.S. solicitor general filed a motion to intervene on the Lone Star State’s side, arguing that the 43 percent figure of water New Mexico must send into Texas was “frozen” by the time the compact took effect.
    The federal government also believes it has a stake in the outcome because of its international duties to provide Rio Grande water to Mexico, as detailed in the 1906 treaty.

    But the federal government might not get the chance to make those arguments before the justices. That’s because Grimsal, the special master, recommended that the court dismiss the federal motion “to the extent that it fails to state a claim” under the compact.

    New Mexico officials have focused on that partial victory in their public statements.

    “We applaud the Special Master’s suggestion to limit the claims of the United States, and we will continue to work diligently in protecting the interests of all New Mexicans and our water,” Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, said in a statement this week.

    — Resolving this case could still take years and plenty of taxpayer money.

    It’s not clear when the Supreme Court will decide whether to accept the case. And if the challenge moves forward, that will take some time.

    Though Grimsal’s report was filled with plenty of facts for the justices to evaluate, his job could be just beginning. If the case continues, he would oversee a full-fledged trial — complete with extensive discovery — before the justices ever heard oral arguments.

    Together, the states and federal government have already been charged nearly $400,000 for Grimsal’s services, according to court documents. That tab will likely grow.

    Meanwhile, the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has spent nearly $116,000 litigating the case, its records show.

    Paxton declined to comment on the case.

    A spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said that agency agrees with Grimsal’s recommendation. “We believe we have a strong case and the draft opinion validates the need to litigate Texas’ concerns,” Terry Clawson said in an email.

    Each party has until Aug. 1 to comment on the report. Grimsal can still make changes before submitting his final recommendations.

    2017 #coleg: Water Resources Review Committee meeting recap

    San Luis Valley via National Geographic
    San Luis Valley via National Geographic

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    With uncertainty surrounding state funding for water projects, officials in the San Luis Valley hosted state lawmakers Tuesday with an eye toward reminding them why the region was a good investment.

    Local water officials emphasized the initiative water users have undertaken to solve their own problems and the collaboration they’ve displayed in implementing water projects with multiple partners and benefits.

    “We used to have an attitude that’s adversarial,” said Nathan Coombs. “That’s dissolving away.”

    His remarks were directed at the Water Resources Review Committee, which held a two-hour hearing and earlier in the day toured a string of projects in the south end of the valley.

    Coombs is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District and he also heads up the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.

    Since lawmakers created the roundtables in each of the state’s major river basins in 2006, none have secured as much funding as the $12.8 million the Rio Grande did for its 29 projects.

    But the revenue stream used by the state to fund roundtable projects faces some uncertainty.

    The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting projects the severance tax on oil and natural gas producers, a portion of which goes toward water projects, will decline by 77.6 percent, from $218 million to $63 million, this year.

    The decline is due to slumping oil and natural gas prices and also to a state Supreme Court ruling in the spring on tax deductions for producers of oil and natural gas.

    Travis Smith represents the Rio Grande basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers and gives final approval to projects from the roundtables.

    He told lawmakers the board was working on a way to redress the funding decline and could vote on a proposal when it meets later this month.

    Lawmakers would likely not see the proposed fund juggling until they consider the water projects bill in next spring’s session.

    “It will require your support,” Smith said.

    Regardless of that potential funding fix, local officials used the hearing to bring home why the Rio Grande basin was a good place to park state funds.

    Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, pointed to the creation of Subdistrict No. 1 and planning for five others to come on line.

    Inspired by the forced shutdown of groundwater wells along the South Platte and Arkansas rivers, groundwater users in the valley devised the subdistrict as a voluntary mechanism in which groundwater users taxed themselves to restore the aquifer.

    “Subdistrict No. 1 is unique in that it’s a community solution to a community problem,” he said.

    Since its creation in 2012, the subdistrict, which takes in the most densely irrigated area in the valley, has reduced groundwater pumping by a third among its roughly 3,000 wells.

    Lawmakers also heard how the valley’s projects place an emphasis on having multiple benefits for multiple user groups.

    One of the four examples included the Rio Grande Cooperative Project, which funded the rehabilitation of two reservoirs and invested in software to research the timing of their water releases.

    Partners included Trout Unlimited, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.