Is there a way to revive drought-stricken soil? — The High Country News

San Luis Valley March 3, 2016. Photo via Greg Hobbs.
San Luis Valley March 3, 2016. Photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The High Country News (Leah Todd):

Among the myriad strategies farmers in Colorado’s San Luis Valley have attempted during a decade-long, soil-wracking drought is planting cover crops: efficient plants that enhance the soil’s ability to hold water. Cover cropping has helped Rockey slash water use by 40 percent and eliminate synthetic fertilizers.

“It’s all about building a resilient system that takes care of itself,” Rockey said of his business, Rockey Farms, which he operates with his brother, Sheldon, 41. The Rockeys’ cover crop mix includes legumes that pull nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil, allowing the brothers to create nitrogen-rich fields without dousing them in chemicals. More organic matter in the ground, like decomposing roots of the cover crops, makes better soil; better soil needs less water; less water means more valley farmers can sustain their livelihoods.

More farmers here are adopting the practice, said Samuel Essah, an associate professor with Colorado State University’s San Luis Valley Research Center. It’s a model that, in theory, could work for bigger operations.

Even so, cover crops are used on only about 1 percent of farmland nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, though the trend is increasing. The sparse uptake is partly due to economics: Cover cropping requires part of a farm to go out of production each year, growing fewer cash crops and, in turn, generating less revenue. And the transition doesn’t happen overnight. It took several years for the Rockeys to see the kinds of soil benefits that saved them money – a tough sell to banks that expect a loan payment every year.

In some ways, the Rockeys are poster children of the San Luis Valley, a largely agricultural region the size of New Jersey flanked by mountain ranges and home to about 45,000 residents. Their grandfather established the farm in 1938. Today, four generations later, the Rockeys’ children are growing up in the fields. On a recent morning, Ellaree Rockey, 10, drove a tractor the size of a mobile home.

But a few things set Rockey Farms apart. For one, they plant cover crops on half of their 500 acres, instead of just a fraction of their operation, each year.

They’re also experimenting with more diverse cover crops than other farmers. Whereas some farmers in the San Luis Valley rotate potatoes with a single crop – one favorite is a grass called Sorghum Sudan – the Rockeys plant a 16-species mix.

Instead of spraying insecticides or other chemicals, the Rockeys plant flowers to attract insects that eat disease-carrying bugs – a practice unrelated to their water-saving efforts, but important to controlling viruses.

The Rockeys didn’t always farm like this. Though their family has always been innovative – their uncle, a former missile range worker with a Ph.D. in physics, experimented with injecting ozone into irrigation water, a practice the Rockeys still use – until recently the Rockeys farmed much like their neighbors, rotating potatoes and barley, irrigating their crop circles with sprinklers the length of football fields.

But, fighting against hard and compacted soil, they turned to cover crops, whose root systems break up the ground and create pores for rainwater to infiltrate into the dirt. Cover crops were also an alternative to barley, which hosted a fungal disease that harmed their potatoes. Their uncle had read about the practice, and in 2000 they decided to give it a try.

Then, water got scarce. A multi-year drought starting around 2002 shrank the region’s water table, drying up wells and forcing farmers to take some acres entirely out of production.

“We are definitely now doing it for water savings,” Sheldon Rockey said. “We would never switch back, because we couldn’t afford to.”

Growing a field of barley takes about 20 inches of water, according to the San Luis Valley Research Center’s Samuel Essah. A crop of Russet potatoes typically needs about 18. Only about seven inches of rain fall in the valley each year, so farmers pump the rest from their shared aquifer.

The Rockeys say their soil’s improved water retention has allowed them to grow potatoes using just 14 inches of water, instead of 18. The 16-species cover crop mix needs just six inches to flourish, cutting their overall water use by about a third.

The benefits of cover crops are more than just anecdotal. Studies have shown that cover crops improve soil, slow wind erosion, help control pests and weeds and, in some cases, even improve yield. A survey by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education of more than 700 Midwestern farmers in 2012, for instance, found corn planted after cover crops had a 10 percent higher yield than adjacent fields without cover crops. The survey found that yields were even higher in areas hard-hit by drought.

