Snowpack news: “It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning” — Manny Colon

April 15, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A wet, heavy snow Sunday provided more relief from persistent drought in parts of the Arkansas River basin, but could cause some damage to blossoming fruit trees.

“It will take about four days to know for sure, but I’m sure there is some damage,” said Manny Colon, a Canon City fruit grower.

He explained that while some buds were open, the snow in the trees also could have an insulating effect, protecting the unopened buds. The length of time for freezing temperatures and humidity also are factors.

“It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning,” he laughed. “All the moisture in the snow is wonderful and will help the trees, grass and hay.”

The heavy snow also could cause damage to young trees, but overall its impact should be positive for this parched portion of Colorado.

Pueblo, Fremont, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the most moisture from a storm that started as rain, then quickly turned to snow as it hovered over the area all day Sunday. In places, it dropped about a foot of snow, although 6-8 inches was more common, according to readings from the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network.

Moisture content of 0.75 inches was recorded in Pueblo, while an inch was listed in the Rye area. One site in western Custer County listed 1.18 inches of moisture from the snow.

Moisture and snowfall was far less on the Eastern Plains and in the Rio Grande valley, where snow measured 1-3 inches, and moisture content was .02-0.25 inches.

Mountain areas fared better, with 5-7 inches of snow containing up to half an inch or more of water.

Snowpack in the mountains already has passed the median peak and continues to grow. The typical peak at higher elevations usually comes during the first week of May.

Basinwide, snowpack is at 108 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water for the Arkansas River, is about 121 percent of average.

The Arkansas River this week is flowing 25 percent higher than last week, but still is below average for this time of year. About half of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo consists of releases by the Bureau of Reclamation to make room for transmountain imports. About one-third of the releases from Lake Pueblo consists of stored water being released for irrigation.

Pueblo’s year-to-date precipitation was 2.4 inches Monday, 17 percent above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

The funding request for Mountain Home Reservoir sails through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

April 12, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Money still following the water in the Rio Grande Basin.

With funds to spare, the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday unanimously approved a $25,000 allocation from the local basin account for a feasibility study to determine the best way to improve the efficiency of Mountain Home Reservoir both for the benefit of Trinchera Irrigation Company irrigators and those who enjoy recreational activities at the reservoir.

Currently the local water supply reserve account totals more than $107,000, and another disbursal of $120,000 to the basin is expected soon, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staffer Craig Godbout told the roundtable members during their April 8 meeting. CWCB administers the funds approved by the legislature from a portion of severance tax proceeds for water projects throughout the state’s river basins including the Rio Grande. A portion of the money is allocated to each river basin to be apportioned by each roundtable group whose members locally include representatives of various water groups and interests throughout the San Luis Valley.

Another portion of the money is set aside for statewide disbursement through the CWCB board. That board also has to approve the local projects, many of which seek funding from both the local and statewide accounts. The Trinchera Irrigation Company’s request for $25,000, however, was solely from the local basin account.

Godbout explained that the total of the most recent request of $25,000 added to requests last month for basin funds of $44,500 equaled $69,500, which the current balance of $107,000 can accommodate .

Unlike the Trinchera request, the grant requests from March sought funding from both the local and statewide water reserve accounts, Godbout said. Those March requests are currently on hold until the CWCB receives its next allocation of severance tax proceeds, he added, because the total requests from the statewide account last month exceeded the amount the statewide account contained.

Funding requests for projects from around the state, including $830,500 in requests from the Valley, totaled more than $1.7 million, and the statewide account only had about $980,000 in it at the time, Godbout explained.

“We delayed all the statewide requests until May,” he said.

By that time the CWCB expects to receive an additional $1.9 million in its statewide account, which will more than cover the current requests for funding. The additional funding was supposed to come in on April 1 but has not yet been received.

Godbout anticipated approval for the pending project requests during the May 21-22 meeting of the CWCB board in Pueblo.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request on Tuesday to the roundtable group to fund a feasibility study on Mountain Home Reservoir improvements. He had presented an overview of the project to the roundtable during its March meeting.

The irrigation company encompasses 47 shareholders irrigating about 12,000 acres in the northern part of Costilla County. Trinchera Irrigation Company manages both Mountain Home Reservoir, with a decreed capacity of about 18,000 acre feet, and Smith Reservoir, decreed for about 2,000 acre feet, Schwab explained.

The project for which the irrigation company was seeking funding was improvement to Mountain Home, which not only provides irrigation water but water for wildlife and recreation such as fishing and boating. Schwab said Mountain Home Reservoir is a popular fishing spot even in wintertime when anglers go ice fishing.

Mountain Home Reservoir was built in 1908, and only one of the three canal gates is operational right now, Schwab said. The state engineer would like to see all three operational, he added.

Schwab said he believed the two gates not currently being used probably would open, but he was nervous they might not close. One of the current problems at the reservoir is gate leakage down the canal to Smith Reservoir, if it makes it that far, Schwab added. He estimated more than 1,000 acre-foot loss annually that is going into the ground or being evaporated.

The feasibility study, for which roundtable funds were requested and approved , would determine the best way to improve dam safety, improve water storage , reduce storage loss and protect and improve water availability for wildlife and recreational purposes.

The study would involve an underwater inspection of the outlet works, cost analyses of alternatives and recommendations .

Schwab said although no funding match was required, the Trinchera Irrigation Company with assistance from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited were kicking in $12,650, with more than $10,000 alone from CPW in technical assistance . Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group one of the goals of the roundtable was to support the reservoirs, and this project ties in with that goal. The roundtable has also previously assisted other reservoir projects for the Santa Maria, Continental , Rio Grande, Platoro and Sanchez Reservoirs.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

April 5, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

“BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

NRCS: April Rio Grande Basin forecasts available

April 3, 2014

‘The BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other’ [water rights owner] — Paul Tigan #COWaterPlan

March 22, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From the Valley Courier (Paul Tigan):

This is the sixth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. ing of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, what comes to mind? Is it livestock ranching? Oil and gas development ? Maybe it’s rock climbing at Penitente Canyon , or watching wildlife and birds at Blanca Wetlands. Perhaps it’s a trip to BLM lands every fall to sight in your rifle in the hopes of dropping a trophy bull on the opening morning of the first elk season.

“The mission of the BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. This mission is remarkably complex. As the San Luis Valley Field Office Manager likes to say “it’s not rocket science it’s more complicated.”

It requires the BLM to not only balance “multiple uses” in the present day, but also consider how the American people may need those resources far into an unknown future.

Here in the San Luis Valley, the BLM manages just over 500,000 acres of land according to this mission. Dozens of livestock ranching operations depend on the health of the BLM land; so too dozens of threatened, endangered, and special status wildlife and plant species. Some public lands have been set aside to be studied for future preservation, such as the San Luis Hills, while others have been designated for development as solar energy sites to serve future energy needs for the nation. And many uses share the same acre of public land like the new gravity-assisted mountain bike trail at Zapata Falls, but keep an eye out for the cattle on the same trail. And wear a helmet!

But like every other person or entity that manages land in the San Luis Valley, there is one resource in short supply for the BLM water. It may surprise some to learn that the BLM (and every other federal land management agency) is required by federal law to adhere to the state-managed water appropriation systems. When it comes to water management, the BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other farmer, rancher, city, and conservation district.

Many people might think of the BLM’s water needs as “non-consumptive ,” that is, resources need water but don’t “use” it the way a farm might use it. For some areas, this is true. People who enjoy float-boating on the Rio Grande depend on water to get from Las Sauces to the Lobatos Bridge, or further south into the Rio Grande Gorge. Similarly, aquatic species, such as trout, depend on certain water conditions at particular times of the year to breed and sustain their populations. People who enjoy fishing depend on the water as well. But the San Luis Valley Field Office also uses water, within the appropriation system, to support a diverse array of habitats and uses. The BLM holds dozens of water rights across the SLV for the benefit of livestock grazing operations. These rights generally stem from natural springs and utilize small infrastructure systems to make them useful. Perhaps more dramatically, the BLM also irrigates thousands of acres of land for the benefit of many plant and wildlife species. That management not only sustains those critical species habitats, but also leads to incredible recreation opportunities , such as wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Blanca Wetlands, a habitat restoration effort that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The BLM uses more than 40 wells and some water from the Closed Basin Project to wet and dry about 2000 acres of historic and restored wetland playa habitat. These acres support 13 threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and over 160 species of birds. The wetlands are also an important calving and fawning area for big game species. Blanca Wetlands maintains Colorado’s largest population of western snowy plover and supports a number of waterbird species of regional, national, and even hemispheric importance.

But the Blanca Wetlands isn’t just for the birds. One of the great joys of the BLM staff is watching the public engage these incredible resources just 20 minutes from Alamosa. Whether it is a kindergartener walking out into a playa barefoot to catch a fairy shrimp in a bucket, or a high school student receiving national recognition for her research, a living laboratory like the Blanca Wetlands connects people to the natural world in ways that no iPad app can.

But like every water user who pumps groundwater to stay in business, the BLM faces an uncertain future with augmentation requirements from the State of Colorado. The BLM is not currently a party to any of the subdistricts but has worked with the state to define its augmentation responsibilities for groundwater pumping and will meet those responsibilities. These habitats are too important to dry up. They serve not only the diversity and health of the public lands, but also the American people.

As the Rio Grande Basin goes through an era of unprecedented change, the BLM is committed to partnering with other water managers to ensure the Rio Grande Basin of the future enjoys the same broad array of natural resources that contribute to quality of life and a strong and diverse economy. The habitats and resources we manage will be as important 100 years from now as they are today, and water will continue to be the defining feature of these resources.

The BLM is and active partner in the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan, to become a part of the stakeholder process get involved in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa) or; 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. com and; 3) attend any one of the BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@ To be considered, submit input to the Basin Roundtable by March 31.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Alamosa: Water infrastructure funding is in short supply

March 22, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Treating Alamosa’s water is becoming more expensive. With more rigid arsenic standards coming into play several years ago, the City of Alamosa was forced to build a water treatment plant. Recently, Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin said arsenic standards might tighten up again, which could force the city to revamp its treatment system, resulting in an expensive adjustment.

This week Koskelin informed the Alamosa city council of another more immediate problem with the city’s water treatment plant, and the council authorized funding for a pilot treatment system. Koskelin said for six years the membranes that filter out the arsenic in the municipal drinking water supply provided excellent performance. Then all of a sudden in the last year the city started having problems with the membranes. The manufacturer recommended a more stringent cleaning schedule, which meant using more chemicals, which in turn meant more expense. Koskelin said the cost increase for the chemicals alone is nearly $290,000 a year.

Another option would be to replace the membranes, but that would cost threequarters of a million dollars or so. Koskelin said the life of the membrane system was supposed to be 15 years but it has only lasted about six years.

Another solution, which hopefully will be less expensive , will involve lowering the pH of the water, which should improve the filtering process and arsenic removal.

Koskelin recommended that the city enter into a pilot project to test this theory for three months with Clearlogx. He said the city has a threemonth permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to test this system. If it works, the city could buy the system and 90 percent of the money the city paid during the three-month trial would count towards the purchase price. The total purchase price of the system is $175,000. The city will be leasing it for $4,500 a month.

“We need to do something,” Koskelin told the council.

He estimated the pay off on this system would be about two years, and the life of the system should be about 15 years.

Addressing the water treatment situation will result in a budget adjustment, Koskelin added, primarily from enterprise fund surpluses. Koskelin said this solution might also help the city meet stricter arsenic standards when/if they come down in the future.

“If it doesn’t drop lower than 2 parts per billion we should be able to meet those new standards,” he said. The current standard is 10 parts per billion, set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment is considering a stricter standard, which Koskelin estimated at an earlier council meeting would likely not take effect for a couple of years, if the state moves forward with it.

More infrastructure coverage here.

World Resources Institute: World’s 18 Most Water-Stressed Rivers #ColoradoRiver

March 20, 2014


From the World Resources Institute (Andrew Maddocks/Paul Reig):

The world’s 100 most-populated river basins are indispensable resources for billions of people, companies, farms, and ecosystems. But many of these river basins are also increasingly at risk. As water demand from irrigated agriculture, industrialization, and domestic users explodes, major rivers on several continents are becoming so depleted that they sometimes fail to reach their ocean destinations. Add climate change, nutrient and chemical pollution, and physical alterations like dams and other infrastructure development to the mix and it’s clear that many communities rely on water resources that face an increasingly risky future.

WRI’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored stresses on water supplies in the 100 river basins with the highest populations, 100 largest river basins, and 180 nations. We found that 18 river basins— flowing through countries with a collective $US 27 trillion in GDP —face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity…

Decision-makers in many of world’s water-stressed basins have attempted to put management plans in place—with mixed results. The United States’ Colorado River is a prime example of a plan that, while well-intentioned, may ultimately be unsustainable. Starting in Colorado and running 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is the 14th most stressed among the world’s most populated river basins, and the sixth most stressed if ranked by size. More than 30 million people depend on it for water. The seven states receiving its water comprised 19 percent of the United States’ total GDP in 2010.

Because of its naturally arid setting—and due to its large and growing number of users and resulting high level of baseline water stress—the Colorado has become one of the most physically and legally managed rivers in the world. It is also under serious duress, exacerbated by a decades-long drought. This imbalance between supply and demand means that the river often runs dry before it reaches the Pacific Ocean—posing significant problems for wildlife, ecosystems, and communities that depend on it.

The Colorado River is an example of a basin where natural water stress is already severe. The complex web of infrastructure and governance structures around the river was, in a sense, created to ensure predictable, steady water supplies in a stressed region. On the other hand, that same development has driven increasing demands for limited supplies. Aqueduct’s country and river basin rankings deliberately do not include the effects of such extensive management, instead focusing on objective measures of underlying hydrological conditions. But the overall picture is clear: Even the most-established, iron-clad management systems start to crumble under increasing scarcity and stress…

What Is Water Stress?

Water stress is the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable supply in an area. In high-stress areas, 40 percent or more of the available supply is withdrawn every year. In extremely high-stress areas, that number goes up to 80 percent or higher. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited supplies. See the high and extremely high-stress areas highlighted in red and dark red on the maps.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

The Rio Grande River Compact Commission meets today

March 20, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The tension is expected to be thick Thursday as top water officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas gather for an annual meeting focused on management of the Rio Grande.

Texas and New Mexico are in the middle of a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater pumping along the border. The federal government is weighing in, claiming that groundwater falls under its jurisdiction and should be considered part of the massive system of canals and dams that deliver water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

It could be years before the court makes a decision, but some experts say the case could set precedent when it comes to state rights in the drought-stricken West.

In the meantime, farmers in southern New Mexico who are deciding whether to plant crops or leave their fields fallow are on “pins and needles,” said Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official.

“Certainly the litigation, the threat of litigation, the fear of what’s going to come out of all this is clouding everybody’s ability to work toward a solution,” he said. “I think very unfortunately that we find ourselves fighting and not solving.”

Verhines will be among those gathering for the Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting. The decades-old compact spells out how much river water the states must share.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Trinchera Irrigation Company is looking to rehab the dam at Mountain Home Reservoir

March 18, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A project currently proposed by the Trinchera Irrigation Company would improve Mountain Home Reservoir for all those who enjoy it for recreation and depend on it for irrigation.

Constructed in 1908, the dam at Mountain Home in Costilla County is showing its age, according to Trinchera Ditch Superintendent Wayne Schwab who presented a preliminary request for $25,000 from the Rio Grande Roundtable local funding source to perform a feasibility study regarding dam improvements . The irrigation company and Colorado Parks & Wildlife are providing $12,000 in matching funds as well, Schwab said.

He explained that Mountain Home is a popular fishing and wildlife area, so Parks & Wildlife is interested in improving the reservoir. The 47 shareholders in the Trinchera Irrigation Company are also invested in improving the reservoir, which serves as the main water source for the Trinchera Creek drainage. Smith Reservoir is another water source, primarily for folks below the Trinchera drainage, Schwab explained to the Roundtable this week.

“Along with supplying irrigation water, the Smith and Mountain Home are State Wildlife Areas, and Mountain Home is a popular fishing area,” Schwab said.

There are three gates at the Mountain Home dam, but only one is currently in use, Schwab explained, with the other two not used for decades. The irrigation company’s hope is to put at least one of the other gates back into service. Schwab said the state engineer is strongly recommending the other two gates become operational again, and the irrigation company would like to contract a feasibility study to see how best to do that and improve the reservoir’s efficiency. If the dam was operating more efficiently, water storage levels could be maintained both for irrigators and for Parks & Wildlife to maintain a strong conservation pool for fishing.

Schwab said the feasibility study will involve underwater inspections of conduits, valves and valve gates. The engineer performing the study will then provide a few alternatives for improving the dam, which will help establish reliable reservoir elevation levels and water storage.

With a stronger conservation pool, Parks & Wildlife can keep fish in the reservoir . Schwab said Parks & Wildlife is looking at ways to improve the area around the reservoir and increase recreational benefits in Costilla County, which has very little public land compared to other counties in the San Luis Valley. Only 2 percent of the county is public land, he said, and the county is one of the poorest counties in the state, so anything that can help generate tourism and revenue would be helpful.

In addition to Parks & Wildlife, Trout Unlimited is involved in this project, Schwab said, and is interested in ways to improve fishing at the reservoir.

Schwab said the groups involved would like to see the project begun next summer . The Roundtable will likely vote on the funding request during its April meeting.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

‘Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive’ — Leroy Salazar

March 16, 2014
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Heading a water solutions team, San Luis Valley resident LeRoy Salazar told those attending a groundwater advisory meeting on Wednesday it is time to get beyond the blame game and work together to preserve Valley communities and the agricultural livelihoods that keep them alive. Part of a group trying to find solutions to affordable, equitable and successful water sustainability, Salazar said a year ago he was only 20 percent convinced “we would be able to make this thing work.”

He said he is presently up to 60 percent and hopes by the time the state well rules are in place, “I will have an 80 percent probability we are going to be able to keep this thing going.”

He added, “We are all working really hard.”

He commended the state engineer’s office for working hard to develop a groundwater model that would work and rules that would work for everybody.

“The well owners want these as bad as surface users,” he said. “We want to know what hand we are going to be dealt with.”

He said some flexibility may be required in the next year or two as water users work through some of the challenges they will come up against in complying with the state’s new rules.

“Some of those things may take us five to six years to work out,” Salazar added. “We may not be able to live at exactly the letter of the law. We can create a little bit of flexibility in there.”

He said it might not be possible to always replace depletions to the river in exactly the right time and place that the regulations will require.

“Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believed “our greatest successes come from our greatest challenges,” and he is at an 80-percent confidence level. The well rules Wolfe hopes to submit to the water court yet this spring will require wells to make up for the injuries and depletions they have caused senior water rights and the aquifers.

Salazar said he has both senior water surface rights, which date back five generations , in addition to wells, which are junior water rights. He said wells are part of the reason that rivers are drier and aquifers diminished, but they are not the sole problem. The multi-year drought and the demands of the interstate Rio Grande Compact are also responsible, he said.

However, he said those trying to reach solutions must get beyond the blame game “and think what’s in the best interest of keeping our communities alive and keep them going.”

He said he could see at least 100,000 acres of land going out of production, and if solutions cannot be reached to the Valley’s water problems, that total could be twice that.

“Think what that will do to communities,” he said.

He said the two main issues to address are sustainability and depletions.

He said some of the solutions to sustainability are fairly easy. Changing farming practices to use less water would be a better solution than shutting wells down, he said. For example, while alfalfa requires 28-30 inches of water annually, barley only requires 20 inches, so a switch from alfalfa to grain would cut water usage by one third.

“We can do a little bit better than that,” Salazar added. “A lot of us that are raising grain and potatoes, there are a lot of conservation crops that can apply 6-8 inches that will raise some pasture for cows.”

A crop like sorghum sudan grass would only require 6-8 inches but would still provide pasture for cattle, for example.

“There’s alternatives without having to shut a bunch of wells down to increase sustainability,” Salazar said. “We know we have to reduce the drain on the aquifers. I think sustainability can be dealt with fairly easily if we all agree we need to cut back. I don’t think there will be too many farms go out of business if we cut back.”

Addressing the issue of replacing depletions is a bit trickier, Salazar said. He explained it would take on the order of 20,000-30 ,000 acre feet to replace those depletions throughout the Valley, with the Conejos system owing about 6,000 acre feet. If the drought continues, however, that number could increase to 8,000-10 ,000 ace feet on that river system, he said.

Forbearance is one key way to deal with the depletions , he said. Some senior water users who have been injured by well pumping may be willing to accept money instead of water, Salazar explained. However , there will be water right holders who will want “wet water,” and that will not always be easy to provide, he said.

“A lot of depletions we are seeing are owed on the lower Conejos might owe 10,000-15 ,000 acre feet of depletions. How do we get 10,000 acre feet down to that lower part if we have to replace it exactly in time and place and we can’t find enough forbearance agreements ?”

Another obstacle is reservoir storage in that area. Salazar said the Platoro Reservoir would be a good place to store water that could later be used to replace depletions. However, that reservoir is often restricted under the Rio Grande Compact on whether it can store water or not.

“It’s a Compact reservoir and a post-Compact reservoir , which means we can’t really store water from one year to the next ” which is what we really need to do if we are going to make this thing work. Trying to find storage is going to be a big issue.”

Dry riverbeds create other obstacles, Salazar added. If water has to move from one part of the stream to meet depletions on the other end, but there’s a dry riverbed in the middle, “we lose it all.”