By saving on water and the cost of synthetic fertilizers, the Rockeys make as much money now as they did when they farmed and sold both potatoes and barley. “For their varieties, it’s working,” said Essah. “Whether that can work (on a large scale), that’s where we are not sure.”

The Rockeys farm a special kind of potato called fingerlings, a niche product that draws up to three times the price of a mainstream potato, like the Russet. That’s a potential problem for transporting this strategy to bigger farms. Although some large-scale farmers have pioneered the practice in other regions, using other crops, it’s unclear whether potato farmers with slimmer profit margins can take half their farm out of production each year, like the Rockeys have, and still make ends meet.

Cover crops need water, too, a turnoff for some farmers whose water supplies are already limited, said Rudy Garcia, a soil health specialist for the National Resources Conservation Service. A Texas A&M study found multi-species cover crop mixes, like the blend that the Rockeys use, require the most water of any cover crop studied, but also create the most soil-fueling biomass. For the strategy to work, the water savings from healthier soil have to outweigh the water a farmer uses on the cover crops themselves. And that might not be the case for everyone: research suggests the benefits of cover cropping are highly site-specific, and can vary widely.

“Because they’ve already mastered their conventional system, large-scale farms are going to have to be shown (its effects) before they adopt it on a large scale,” Garcia said. “Cover crops are much easier to introduce (to) small-scale farmers.”

For the Rockeys, eliminating synthetic fertilizer and reducing water use is not just about yielding a better crop. It’s about ensuring the future of their community by naturally improving soil and reducing water use. Their father, after all, was the first to warn the Rockey boys about drought as they grew up in the 1980s.

Even then, he saw the future of the valley irrevocably tied to the future of its water.

Acequia primer

Here’s a in-depth look at acequias from Gerald Zarr writing for AramcoWorld. Click through and read the whole article and for the great photographs. Here’s an excerpt:

Derived from the Arabic as-saqiya (“that which gives water”), acequias are gravity-flow irrigation ditches that evolved over 10,000 years in the arid regions of the Middle East. Especially from the ninth through the 16th century, control of the movement of water—hydrology—was one of the most important technologies developed from Mesopotamia and Persia to Arabia, North Africa and Spain. When the Spanish colonized the New World, they brought with them their acequia technology. (Acequias have subterranean cousins from the same regions, known variously as qanats or falajs.)

My own visit to New Mexico started in Albuquerque with a tutorial on acequias in bravura style by José A. Rivera of the University of New Mexico and author in 1998 of Acequia Culture: Water, Land and Community in the Southwest. Acequias, he explained, have not just history, but also culture, governance and issues of sustainability. He pointed me to the nearby Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, where a recent exhibit featured artworks and 130 objects relating to digging and maintaining the waterways. One painting in the exhibition showed water from an acequia seeping through the ground to recharge the aquifer below. Other exhibits included a wooden headgate to open and shut the acequia’s flow (perhaps of a type Nichols had imagined for Mondragón); a pair of overalls and rubber boots worn by a mayordomo, or water master; and the rusted back end of an early 1950s Dodge pickup, displayed as a typical mode of transportation to and from acequias. A bumper sticker proclaimed, “Our Acequias: Life, Culture, Tradition”—fighting words in a region where it’s not just The Milagro Beanfield War but real communities, government authorities and property developers that are cooperating and contesting the water rights that mean the difference between feast and famine, endurance and eviction.

Three days later I was driving north out of Santa Fe following the Rio Grande through the Espanola Valley on New Mexico State Road 68, also known as the “River Road to Taos.” Soon I was in real “Milagro Beanfield” territory, for the film was shot at Truchas, just 30 kilometers east. This road began as the northern leg of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to the Interior Lands), Spain’s 2,400-kilometer route of conquest from Mexico City that reached north to Taos. On this road in July 1598, Capitan General Don Juan de Oñate brought the first Spanish settlers to New Mexico and established one of the earliest European settlements in what is now the United States.