Folks have four options in responding to the state’s pending groundwater rules, Salazar said. One option is to join a sub-district ; another is to formulate an augmentation plan; a third is to take the rules to court and try to keep them there as long as possible “that’s not a real good solution;” and a fourth option is to seek legislative mandates to force polices on the well users. Salazar said he would rather see the Valley work out its own solutions than to go to the state legislature.

The solutions committee, or team, has been trying to develop alternatives since last April, Salazar said. The team set up technical and legal sub groups and has held numerous meetings in the past year.

The team has looked at several alternatives such as diverting numerous junior water rights to pay for depletions and replenish the aquifer. Some of the people who own those junior water rights are not producing that much with them and would just as soon get paid for them. The San Luis Valley Well Owners own some junior water rights that produce a lot of water on certain years, Salazar said. That could be a source of replacement water.

The solutions committee is looking at many options and trying to find the most affordable and efficient ones, Salazar said.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

‘Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble’ — Nolan Doesken

March 16, 2014
Nolan Doesken -- Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President's Award Presentation 2011

Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

“Nothing new under the sun” was pretty much the message delivered by State Climatologist Nolan Doesken yesterday during a gathering of area water leaders. Although winters have tended to be warmer, dry years more plentiful and snowfall melting off sooner in recent years, the major factors that determine the Rio Grande Basin’s climate have not changed, Doesken explained.

Colorado is still the highest elevation state in the union; it still remains in a mid-latitude location between the pole and the equator; the state is still interior continental, not any closer to an ocean than it ever was; complex mountain topography remains; and solar energy is still constant, with hundreds of sunny days a year.

In a state that boasts 300 days or more of sunshine a year, the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley, is the sunniest part of the state, Doesken reminded the audience of the Rio Grande Roundtable group on Tuesday.

“Most of the main drivers of our climate are not changing ,” Doesken said. “Our high elevation isn’t changing, our mid-latitude location isn’t changing “”

He added, “It does appear over time there’s been a bit of a warming trend in much of the state, but down here it’s mixed signals.” He said summer days in Alamosa have been distinctly on the hot side in recent years, and when Alamosa is 90 degrees, that generally means the entire state is pretty warm.

However, Doesken said the weather station in Del Norte has recorded a colder trend, which might be attributable to a change in the weather station’s location itself.

Of the weather data available for the Valley, “Most locations show a modest upward trend in temperature,” he said.

“Precipitation, on the other hand, is all over the place.”

He said there is no discernable upward trend in precipitation. This basin’s biggest climate indicators are found within the basin itself, Doesken explained.

“It’s a local effect.”

He said if the data from 1925 to the present were examined, for example, temperature changes might be as easy to determine here as answering the question, “When did it snow last?”

Regarding Valley temperatures , residents have learned to dress in layers, because the temperatures can vary so much, even in a single day, Doesken said.

“You are the champion of diurnal range fluctuations, day to night,” he said. The Valley can experience a 50-degree temperature swing from morning to night on a routine basis. It can be 20 degrees in the morning and 70 in the afternoon.

“That’s the climate in which you live,” Doesken said.

“In the Midwest, Mississippi Valley, going north means colder, south means warmer, but in the mountains it’s local topography that drives temperatures.”

The variability of the Valley’s weather is what remains constant, or as Doesken put it, “Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble.”

Sometimes there will be an apparent cycle of weather, while at other times it will appear random. One constant is the spring wind that the Valley experiences from March through June.

“You are in your fourmonth wind season right now, like it or not,” he said.

Regarding precipitation, this basin is dry, like it or not. Doesken said because of the basin’s location, it generally receives less than 8 inches precipitation annually , which is the climate area residents know and love.

“You love it as long as the mountains around you are full of snow. They are not always.”

The bulk of the state’s legitimate surface water comes from those mountain snows, but that can vary as much as the temperatures. Because of the moisture that came into the state last fall the majority of it in one week Denver wound up experiencing its wettest year, Doesken said. Doesken reminded the group of the fact most were painfully aware, that the Rio Grande Basin has not enjoyed a big snowpack year for a while.

“Drought happens. It keeps happening,” Doesken said. He said there have been more years with less snowpack by April 1, “but there’s a lot of noise in there.”

He explained how important it is to keep data and said the manual snow course collection sites are extremely valuable. He has been a proponent of maintaining those sites in the state.

He has served in the Colorado Climate Center since 1977 and has been the state climatologist since 2006.

“We are climate accountants ,” he said. The center monitors all aspects of climate in the state from humidity and temperature to precipitation and evaporation . Doesken said the first government weather state in Colorado was located at Fort Massachusetts in the San Luis Valley in 1855, and by 1890 there was a statewide weather reporting network that included sites like Monte Vista and Platoro.

That type of information is still valuable, and Doesken encouraged local residents to become part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow (CoCoRaHS) network that depends on folks in places like Villa Grove to provide weather information to the state climate center. Those interested in becoming a part of CoCoRaHS are welcome to attend an open house from 2-7 p.m. on Friday, March 21, at the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee office , 1305 Park Ave., Monte Vista.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Rio Grande Water Users Association board meeting recap

March 16, 2014

Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Groundwater rules, endangered species and interstate lawsuits, public trust doctrine ballot initiatives on top of what could be the sixth belowaverage water year in a row add up to what Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock called a “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us.”

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” Paddock told water users at the association’s annual meeting in Monte Vista yesterday.

To make a bitter pill even harder to swallow, the assessments for association members increased by $2 per unit, from $25 to $27 per unit, at the recommendation of the board. Association members, who represent area canals and ditches on the Rio Grande, approved the increase. Association President Greg Higel said the assessment increase was not a unanimous recommendation from the board, especially since many of the ditch companies had already set their own assessments for the year. However, the board believed the assessments had to be increased to handle the pending challenges of the year, such as possible lawsuits that might affect water users along the river.

Higel said the board also voted to allocate 2,500 acre feet for Subdistrict #1 again this year. In addition, the board recommended an irrigation start date for water users association members of April 1, which is the standard start date for the irrigation season.

Water user Willie Hoffner voted against the assessment increase and suggested an earlier irrigation start date for folks on Saguache Creek who might not see water again for a while if they are not able to divert it now. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten said he would be meeting with the Saguache Creek water users later this month to discuss their preferred irrigation start date.

Cotten said the storms during the last week brought the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack up from 77 percent to 87 percent of average, but this basin is still the lowest in the state, with other basins way above 100 percent.

“If we can keep getting some storms coming through we have a good chance of reaching that 100 percent,” he said. “We will have to wait and see what the next couple of months bring.”

If things do not improve, this will be the sixth year in a row with below average stream flow on the Rio Grande, Cotten added. Since 2002, the river has registered only three years with above average stream flow , “which is very unusual, and even more unusual the last five years in a row have been below average.”

He said there has only been one other time since the gauges were put in at Del Norte in 1890 that there were five years in a row of below average stream flow , and never six years in a row.

The preliminary forecast for the Rio Grande this year, based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s February forecast, at least promises a bit higher numbers than last year. The February forecast for the Rio Grande is 520,000 acre feet, which is still below average but higher than the 459,900 acre feet that passed through the Del Norte gauge last year. Last year’s total was about 71 percent of the longterm average, Cotten said. If the 520,000 acre-feet forecast holds true, the Rio Grande’s obligation to downstream states this year will be about 133,800 acre feet, and the curtailment to meet that obligation could be about 13 percent. However, Cotten stressed that is a guess at this point, and there are many different factors to consider before implementing a curtailment .

Cotten also shared National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions for precipitation and temperatures for the next three-month period, which show this area as having equal chances for average precipitation and good chances for above average temperatures. Both Cotten and Paddock spoke to the water users yesterday about pending lawsuits that could have impacts on irrigators in the San Luis Valley.

The state of Texas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to file a lawsuit against New Mexico and Colorado concerning the Rio Grande Compact, and the U.S. government joined with Texas in the petition last week. The Supreme Court has accepted that lawsuit, so it will now begin moving forward. Colorado is a minor player in the suit at this point but was named because it is part of the compact. Texas’ main beef was with pumping below Caballo Reservoir in New Mexico.

“It didn’t have a lot to do with us but we got drug into that court case,” Cotten said. Paddock added that if New Mexico were to win such a suit, Colorado would definitely be affected because more water would have to be diverted from Elephant Butte Reservoir, one of the main storage facilities for Rio Grande Compact water, leaving less water that could be counted as usable water for compact purposes. If that total decreases below 400,000 acre feet, which was the case last year and will likely remain the case this year, reservoirs in Colorado built after the compact was ratified cannot store water. Platoro Reservoir Paddock added that no one has filed any specific claims against Colorado in the New Mexico/Texas suit, only including Colorado because it is a signatory on the Rio Grande Compact.

“Hopefully there won’t be any spillback on water users in the Valley,” he said. “There’s significant issues that could come up in that lawsuit that could be concerns to Colorado and that could be concerns to all of you.”

Other pending lawsuits, which would more directly affect the Valley, are suits by the WildEarth Guardians. The environmental group filed notice of intent to sue and has 60 days from the time of its notice before it can officially file suit, which would be March 22. That group is alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act protection of the silvery minnow and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and so far those who may be named in the suit include the State of Colorado, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They are claiming that the use of water out of the Rio Grande in Colorado is causing some injury to the endangered species in New Mexico,” said Cotten. “Our position is we have the Rio Grande Compact and we meet our compact obligations each and every year. We have done what we are supposed to do legally to deliver water down there.”

Paddock said if the WildEarth Guardians do bring suit against Colorado it would be a precedent-setting form of litigation nationally, and “it will be an incredibly high stakes lawsuit. They are asserting that endangered species overrule the compact. They are saying you can’t exercise your water rights so water can flow unimpeded to the state of New Mexico to support the silvery minnow. That’s the bottom line.” Regardless of the outcome, such a lawsuit would take years to argue and decide “and will involve every water user from the headwaters of the Rio Grande down to Elephant Butte Reservoir because they would all have the same issues .” He said, the State of Colorado “will not go quietly” if such a lawsuit were to proceed. Paddock and Cotten also reminded attendees of the Rio Grande Water Users Association annual meeting yesterday that groundwater rules will likely be filed with the court this spring. Cotten said the next advisory committee meeting is at 10 a.m. March 12 at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and the state engineer’s goal is to promulgate the rules in April. Paddock added if there are objections to the rules, the court would have to schedule a trial, if those are not resolved beforehand, and that could very likely take place by this time next year. If/Once the rules are ultimately approved, there will be a limited time period for wells to either be under an augmentation plan of their own or through a sub-district , Paddock reminded the water users. Sub-districts would also have a limited time to finalize their formations and plans of management, he added.

“We’re looking at a major change in water management over the next two to three years,” he said.

Capping off “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us,” according to Paddock, is the potential for ballot issues to go before voters this fall regarding a constitutional change from the current priority water system to the Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine would involve a permitting system, and whoever was in charge of the permitting could choose how water would be diverted and for what uses. For example, the most beneficial use of water could be determined to be instream flows in the Rio Grande rather than diversions for agricultural irrigation, Paddock explained.

“The Public Trust Doctrine is unpredictable,” he said. “It’s terrifying because it takes away people’s certainty of how they can use their water and when it is available.”

He said if those promoting the ballot initiatives collect enough signatures, the Public Trust Doctrine initiatives would probably appear on the ballots this fall.

“It is a significant threat to everyone’s established water rights.” is one of those.

Another even more substantial potential impact of Texas winning this suit and requiring more water to be delivered out of Elephant Butte would be less chance of the reservoir spilling. In a year when Elephant Butte spills, Colorado has no delivery obligation downstream.

“That makes a whole lot more water available in Colorado ,” Paddock said. “That’s pretty high stakes.”

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: #COWaterPlan public meetings start March 17

March 14, 2014

More Colorado Water Plan coverage

Colorado signs on to Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation agreement

March 8, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and wildlife:

An updated conservation agreement and strategy plan to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout was recently signed by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, three Native American tribes and several federal agencies.

The agencies started working on range-wide protection plans for the species in 2003. This is a continuation of the initial agreement, but also assures that the agencies will work cooperatively to maintain the viability of this special species of trout. The agreement provides overall guidance to each agency and sets a conservation strategy that will be used in Colorado and New Mexico where significant populations of the fish exist.

“This is a voluntary agreement, but all the parties are dedicated to working on important Rio Grande cutthroat trout issues,” said John Alves, southwest region senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The agencies that signed the agreement are: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, the Jicarilla-Apache Nation, the Mescalero-Apache Nation, and the Taos Pueblo tribe. The effort is also being supported by Colorado Trout Unlimited and the New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited.

As stated in the agreement, the goal of the new 10-year plan is to “assure long-term viability of Rio Grande cutthroat trout throughout its historic range by minimizing or removing threats to the species and promoting conservation.” The agencies have completed numerous conservations projects for the species throughout Colorado and New Mexico. To read about some of the projects, go to:

The trout has been a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2008. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the species will be listed is scheduled for September.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is classified as a species of “greatest conservation need” by New Mexico, and as a “species of special concern” in Colorado. The agencies are working cooperatively to protect the populations to keep the species healthy. The cooperative effort might also provide the advantage of keeping the fish off of the federal endangered species list.

The fish is found primarily in high elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, the Canadian River and the Pecos River in Colorado and New Mexico. It now only occupies just 12 percent of its historic habitat in approximately 800 miles of streams. Biologists estimate that 127 conservation populations now exist in the two states, and 57 of those populations are considered to be secure.

The historic range of Rio Grande cutthroat trout has been reduced over the last 150 years due to many changes on the landscape, including: drought, water infrastructure, habitat changes, hydraulic changes, hybridization with rainbow trout and other species of cutthroat trout, and competition with brown trout and brook trout. As a result of these changes, Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are restricted primarily to headwater streams.

“This agreement provides a detailed road map of the ways local, state, federal and tribal agencies will work together to continue to conserve this trout,” said Kirk Patten, assistant chief of fisheries for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is unique. It is found only in the southwest and has the distinction of being the southernmost distribution of any form of cutthroat trout.”

For more than 20 years, agency biologists have been searching for Rio Grande cutthroat populations, studying habitat and restoring the species to streams. That work and more will continue under the conservation agreement.

Some of the work that the agencies will conduct includes: maintenance of Rio Grande cutthroat brood stock; stream surveys and habitat improvement; construction of barriers to keep non-native trout out of conservation waters; removal of non-native fish and restocking with this species; testing for disease; conducting genetic analysis; fencing sensitive riparian areas; and on-going monitoring of populations.

The agencies will meet annually to discuss projects and progress, and to plan conservation work. A full range-wide species assessment will be conducted every five years.

“Rio Grande cutthroat trout are facing many issues, including habitat loss, competition from the introduction of non-native trout, drought, fire and other changes,” Alves said. “A major, coordinated effort like this one is what’s needed to maintain this important species.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: ‘We’re relying more and more on habitats that we know are artificially created and maintained’ — Michael Blenden

March 8, 2014

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado’s effort to replenish its aquifers by cracking down on pumping groundwater threatens to leave the thousands of sandhill cranes that arrive here each February without the water they need.

“This certainly has the potential for changing the dynamics of what we have witnessed for the last 50 years,” said Michael Blenden, federal manager of the San Luis Valley complex of three national wildlife refuges and the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area.

The cranes will be fine this year, but rules are kicking in that would prevent federal wildlife managers from pumping the 2.67 billion gallons they typically draw to create artificial wetlands for migratory birds. Farmers also grow barley and lay it out to help sandhill cranes, which draw visitors from around the world.

“Drying up cranes, I don’t think that’s a realistic outcome,” Blenden said. “We certainly don’t want to go there. Our responsibility is the perpetuation of the migratory bird resource.”

The cranes — about 25,000 of them are amassing in the San Luis Valley this month — need the food and the protection the marsh provides. But state officials have been working for years to control overpumping of the groundwater and prioritize who gets scarce water in a semiarid region. They say the groundwater pumping must cease unless federal officials obtain rights to surface water and leave it in rivers to offset their tapping of aquifers. If a trade can’t be worked out, that could cost more than $1 million, Blenden said.

“Just like every other groundwater user, the refuges will have to remedy the injurious stream depletions that occur due to their groundwater use,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said.

State officials and refuge managers have discussed the impending requirements, which may also force tens of thousands of irrigated acres out of production. Farmers have formed cooperative districts to try to adapt.

Scientists believe sandhill cranes in lesser numbers probably have migrated through the San Luis Valley for thousands of years. A petroglyph on the west side of the valley, depicting what appears to be a crane, may be 3,000 years old, according to federal officials. The artificial wetlands has helped ensure the cranes’ survival and now draw 95 percent of the cranes across a six-state region, federal biologist Scott Miller said. Dried-up marshes would be less appealing and may not meet cranes’ need to gain strength for their flight to nesting areas in Wyoming and Idaho and breeding there, Miller said. Cranes roost at night in wetlands, sleeping while standing in water. Coyotes or other predators are hampered as sloshing sounds can alert cranes.

“We don’t want to put the state in a position of having some kind of confrontation with us. We are contributing to the groundwater problems, just as the agricultural community is,” Blenden said.

Yet climate change creates new challenges, and preserving wildlife is part of a national mission, he said.

“We’re relying more and more on habitats that we know are artificially created and maintained. We cannot just turn our backs, because things get a little rough, and let the cranes figure it out.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Cranes make annual return to San Luis Valley

March 4, 2014
Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In the San Luis Valley nature is now putting on one of its most memorable annual displays: the spring migration of greater sandhill cranes. In appreciation of this wildlife spectacle, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the 30th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration stopover at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing.”

The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground in Socorro, New Mexico. Large wetland areas and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds every year. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and fuel-up for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado.

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, having 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 elegant hopping dance as they attempt to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and are easy to spot. Wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and in the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.

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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge.

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 in the area.

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.

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:

To learn more about sandhill cranes, go to:

For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to:

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Rio Grande Basin Roundtable: The Rio Grande Basin Plan is essential to the Valley’s future #COWaterPlan

March 1, 2014
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable via the Valley Courier:

The last decade has brought many changes to Colorado’s water supply outlook. Even with the recent economic recession, the state will continue to experience significant population growth. Other pressures on Colorado’s water supply include: severe drought, meeting multiple needs (e.g., municipal, agricultural, environmental , and recreational) with existing resources, and agricultural impacts due to water shortages, urbanization and transfers to new uses.

The state’s river systems generate an average 16 million acre feet (AF) of renewable water each year, however two-thirds of this water is obligated to leave the state under various interstate compacts and agreements. In addition, of the 16 million AF, about 80 percent of the water is on the Western Slope, while approximately 80 percent of the state’s population resides on the Eastern Slope. Most of the irrigated agriculture lands are on the Eastern Slope as well. Colorado’s dry climate creates many challenges for water users, who frequently move water vast distances from its source to its area of use.

These types of challenges made the water law structure that is common in the eastern United States, (riparian law) unrealistic. Riparian law says that only those with land adjoining the stream have a right to use the stream water. Colorado adopted a different system – prior appropriation . This system is commonly summed up as “first in time, first in right.” This means that those with senior (older) rights can begin to use water before junior (newer) rights holders in times of water shortages. (CFWE, 2014)

Colorado needed a clear classification of law to recognize and protect water rights, with consistent administration and enforcement, yet with the flexibility to allow those rights to be transferred, sold, or exchanged. The Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a set of laws governing water use and land ownership adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s.

The four major principles are: All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities; A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources; Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use; and, Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of surface water and groundwater to meet owners’ water supply needs.

Today’s water managers are tasked with solving the state’s water issues against overwhelming obstacles. This why the State Water Plan is so important. The plan will provide a framework for water managers moving forward. The plan will allow for wise and thoughtful water supply planning that addresses critical issue within each basin securing future water needs across the state. The plan must be done in a manner that considers all solutions and addresses the varied water needs of Colorado and its citizens.

The Rio Grande basin Roundtable has been tasked with preparing a multidimensional basin plan for the upper Rio Grande. Water management is an issue that touches every resident in the San Luis Valley, particularly as it pertains to aquifer sustainability.

The basin’s water is under continuous curtailment as it works to meet Compact compliance. This is why water users in the basin keep water inventory current and are taking steps to ensure reservoirs can store constructed volumes. The Rio Grande Basin Plan will provide a variety of tools that all water administrators can use to preserve the social, cultural and economic resilience of the Rio Grande Basin. As the Water Administration goals are formed the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered. The most effective methods for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at www. riograndewaterplan.webs. com and; 3) attend any one of the five BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, Tom can be contacted at tom@ dinatalewater.comThis is the fourth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. VALLEY The last decade has brought many changes to Colorado’s water supply outlook. Even with the recent economic recession, the state will continue to experience significant population growth. Other pressures on Colorado’s water supply include: severe drought, meeting multiple needs (e.g., municipal, agricultural, environmental , and recreational) with existing resources, and agricultural impacts due to water shortages, urbanization and transfers to new uses.

The state’s river systems generate an average 16 million acre feet (AF) of renewable water each year, however two-thirds of this water is obligated to leave the state under various interstate compacts and agreements. In addition, of the 16 million AF, about 80 percent of the water is on the Western Slope, while approximately 80 percent of the state’s population resides on the Eastern Slope. Most of the irrigated agriculture lands are on the Eastern Slope as well. Colorado’s dry climate creates many challenges for water users, who frequently move water vast distances from its source to its area of use.