Four hundred colonists and soldiers, and several hundred Indians from what is now Mexico, came with 83 creaking wagons, 1,000 horses and 7,000 head of livestock in a procession six kilometers long that moved as fast as the cattle walked. Oñate settled his headquarters about 50 kilometers north of present-day Santa Fe in a town he called San Gabriel (today’s Chamita). Water was so essential he ordered construction of acequias even before the town’s houses, public buildings and churches were finished. It was easy to understand why: Settlers were carrying buckets of water hanging from yokes across their shoulders. In Acequia Culture, Rivera described how the settlers diverted water on one of the might-iest stretches of the Rio Grande and built an acequia:

[They built] dams made of logs, brush, rocks and other natural materials…. Using wooden hand tools, the digging of earthen ditches and laterals would follow the construction of the main diversion dam…. [T]hese irrigation works included the acequia madre (mother ditch or main canal), compuertas (headgates), canoas (log flumes for arroyo crossings), sangrias (lateral ditches cut perpendicular from the main canal to irrigate individual parcels of land) and a desague channel, which drains sur-plus water back to the stream source.

The acequia network channeled the swollen flow of springtime mountain snowmelt into community fields and gardens that blossomed with jalapeño peppers, blue corn, squash, lettuce, cabbage, peas, garbanzos, cumin seed, carrots, turnips, garlic, onions, artichokes, radishes and cucumbers. More than 400 years later, these same crops are grown in the Espanola Valley, some still watered by acequias.

In 1610 Oñate’s successor, Pedro de Peralta, moved the capital to Santa Fe. Once again, building acequias was the first order of business. On each side of the Santa Fe River, an acequia madre was dug, and eventually dozens of ace-quias sustained the growing population. Today, although the city’s acequias no longer serve primarily for agriculture, they are a treasured part of the urban scene: One of Santa Fe’s prettiest streets is the narrow, winding street named Acequia Madre.

In following years, acequias were built also across much of the Southwest in lands that became Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California, but it is in New Mexico that the system proved most durable. Today New Mexico boasts some 800 active acequias, all survivors of political, legal and administrative changes through the Spanish (1598-1821), Mexican (1821-1848) and Territorial (1848-1912) periods, as well as us statehood, to the present day. After New Mexico, Colorado comes next with an estimated 150 active acequias in the four southern counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas.

By contrast, in the other states, most colonial-era acequias were abandoned or supplanted by private mutual ditch companies, water-user associations, irrigation districts or conservancy districts. Few remain in Arizona, California and Texas—although San Antonio has preserved one near Espada Dam southeast of the city.

Rivera explained that the word “acequia” refers not only to the physical trench in the ground, but also, and just as importantly, to the system of community self-governance. “You don’t just have a ditch; you belong to an acequia,” he explains, emphasizing that the word also means the co-op of farmers who share the water and govern their own use of it. So important are the organizations that the state of New Mexico recognizes acequias as political subdivisions.

The acequia elects its own mayordomo, whose role has antecedents in the Moorish sahib al-saqiya, or “water giver,” who assesses how much water is available daily and prescribes times for each farmer to water his crops.

Acequia water law also requires that persons with irrigation rights in the acequia participate in an annual, springtime ditch cleanup. This is when, all along the upper Rio Grande, the sound of rakes and shovels brings a bustle to largely tranquil hills, as members scoop and scrape whatever has settled in the ditch over the winter. “It’s a tradition,” says Rivera. “The annual cleanup bonds the community.”

The renewed flow of water that followed the work marked a festive time. “Kids would run ahead yelling, ‘the water is coming!’” wrote New Mexico historian and former mayordomo Juan Estevan Arellano in Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water, published just before his death in 2014.