These types of challenges made the water law structure that is common in the eastern United States, (riparian law) unrealistic. Riparian law says that only those with land adjoining the stream have a right to use the stream water. Colorado adopted a different system – prior appropriation . This system is commonly summed up as “first in time, first in right.” This means that those with senior (older) rights can begin to use water before junior (newer) rights holders in times of water shortages. (CFWE, 2014)

Colorado needed a clear classification of law to recognize and protect water rights, with consistent administration and enforcement, yet with the flexibility to allow those rights to be transferred, sold, or exchanged. The Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a set of laws governing water use and land ownership adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s.

The four major principles are: All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities; A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources; Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use; and, Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of surface water and groundwater to meet owners’ water supply needs.

Today’s water managers are tasked with solving the state’s water issues against overwhelming obstacles. This why the State Water Plan is so important. The plan will provide a framework for water managers moving forward. The plan will allow for wise and thoughtful water supply planning that addresses critical issue within each basin securing future water needs across the state. The plan must be done in a manner that considers all solutions and addresses the varied water needs of Colorado and its citizens.

The Rio Grande basin Roundtable has been tasked with preparing a multidimensional basin plan for the upper Rio Grande. Water management is an issue that touches every resident in the San Luis Valley, particularly as it pertains to aquifer sustainability.

The basin’s water is under continuous curtailment as it works to meet Compact compliance. This is why water users in the basin keep water inventory current and are taking steps to ensure reservoirs can store constructed volumes. The Rio Grande Basin Plan will provide a variety of tools that all water administrators can use to preserve the social, cultural and economic resilience of the Rio Grande Basin. As the Water Administration goals are formed the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered. The most effective methods for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at http://www. riograndewaterplan.webs. com and; 3) attend any one of the five BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, Tom can be contacted at

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Rio Grande River: US siding with Texas?

February 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico could threaten the delivery of Rio Grande water to Texas, the federal government argued in a motion filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The motion dismisses arguments made by New Mexico in ongoing litigation with Texas over the river, with the U.S. government effectively taking Texas’s side in the case.

Be sure to click through to read the whole document with Mr. Fleck’s highlights.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Custer County Stockgrowers Association annual meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

February 27, 2014


From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

One of the most significant issues addressed during the meeting surrounded water. It is a problem not only for the county, but the state as a whole.

“Water ownership, immunization and management are the key issues with the water problems,” Kattnig explained.

“For us, water is vital to our Valley and our industry. We know we will have to change, but it is incumbent upon us as landowners to be at the table as these decisions are being developed.”

Local water laws were developed for the mining industry here, and as industrial utilization of water declined, agriculture became the biggest user. Today, given the size of Custer County’s population and voting strength, Kattnig said that water policies can be changed. These issues affect not only Custer County and the Arkansas River Basin, but also the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and the Platte River basins.

“People in San Diego and Los Angeles have a voice in water in the Colorado River,” Kattnig said, “and indirectly there is potential impact for water in Custer County. These water laws were made through legislation, and can be changed with legislation.”[...]

Among the dignitaries in attendance were the president of the Colorado Cattlemen Association, Gene Manuello, and the Director of the Southeast Quarter and past CCA president David Mendenhall. Together they produced information concerning Senate Bill 17, which covers the use of agriculture water transfer to new municipal developments. This bill limits the percentage of water used for lawn landscaping and to promote xeriscaping.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Water: How long will the Southwest’s acequias survive?

February 25, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Dartmouth study details threats to historic communal irrigation 


A patchwork of fields around Taos, New Mexico

Staff Report

FRISCO — The historic communal irrigation systems known as acequias Southwest are in decline as snowmelt dwindles and water priorities shift. Social and economic shifts favoring modernism over tradition, are also factors on the decline, according to a new study from Dartmouth College.

Similar trends have been observed in other parts of the world, where rural communities that once fended for themselves are becoming integrated into larger economies, which provide benefits of modern living but also the uncertainties of larger-scale market fluctuations. The study appears in the journal Global Environmental Change.

View original 299 more words

2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference recap

February 16, 2014

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Radishes and turnips are saving Valley water.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Subdistrict No. 1 Program Manager Rob Phillips said on Thursday during the final day of the 2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference he was confident producers with green manure in their crop rotations are utilizing irrigation water more efficiently.

At first , he said, the RGWCD was skeptical of 2013 potato circle pumping numbers because they were coming in very low, around 13 to 14 inches versus the average 15 to 20.

“But I can see why,” Phillips said to a full audience in Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Arena. “It (green manure) is building the soil.”

Planting green manure, also known as a cover crop if it is not incorporated into the Earth, is similar to placing an umbrella over the soil. The crops offer protection from water stressing erosion and weed growth, making the soil stronger to combat disease, insects and other environmental challenges through organic recycling and nutrient transfers.

These water saving crops include legumes, grasses and root crops like radishes and turnips, and green manure mixes of all kinds are showing up more and more in Valley crop rotations in response to the drought. During the growing season, living green manures retain soil moisture when crop transpiration rates are greatest and rainfall is seasonally at its lowest.

Residues left over from killed and incorporated green manures increase water infiltration and reduce water evaporation from the soil surface, specifically in no-till planting, and allow conservation tillage systems to provide moisture that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Covering the soil with green manures also reduces crusting and subsequent surface water runoff.

RGWCD Manager Steve Vandiver agreed on Thursday green manure is working to reduce the amount of Valley water pumped, and that it is an option producers should consider to meet reduced pumping goals.

“It’s a finite resource,” said Vandiver about the pivotal role water plays in the Valley’s economic structure. “If the aquifer goes away, you are going to be taken down with it… Be thoughtful about reducing your pumping overall. Let’s do more than required in these drought times.”

There are a variety of ways to incorporate green manure into traditional crop rotations .

In the Valley, summer green manure crops are often grown in time with cash crops and are irrigated to reach desired stages of growth. Some Valley producers are planting green manure crops in the fall, and their growth is subject to timing and rainfall once irrigation is shut off for the season. Although they are at the mercy of Mother Nature , non-irrigated green manure crops emerging before winter sets in are providing valuable biomass that assists water retention, prevents soil erosion and contributes to a healthy soil structure regardless of their size. In addition to the increasing green manure rotations in Valley fields, studies revolving around the most appropriate types of green manures for the area and their subsequent effects on nematodes in potato fields are also growing.

Agro Engineering agronomist Patrick O’Neill presented data at the conference on an intensive Colorado Potato Administration Committee (CPAC) sponsored test study looking at 500 plots containing 97 green manure varieties and/or mixes. The study’s goals, he said, include further understanding how green manure crops lend to water savings, biofumigation, weed suppression, nutrient recycling and overall soil health, and whether they will work for animal grazing or hay.

“Water limited irrigation systems mean there is more ground left out of cash crop cycles,” O’Neill said. “Cover crops can be used as a tool in the interim.”

He added, “Your farm’s situation is unique, and each field where cover crops are being considered should be addressed individually.”

During the 2012 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reported green manures use less than 17 inches of water a year, particularly when sordan grass is incorporated into the crop rotation. Green manures also proved to lower erosion rates and water use in their studies.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Center: ‘We haven’t sacrificed yield at all’ — Brendon Rockey

February 16, 2014

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Preaching to a slightly different choir, Center farmer Brendon Rockey shared with members of the Rio Grande Roundtable yesterday how his family’s farm has changed its agricultural practices to improve soil health and save water. He explained how Rockey Farms, in its third generation of San Luis Valley farmers, gradually moved away from traditional practices of using herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other “cides” to address threats to its potato crops. Now the farm uses a “pro” rather than “anti” approach , Rockey explained. He used the term biotic to describe the type of farming his family has embraced, beginning with his uncle’s “We are looking at the big picture,” he told members of the Valley-wide water group in Alamosa on Tuesday.

Rockey explained that the “cides” that farmers have been using over the years, including his family farm until recent years, were not only killing off the pests, fungi, weeds and nematodes that were causing problems for potato growers but were also killing off beneficial insects, fungi, plants and worms.

“A lot of those have a good ability to control diseases for us if we would let them,” Rockey said.

Many fungi will kill harmful nematodes for the farmers if they would use them instead of killing them. Also, 90 percent of the nematodes are beneficial , he said.

In addition to using “cides” problems ranging from insects to weeds, farmers have boosted production with synthetic fertilizers that have created the negative side effect of high concentrations of salt.

“Most of the problems we are dealing with today our problems we have created ourselves,” Rockey said.

With degraded soil structures came less efficient water use, Rockey added. For example, 20 years ago the sprinklers would sink in a particular potato field every year, and the farmers would blame the soil type in that field , when the real problem was waterlogged soil. With changes in the way the family farms now, that doesn’t occur, Rockey added. The soil is literally stronger. “We are still trying to control the same diseases but the approach is different,” Rockey said.

Now Rockey Farms adds rather than taking away, he explained. One of the ways the farming family does this is by adding soil primers such as companion crops like legumes and green manure crops that enrich the soil in rotation with potato crops.

“Did that have direct water savings? Green manure crops use less than 6 inches of water. We were also surprised how much water we saved on the potato crops.”

Rockey Farms could grow a potato crop on 14 inches, while the average water use for potato crops in the Valley is 18 inches. Using less water on the potato crops, and using it more efficiently, means less rot and blight as well, Rockey said. It also means less expense to the farmer, because running sprinklers costs money.

Other area where Rockey Farms has changed its practice is in the way it uses beneficial predators to fight insects such as aphids that are harmful to their crops. In the past the family would introduce aphid predators like lady bugs to the fields, but the beneficial predators would only stay a day and then leave because they needed more food diversity than the aphids to keep them there. The Rockeys are experimenting with diverse flowers that would help keep beneficial predators like ladybugs and lacewings in their fields longer.

“This next summer we are trying to figure ways to bring more flowers into potato crops,” Rockey said.

Rockey offered to share the lessons his family has learned over time with other farmers wishing to improve their soil health and reduce water consumption.

He concluded that the changes in farming practices have not adversely affected production.

“We haven’t sacrificed yield at all,” he concluded.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Endangered species listing for the Rio Grande cutthroat?

February 10, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Another possible endangered species listing is placing a high demand on the Valley’s resources, and it’s more than caught the attention of the six county governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) warranted but precluded , according to the Federal Register, Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish prior to making the next annual resubmitted petition 12-month finding.

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish, which is also found in New Mexico, is endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing, is scheduled for September, according to agency officials. For the next few months, the FWS will continue to monitor new information about the RGCT in addition to considering public comments.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (CCA) devoted much time to learn about the condition of the RGCT, and moved to set a work session in February to decide how they would support the long time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) led Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team (RGCT CT) efforts to keep the RGCT off any lists.

The RGCT CT’s findings and strategy suggest the potential listing is inappropriate , and an action that could affect the Valley’s economy and public and private land use while costing the six Valley counties thousands of dollars to accommodate on top of costs only starting to add up to fight a threatened or endangered ruling.

For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded.

Between 2003 and 2011, CPW expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts, according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

The RGCT CT’s undertakings are ongoing, and the group heads into 2014 monitoring 10 conservation populations and documenting new RGCT populations throughout the area, said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves on Monday. Longtime broodstock development also continues at Haypress Lake. Since 2005, CPW has stocked 86,000 to 143,000 RGCT in high lakes and streams for angler recreation or to create new conservation populations.

RGCT CT activities, Alves added, include genetic testing to determine species, purity and level of introgression with other cutthroat species. Populations with more than 90 percent RGCT are considered conservation populations and populations with more than 99 percent RGCT are considered core conservation populations used for developing broodstocks or new populations. Other activities, he said, are focused on habitat improvement using man-made barriers to secure RGCT populations from non-native fish, replacing culverts and mitigating livestock grazing and logging in addition to a myriad of public outreach initiatives.

Other federal and state agency funded conservation plans taking into consideration water, land and their uses that do not directly address RGCT habitat and population, but support the productivity of the Valley’s ecosystem as a whole, are already helping to maintain and preserve the environmental condition of the downstream land if the fish was capable of living in the warmer river waters cutting through the Rio Grande Basin. The RGCT CT and its supporters do not foresee such a scenario unfolding because the species is primarily found in cold streams and lakes.

“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD ) does not believe listing the RGCT as an endangered species is warranted in light of the current status of the RGCT and ongoing voluntary conservation efforts,” RGWCD General Manger Steve Vandiver stated in a letter to the FWS presented at the CAA meeting. “The RGWCD has supported the ongoing voluntary conservation efforts in the San Luis Valley and in the Rio Grande Headwaters.”

The voluntary efforts are the doing of governments and agencies in Colorado and New Mexico including the CPW, the FWS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management , the National Park Service, the Jicarilla Apache Nation,the Mescalero Apache Nation and the Taos Pueblo Waterchief. Colorado Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT) also support the efforts the CCA is considering signing onto next month in addition to looking at other possible county actions regarding listings based on a model partially started in the Valley.

Saguache County is facing the possible listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, an action that would touch 11 other Colorado counties. The governments, working with active sage-grouse groups including the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-Grouse Work Group, united last year to revise the species’ needs and actions to date, revisit strategy and consider the impacts of future federal intervention like potential road closures.

The collaborative, whose methods are appealing to the CCA and neighboring sage-grouse and RGCT listing threatened Hinsdale County, has made progress with the recent reintroduction of several sage-grouse on Poncha Pass, and they are maintaining . The FWS will be made aware of the reintroduction’s progress before making a ruling in March.

“The implications of a listing are very huge,” said Hindsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier about creating government, agency and community task forces via telephone during Monday’s meeting. “There are things we can do.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence, actual or potential. Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“Designating critical habitat outside the area currently occupied by RGCT would create an additional hardship for the residents of the San Luis Valley without providing any additional benefit to the RGCT,” Vandiver stated. “These residents already face the effect of a prolonged drought and the risk that the state may seek to restrict or curtail the operation of their irrigation wells, thus making it nearly impossible to continue successful farming or ranching operations.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide.

Some RGCT populations thrive on private Costilla County lands like the Trinchera Ranch, Alves said. Ute Creek, where the species was first discovered in 1857, runs through the now FWS conservation easement protected ranch, further complementing its reputation for protecting natural resources.

“This is a reason we have a good start on the conservation itself,” said Alves, commending the Trinchera Ranch for its vision to protect the RGCT, which some science points out is truly being conserved because of the introduction and poor management of nonnative trout species.

“The most significant threats are the presence of non-native trout and habitat loss,” stated Council of Trout Unlimited New Mexico Chair Arnold Atkins and Colorado Chair Rick Matsumoto in a letter to the FWS. “The effects of the presence of brown trout in a cutthroat stream have been documented in the scientific literature, and the experience of our members bears out what the literature tells us: once brown trout enter a stream, the native cutthroat disappear or are dramatically reduced in numbers, typically within a decade or less.”

In Colorado, and to a lesser degree in New Mexico, according to the Trout Unlimited letter, the presence of nonnative brook trout has had a similar effect.

“Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout or other cutthroat subspecies remains a significant threat, although the agencies have taken steps to reduce it, including stocking triploid rainbows or not stocking rainbows at all in watersheds where RGCT are found,” the chairmen wrote. “… Trout Unlimited’s objective is to ensure that the RGCT continues to exist and that RGCT populations are protected and restored over a broader and more resilient range of waters.”

The FWS is accepting comments at the following address : Susan Rogers Oetker, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd. NE Suite 200, Atlanta, Ga., 30345.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

#COWaterPlan will address the protection of agriculture

February 10, 2014
San Luis Valley via National Geographic

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From the Valley Courier:

Today’s agriculture landscape includes not just farming and ranching, but forestry, fruit cultivation, dairy, poultry, mushroom, bee keeping, marketing, processing, distribution of agricultural products etc. VALLEY For decades agriculture has been associated with the production of food crops. Accordingly, agriculture and farming were both one and the same, as long as farming was not commercialized. But as time In addition to food, agriculture also provides feedstuffs for livestock. This portion of agriculture ensures not only meat supplies, but also dairy products. Therefore, agriculture may be defined as the production, processing, marketing and distribution of crops and livestock products.

It is the agricultural sector that feeds this country’s trade. Products like wheat, soybeans, rice, cotton, tobacco etc. constitute the main items of exports from the US. Thus agriculture helps to balance foreign trade exchanges. Agriculture provides not only food and raw materials, but it also provides employment opportunities to a large proportion of population.

Colorado’s agriculture is no less important. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, “Agriculture is one of largest contributors to the state’s economy, supporting more than 173,000 jobs in Colorado, generates more than $40 billion of economic activity annually, and exported nearly $1.8 billion of food and agricultural products in 2012. Colorado ranks first in the nation in millet production, ranks in the top ten in the nation in nearly 25 commodities. There are over 1 billion eggs laid in Colorado each year. Cattle and Calves is Colorado’s number one agricultural commodity with 2.7 million head of cattle in the state. ”

It is safe to say that agriculture is a big deal in Colorado . It is for that reason the preservation of agriculture’s water is being addressed in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan will leverage and incorporate nine years of work that has been done by Colorado’s Basin Roundtables , the Inter Basin Compact Committee, and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The goal of the plan will be to determine how to implement water supply planning solutions that meet Colorado’s future water needs while supporting healthy watersheds and environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Agriculture is essential to Colorado’s economy and way of life. Yet, the state faces the potential for the permanent dry up of thousands of acres of farmland statewide, unless new solutions become implemented to address the looming gap between supply and demand. Agriculture represents more than 80 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, “Colorado’s Water Plan will develop a number of strategies designed to minimize the permanent buy-and-dry of irrigated agricultural land and begin to counter Colorado’s projected supply gap a gap potentially equivalent by 2050 to the amount of water necessary to supply all of Denver’s households for a full year.”

Some of these strategies include offering financial incentives for agriculture/ municipal partnerships that maintain land and water for agricultural uses, identifying alternatives to the permanent transfer of agricultural water to municipal use, and identifying the type and amount of infrastructure projects and methods to meet our current and future water supply needs. The Water Plan will be driven by input from each basin roundtable. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered during the Basin Implementation Plan process. The most effective method for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa); 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. and; 3) attend any one of the 5 BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, who can be contacted at It is suggested that input be submitted to the Basin Roundtable by February 28.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Water needs of minnow not met, environmentalists say — Albuquerque Journal

February 7, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

The “notices of intent” allege violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and start a 60-day clock ticking toward possible litigation. The notices highlight growing tensions between human water use and the Rio Grande’s natural ecosystem in what is shaping up to be the fourth consecutive year of drought, and set the stage for potentially bruising litigation this summer.

Human water diversions have left the Rio Grande ecosystem with too little water to maintain the minnow and other species that depend on the river’s flow, including the valley’s iconic cottonwoods, said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program coordinator for WildEarth Guardians.

Last year, the group filed a formal “notice of intent” that triggered negotiations with federal officials over environmental issues and river management, without litigation. Asked if WildEarth Guardians plans to actually file suit this time, Pelz on Tuesday said, “Yes.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two agencies named in the new filings, declined comment.

Human management of the Rio Grande, with dams upstream to regulate the river’s flow and levees to confine it to a narrow channel, have substantially changed the habitat for the minnow. The fish once lived from Española to the Gulf of Mexico, but is now only found in central New Mexico.

Low river runoff has caused minnow populations to crash further in recent years, according to data collected for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative program, a joint effort by local, state and federal water managers and users.

The potential for a fourth straight drought year poses serious risk for the endangered species, Pelz said in an interview. “The minnow has not spawned in the last three years,” Pelz said, “which is crucial to their recovery and survival.”

More than 95 percent of the fish found in surveys last summer came from hatcheries, which are being used to augment the dwindling natural fish population…

While the Endangered Species Act focuses on specific species, especially the minnow, more is at risk than just a single kind of fish, Pelz said. “The cottonwood forest is reliant on flood flows, and there being enough water in the river,” she said.

Water managers say they have been doing their best to meet the needs of the environment and farmers and other human water users, given the limited supply nature has to offer.

“We’re trying to find creative ways to get everyone what they need,” said David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the valley’s largest farm irrigation water provider.

Among the possibilities is the use of upstream dams to manage flows to create high flows in late spring for spawning, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Rio Grande basin manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. But no decisions about that can be made until April or May, Schmidt-Petersen said…

With a 60-day clock now started, WildEarth Guardians’ filings raise the possibility that key late spring water management decisions will be made in the midst of federal litigation, University of New Mexico law professor Reed Benson, an Endangered Species Act expert, pointed out. But it is not clear whether there is time for the court fight to influence how much water is used by humans or left in the river for fish in 2014, Benson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

“Colorado’s obligations under the ESA are ‘above and beyond’ the requirements of the compact” — Wildearth Guardians

February 3, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Wildearth Guardians has given notice that it plans to sue the state of Colorado over the amount of water pumped out of the Río Grande before it crosses into New Mexico each year. The group argues that irrigation in the San Luís Valley leaves so little water in the river that it imperils habitat of two endangered species — the Río Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Jennifer Pelz with Wildearth Guardians told The Taos News that while the lawsuit is based on requirements under the Endangered Species Act, it is meant to address the health of the Río Grande in general. “My focus is the river, the silvery minnow just happens to be the canary in the coal mine,” Pelz said.
Sporadic flows in the Río Grande have long alarmed environmentalists because of the effect on vegetation and wildlife that have adapted to the natural cycle of ups and down. The current drought has left some parts of the Río Grande dry, and diversions up and down the river have significantly altered its natural pattern.

River guides in Taos County have also taken issue with how water in the river is managed. Some have pointed out that Colorado irrigators pull out as much as 98 percent of the river during peak irrigation season, which often coincides with rafting season. They contend that low flows are killing business and hurting the local economy.

However, Colorado farmers point out that the drought is hurting them as well. Officials there point out that the state is still meeting its obligations under the Río Grande Compact, which spells out exactly how much water Colorado must deliver to the state line every year.
The notice from Wildearth Guardians contends that Colorado’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act are “above and beyond” the requirements of the compact.