Arellano spent much of his life as an acequias advocate. In his book he took the reader to his farm at the confluence of the Embudo and Río Grande Rivers, about halfway between Santa Fe and Taos on the Camino Real, which had been in his family since 1725. He wrote that he lived on “a combination experimental farm and recreational site that I call my almunyah, from the classical Arabic word meaning ‘desire.’

[…]

In New Mexico acequia water was historically treated as a community resource that irrigators had a shared right to use and a shared responsibility to manage and protect. With statehood, however, came the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation. Based on the principle that water rights are not connected to land ownership, it meant that water—from any source—could be sold or mortgaged like other property. This gave rise to the populist Southwest adage, “water flows uphill to money”—or, more simply, water ends up being owned by the rich and powerful.

G. Emlen Hall, author in 2002 of High and Dry: The Texas-New Mexico Struggle for the Pecos River, explains that real- estate developers often try to secure water rights for new projects by buying irrigated land served by acequias. Then, he says, they try—often against local opposition—to transfer those rights to new, distant developments. “This, of course, would have picked the acequias apart, tract by tract, and eventually destroyed them,” he notes, “These battles over water are continuing, and they can be intense.”

Rivera agrees. “One water transfer at a time erodes the function of a community ditch. Eventually there is a tipping point if too much water is taken out of the ditch,” he says. “Beyond the tipping-point threshold, reached after many such sales and transfers, the acequia institution and governance collapse.”

Starting in the late 1980s, there was a burst of “acequia activism” in New Mexico that culminated in 1988 with the establishment of the statewide New Mexico Acequia Association (nmaa) and, around the same time, farmers formed regional acequia associations. In a major legislative victory for the groups, the New Mexico Legislature enacted a law in 2003 allowing acequias to block water transfers outside the physical acequia if detrimental to it or its members.

Although some developers disparage acequias as water-guzzlers, the claims are disproved by recent research. Studies by hydrologist Alexander “Sam” Fernald, professor of watershed man-agement at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, show that traditional earthen irrigation ditches offer hydrologic benefits beyond simply delivering water to crops.

His data show that, on average, only seven percent of the water diverted from the Rio Grande into a north-central New Mexico acequia is lost to evapotranspiration—the sum of evaporation from all sources, including water vapor released by plants. The remaining 93 percent returns to the river, 60 percent as surface water from irrigation tailwater and 33 percent as groundwater. Acequias also help build healthy aquifers by filtering the water that percolates underground: Aquifers are key sources of drinking water. Furthermore, they bene-fit livestock, which can drink directly from acequias rather than going to the river. “Most people are unaware of these positive effects of acequias,” says Fernando.

17th Annual Congreso de las Acequias, “Nuestra Agua, Nuestro Futuro: Acequias Rising!”, Nov. 19

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Click here for all the inside skinny and register. From the website:

The NMAA is preparing for the annual Congreso de las Acequias as we celebrate another growing season and the bountiful late summer rains. The Congreso is the only statewide gathering of acequia leaders where we share knowledge and create strategies for protecting our precious acequias and the water that flows through them. Our theme this year is Nuestra Agua, Nuestro Futuro: Acequias Rising. Please join us as we celebrate our traditions, make plans for our collective future, and work together to keep acequias flowing and our communities strong!

This year, the Congreso de las Acequias will take place on Saturday, November 19th at the Sagebrush Inn and Suites in Taos, NM from 9:00am to 5:00pm. $25 registration fee at the door, or take advantage of our Early-bird registration rate and pay $20 until Nov 14th!

Click here to register online for the Congreso de las Acequias!

The Congreso de las Acequias is the state-wide governing body of the NMAA, comprised of regional delegates from across the state. The annual meeting is held in the fall of each year to pass resolutions that guide the strategic direction of the NMAA, and to elect the eleven-member Concilio. Every year, we’re drawing in more and more folks who are dedicated to the cause. The NMAA is working to continue building the movement throughout the state, protecting our land and water resources for future generations of acequia farmers and ranchers. Click here to view the 2015 resolutions.

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.