Pelz said the notice is meant to bring Colorado into the discussion with wildlife managers and irrigation districts in New Mexico to talk about how to manage flows for the health of the river. “We’ve always known that [Colorado] had a role,” Pelz said. “Now is the time that everything is on the table.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here. More Rio Grande silvery minnow coverage here.

Rio Grande River Basin: ‘Asinine — That’s the best word I can think of’ — Ruth Heide

February 1, 2014
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The editor of the Valley Courier believes the WildEarth Guardians potential lawsuit is unwarranted and that the Rio Grande Compact is the law of the river. Click here to read the editorial from Ruth Heide Still Waters: Of minnows and men:


That’s the best word I can think of to describe the recent intent by the WildEarth Guardians to sue Colorado for not providing enough water downstream to keep the silvery minnow afloat.

What about the Rio Grande Compact do these folks not understand? We’re not hoarding our water up here at the headwaters just to dry up minnow habitat, for crying out loud. Colorado is keeping its part of the bargain of the longstanding interstate compact governing how the Rio Grande is managed from the headwaters in Colorado through New Mexico to Texas. We as a state have been complying with the terms of that compact for years. This past year we even sent more water downstream than we were required to, so we have a “credit” with our downstream neighbors.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Already stressed by a five-year drought, water use in the Rio Grande basin could be affected by legal action from downstream states. The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas against New Mexico and Colorado over groundwater pumping, primarily in New Mexico.

“Colorado’s belief is that this is not a compact issue,” said Craig Cotten, Water Division 3 engineer.

That decision came just days after Wild Earth Guardians filed its 60-day notice of intent to sue the state of Colorado in federal court over depletions of water in reaches of the Rio Grande in New Mexico considered critical to endangered species. The group charges that Colorado water administration has endangered habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board met with the attorney general’s office and other state agencies in executive session this week to discuss a state response.

The actions come at a time of advanced drought in the Upper Rio Grande in Colorado, Cotten said. Water supply for ditches and wells has suffered through 12 years of drought, including the last five where moisture has been less than 70 percent of normal.

About 75 percent of the 6,000 high-capacity wells in the San Luis Valley are active, but farmers are voluntarily cutting back production in hopes of reaching sustainable groundwater levels in 20 years, Cotten said. The state is attempting to draft groundwater rules for the Rio Grande after efforts failed during the 1980s. For farmers there is little choice.

“They can obtain groundwater augmentation plans, join a groundwater management subdistrict or shut off the wells,” Cotten explained.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Rio Grande River Basin: The US Supreme Court allows Texas lawsuit against New Mexico to go forward

January 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Albuequerque Journal (John Fleck):

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled Texas can proceed to the next step in its lawsuit against New Mexico over the use of Rio Grande water. The brief order suggests the court thinks it may have jurisdiction over the interstate water dispute, but the order invites New Mexico to shortcut a potentially lengthy proceeding by filing a motion to dismiss the action.

Texas has charged that groundwater pumping in New Mexico is draining water from the Rio Grande, depriving Texas water users of their share of the river. New Mexico counters that it is in full compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, the interstate water deal that divides the river’s waters, and that the Supreme Court has no business even taking up the case.

Today’s ruling is a step toward the Supreme Court giving Texas its day in court, but it leaves the door open for New Mexico to cut that courtroom time short.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Rio Grande Basin: WildEarth Guardians hope to snag higher springtime streamflow via a lawsuit against DWR

January 22, 2014
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Colorado’s use of Rio Grande water is depriving the river of spring flows needed to keep the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow alive, an environmental group charged in a legal notice filed this week.

The notice by the Santa Fe-based group WildEarth Guardians opens a new legal front in the struggle over environmental flows in the Rio Grande, a struggle that until now had focused on tradeoffs among water interests within New Mexico.

The filing, a formal notice of intent to sue the Colorado Department of Natural Resources over its water management on the Rio Grande, charges that irrigation in the San Luis Valley, north of the New Mexico-Colorado border, is significantly reducing the spring runoff peak, which the minnow depends on for spawning.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

‘There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down’ — LeRoy Salazar

January 20, 2014
Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A water purchase nearly four decades ago may provide a major solution in the current challenge to keep farmers in business in the San Luis Valley. Representatives from the San Luis Valley Irrigation Well Owners Inc. received unanimous support from the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday to perform a feasibility study to see if surface water rights they own can be used to offset depletion requirements for various groundwater management sub-districts throughout the Valley. The budget for the study is $180,000, with the local roundtable approving $8,000 of its basin funding for the project and supporting a request for $142,000 in statewide funds, which will be considered at the state level in March. The well owners group will provide $30,000 as its match.

The nonprofit well owners corporation was formed in 1973 to address groundwater rules and regulations that appeared imminent at the time, SLV Irrigation Well Owners Vice President Monty Smith told members of the Valley-wide roundtable group on Tuesday. In preparation for the rules/regs at that time, the well owners group, comprised of people who own irrigation wells, began an augmentation plan that incorporated the purchase of Taos Valley #3 water rights on the San Antonio River for augmentation water, Smith added.

“The augmentation plan was never completed and never needed to be used,” Smith explained.

“Thirty eight years later we find ourselves in a situation where we need to use that water and we need to complete the project.”

He added, “We feel this water is an absolutely crucial piece of our replacement for not only the Conejos area but it provides benefit for the entire basin. We need to figure how it can best be used.”

Agro Engineering Engineer Kirk Thompson provided more information about this potential water project and its importance to Valley water users, especially now that state groundwater rules and regulations for the Rio Grande Basin will soon be promulgated. Thompson said the Taos Valley #3 water rights were a relatively junior water right on the San Antonio dating to 1889. They were originally adjudicated for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and used for irrigation and storage. Since that time, however, a portion of the water rights was abandoned, leaving 245 cfs, which is what the well owners bought in 1976 for their augmentation plan. They converted 230 cfs of the 245 cfs total from irrigation to augmentation water and left the remaining 15 cfs in irrigation, Thompson explained. The well owners are considering converting that 15 cfs into augmentation water as well.

The well owners bought the water for the purpose of augmenting injurious depletions in the streams resulting from well pumping, Thompson said. Since 1976, the 230 cfs, also known as the Middlemist water, has been left in the San Antonio for the benefit of the entire river system, Thompson said. Since the state did not promulgate groundwater rules in the 1970′s , there was no formal requirement for augmentation in the intervening 38 years, he added.

Since this was a junior water right, some years the Middlemist water produced zero effect on the river system, and in other years it provided as much as 29,000 acre feet, Thompson said. Most years averaged about 10,000 acre feet of water from this water right to the river systems.

“This is a significantly large amount of water we are talking about and a valuable consideration as we move forward,” Thompson said.

Thompson reminded the attendees at the Tuesday roundtable meeting that the state is in the process of promulgating rules governing groundwater use in the San Luis Valley, and wells will no longer be allowed to pump unless their injurious depletions to surface rights are covered in a groundwater management sub-district or augmentation plan. Thompson said the state engineer’s goal is to have the rules/regulations to the water court by this spring, and Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten confirmed that in his report to the roundtable.

Cotten also confirmed that the well owners’ augmentation plan would have to go back to court, since it never was finalized in the ’70′s . The plan would have to be more specific on how it would provide augmentation and would have to prove it could deliver water where it needed to go, he said.

Thompson said the well owners group wants to perfect its Middlemist/Taos Valley #3 water right so that water can be used for augmentation purposes in a way that will benefit well owners in sub-districts throughout the Valley. Individual augmentation plans for every well owner would not be realistic at this point, so most well owners plan to join sub-districts as a means of meeting the pending state regulations. The purpose of the well owners’ project is to consider ways in which their surface water right could benefit those sub-districts , Thompson explained.

“As of today, there’s certainly not enough augmentation water currently perfected to go around and ” will be in very short supply and probably at high value,” Thompson said.

He said the average total depletions that well owners throughout the entire basin will have to replace will be about 30,000 acre feet every year. If the approximately 10,000 acre feet the Middlemist water produces every year could be used to offset those depletions, it could amount to about a third of the annual requirement.

Smith said, “This is a way to carry on our living and our way of life that we all enjoy in this Valley and to keep the Valley a viable place to live. I have farmed my entire life. I am third generation. My goal is to be able to continue to preserve my wells, to replace my injuries to the streams. This is one piece in that puzzle to bring that all together.”

The group asked the roundtable for help in funding a hydrologic feasibility study to consider the potential for using the Taos Valley #3 water for either surface water storage or groundwater recharge. Thompson said storage options are limited, so he believed recharge was a more viable option. The feasibility study would look at how the recharge could be accomplished so the water would go into the ground where it was needed to replace injurious depletions. The study would look at both confined and unconfined recharge options..

Those who will be involved in conducting the feasibility study will be Thompson of Agro Engineering, Eric Harmon of HRS Water Consultants, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering and in an advisory capacity, Steve Vandiver of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District , the sponsoring entity for the water management sub-districts .

The study would be the first of a multi-phased project . Phase 2 would look at physical infrastructure to get surface water where it needs to go, and the third phase would involve the court process to perfect the water right as an augmentation right, Thompson explained.

He said the well owners want to begin some wintertime well monitoring right away, using their $30,000 match. They want to begin this study as soon as possible since Harmon envisions the feasibility phase as taking a full year.

“If we don’t have the feasibility done this year we are talking another one or two years to get into the courts,” Thompson said. “If rules are released this spring, the subdistricts are under the gun to get formed and under the gun to find sources of water to replace injurious depletions in short order.”

LeRoy Salazar added, “There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down ” We don’t have a lot of time.”

Salazar said this project is key to replacing injurious depletions to surface water rights; creating a sustainable water table; and maintaining the Valley’s economy.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Drought news: Another dry year for the San Luis Valley? #COdrought

January 18, 2014

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s still early in the snowfall season, but at this point water administrators are predicting another below-average year.

“Most of our stations in the Valley are 80-90 percent,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten reported this week. The San Antonio site is at 66 percent, while Ute Creek is 99 percent of normal, he said, “but every day we don’t have snow that goes down.”

He added, “We are projecting another below-average year at this point for most of the rivers and streams here in the Valley, but we do have some months still to go. If we do get some moisture, we can definitely get above that 100 percent.”

Cotten said both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems were below average last year. The Conejos system produced about 152,000 acre feet or about half of the 300,000-acre-foot average, and the Rio Grande ran at 460,000 acre feet, also substantially less than the long-term average of 650,000 acre feet annual index.

The good news was that Colorado met its obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact, Cotten said. The state ended the 2013 year with a credit, he said. The exact numbers will be finalized during an engineer advisors’ meeting next month and ratified during the annual Rio Grande Compact meeting in Santa Fe in March.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released its first water forecast for the year. The NRCS is predicting limited water supply west of the Continental Divide and normal water supply east of the Continental Divide.

“Right now the West Coast is all red,” NRCS Hydrologist Tom Perkins said. “Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry.”

He added, however, “But that could all change by the end of the season. This is early in the season who knows? It always changes.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West.

As of the first part of this month, the Rio Grande basin snowpack was in the 80 to 100 percent of normal range according to NRCS, with the same range in most of the basins in the state. The Upper Rio Grande basin currently has some of the lowest forecasts in the state. San Antonio River at Ortiz is forecast to flow at 66 percent of average for the April to September period and the Los Pinos River near Ortiz is expected to run at 77 percent of average for the same period. However, the Rio Grande at Thirty Mile Bridge is expected to run at 94 percent of average.

Snow accumulation in the mountains was above normal during October, November and early December, with the second half of December much drier.

NRCS State Conservationist Phyllis Ann Philipps was encouraged by the early winter moisture.

This is a great start to the 2014 water year,” she said. “As we saw in 2012 and ¦ See DRY page 3 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season; so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years.”

Snowpack totals for January 1 for the Rio Grande basin were at 99 percent of the median, an improvement over last year when the snowpack was just 67 percent of median on January 1.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver was also encouraged by moisture last fall that provided some recovery in the Valley’s aquifers.

The unconfined aquifer study prepared by Davis Engineering for many years reflected a recovery during the August-October time frame last year. Vandiver said there’s only been one other year, 2006, in quite some time that showed that same type of recovery. The unconfined aquifer study area reflected a jump of 80,000-85 ,000 acre feet, Vandiver said.

This proves “the aquifer can recharge if we have the water and we reduce the pumping,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act

December 29, 2013
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important ”river law” topics is the application of the Endangered Species Act to water management and use. The ESA is a crucial law for western rivers because it has been far more influential than anything else in making the environment a relevant factor in water management, especially in the operation of federal water projects. And federal river restoration efforts are overwhelmingly driven by ESA considerations.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

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

December 24, 2013
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Lower Rio Grande Basin Study Shows Shortfall in Future Water Supply

December 23, 2013
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor released the Lower Rio Grande Basin Study that evaluated the impacts of climate change on water demand and supply imbalances along the Rio Grande along the United States/Mexico border from Fort Quitman, Tex., to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Basin studies are an important element of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART initiative and give us a clearer picture of the possible future gaps between water demand and our available supplies,” Commissioner Connor said. “This study of the lower Rio Grande basin will provide water managers with science-based tools to make important future decisions as they work to meet the region’s diverse water needs. In addition, the study will help inform water management discussions between the U.S. and Mexico through the International Boundary Water Commission.”

Among the findings and conclusions of the Lower Rio Grande Basin Study:

  • Climate change is likely to result in increased temperatures, decreased precipitation and increased evapotranspiration in the study area. As a result of climate change, a projected 86,438 acre-feet of water per year will need to be added to the 592,084 acre-feet per year of supply shortfall predicted in the existing regional planning process in 2060, for a total shortfall of 678,522.
  • Water supply imbalances exacerbated by climate change will greatly reduce the reliability of deliveries to all users who are dependent on deliveries of Rio Grande water via irrigation deliveries.
  • The Study includes an acknowledgment that all water management strategies recommended through the recently adopted regional water plan are part of a needed portfolio of solutions for the Study Area.
  • Seawater desalination, brackish groundwater desalination, reuse and fresh groundwater development were examined as alternatives to meet future water demands. The study found that brackish groundwater development was most suitable. Further analysis was conducted; it was found that regional brackish groundwater systems would best meet the planning objective. An appraisal-level plan formulation and evaluation process was conducted to determine potential locations of each regional brackish groundwater desalination system.

    The Lower Rio Grande Basin Study was developed by Reclamation and the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority and its 53 member entities. It was conducted in collaboration with the Texas Region M Planning Group, Texas Water Development Board, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and International Boundary and Water Commission. It covered 122,400 square miles. The study cost $412,798 with the RGWRA paying for 52 percent of it.

    The basin study was conducted as part of WaterSMART. WaterSMART is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. Basin studies are comprehensive water studies that define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the western United States where imbalances in water supply and demand exist or are projected to exist. Since the program’s establishment, 19 basins have been selected to be evaluated. For more information see

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    Rio Grande Basin Roundtable: Narrowing Colorado’s Water Gap in the Rio Grande Basin #COWaterPlan

    December 22, 2013
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the Valley Courier:

    NOTE This is the first of monthly articles from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan.

    Since the 2002-2003 drought, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has undertaken a comprehensive study of Colorado’s water. The study known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 recognized that water supply is limited and as Colorado continues to grow the need is out pacing the supply. The study identified Colorado’s current and future water needs through the year 2030 and further examined approaches that could be taken to meet those needs.

    That was 2004, with the support of the General Assembly in 2006; SWSI 2 supplemented the original findings by adding technical work on water conservation, alternatives to agricultural water transfers and meeting the environmental needs of the state. SWSI brought together a collaborative approach to the resolution of these issues by establishing the basin roundtables . The roundtables were to bring together a diverse group of partners whose role was to educate and collabo- rate on water planning issues.

    These efforts were codified by Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. The act also established the 27 member Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC) which serves as an intermediary to facilitate communication between the basin roundtables . Subsequently, the basins were charged with the development of a consumptive and nonconsumptive needs assessment along with proposing projects to meet those needs.
    SWSI was updated in 2010. The elements of the update included an analysis of water supply demands to 2050, a summary of the nonconsumptive needs within each basin, an examination of the water supply and availability in the Colorado River Basin, implementation plans that were tied to identified water projects, water conservation , agricultural transfers and the development of new water supplies.

    The key findings of SWSI 2010 showed that by 2050, agriculture would still be the primary user of water at 82 percent (which is down from the current 86 percent).; 15 percent would be used by municipal and industrial users, while the remaining 3 percent would be used by self-supplied industry.

    The study highlighted continued shortages for agricultural producers in all basins, which could mean a decline in irrigated acres. The study outlined significant increases in municipal demand due to a near doubling of the state’s population growing from 5 million to nearly 10 million by 2050.

    The study also identified the Front Range as being the most populous with 80 percent of the population located along its flanks. The western slope, however, would experience the fastest growth rate, establishing a need of between 600,000 and 1 million acre feet of additional water per year by 2050. An increasing energy demand in the state would also require more water.

    Supply was also examined and localized shortages were identified. The Colorado basin was identified as a possible source for new supply since compact entitlements were not fully utilized. The study further noted that between now and 2050, there needed to be a decreased reliance on ground water in order to reach a level of sustainability and reliability for future population demands. As a result of SWSI, more is known about future water demands and available supplies . It is a given that “the Gap” is widening between supply and demand. In May of 2013, Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order that directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan. The CWCB has tasked both the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables with the development of Basin Water Plans. The plans will reflect a grassroots dialogue and consensus that will be necessary for the development and implementation of a robust and meaningful state-wide water plan. The timeline for final Basin Implementation Plans and, ultimately, Colorado’s Water Plan is established through distinct benchmarks that will need to be met. The purpose of the Basin Implementation Plans is to address the gaps identified in SWSI 2010. The plans will be prepared under the direction of the basin roundtables and will build on local input and planning efforts. The Basin Implementation Plans will provide a mechanism for basin roundtable members and other stakeholders to work together to overcome potential project implementation constraints, effectively implement water projects that achieve designated regional water management objectives, and address the basins’ water supply gaps.

    In addition, the plan processes will identify prospects and limitations within the basins for meeting water supply gaps, all the while considering the basins’ variable hydrologydry , average , and wet conditions. The plan will identify sources of water used in most basins including native water (surface and tributary groundwater), trans-basin water, water used by exchange, reuse, nontributary groundwater, and reservoir storage. This will result in a basin water operations summary, which will help basin roundtables and will add a better understanding of which projects and methods may be successful in meeting both the consumptive and non-consumptive gaps. This effort will form a foundation for future SWSI updates. Each Basin Roundtable is charged with developing its own plan. These Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) will then be incorporated into Colorado’s Water Plan. The basin roundtables are at varying stages of developing their basin specific plans. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has committed the following resources to this effortCWCB staff and the SWSI planning contractor will assist the basin roundtables in developing their plans. The basins will be allowed to tap their Water Supply Reserve Account at both the basin and state levels. This will help to ensure that the plans are in-depth and address the specific hydrologic complexities of each basin. The CWCB has established a timeline for the Basin Roundtables during this Basin Implementation Plan effort…

    The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable is busy gathering data for the development of the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. The Roundtable has contracted with DiNatale Water Consultants for the research and preparation of the basins plan and has set-up an operational oversight “steering” committee. The steering committee has put together a set of subcommittees to gather data and public input within their specific areas of expertise and interest. The sub-committees are as follows: education and outreach, agriculture, water administration, municipal and industrial and nonconsumptive .

    The most important part of the plan is that it is a grassroots effort. This means that the development of the plan requires input and involvement from stakeholders…

    The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, who can be contacted at tom@dinatale

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Antonito water system in non-compliance

    December 19, 2013
    The water treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From the Valley Courier (Jesse Medina):

    Town residents are concerned over a number of water violations that the town of Antonito has incurred within the past few months. The topic was put forth to the Antonito town board at their monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 12. The state is imposing penalties on the town for using Town Administrator Rossi Duran to operate their water systems without a license. Duran has been operating without a license since August , and the town’s waste and distribution licenses expired in 2012. The town has failed to comply with having a certified operator responsible in charge requirement to operate the Antonito water distribution facility. According to state law, every facility, domestic or industrial, that manages wastewater, water collection systems and distribution systems must be supervised by a certified operator. The town was required to submit proof of having a licensed operator by October 30.

    Duran had received a letter from the State Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Control Division stating the town is in violation of Colorado Primary Drinking Water regulations and could receive a $1,000 if the town fails to complete compliance requirements. The town has been notified that it is in violation of several other policies and has been for several years, going back to 2008.

    The town received several notices from the state ordering them to halt their water testing practices, which are not in accordance with state regulations. Antonito Mayor Michael Trujillo was sent a letter calling for a cease and desist on water regulatory practices in the town. The letter requires the town to submit an answer to the water quality division that either admits or denies the findings on the violations. Trujillo said that a response was sent and that the town is doing the best it can to comply with the state. Several residents voiced their opinions regarding the violations and how the town is planning to address these charges. Resident Ronald Hope asked Trujillo if he was aware of the violations and if the board had received letters from the state informing the town of the nature of the violations and the potential repercussions of continuing to operate out of policy.

    “I just want to know if the board is aware of the violations in question. We have an unlicensed water tester working for the city and we need a new one that is qualified. The board needs to do something about this,” said Hope. Trujillo said that the town was aware of the violations and of the length of time that these violations have been occurring.

    “We are working on trying to solve this problem. We have to look at this and work on it as a community because this affects all of us,” said Trujillo.

    The board did not make any decision regarding the violations, and suggested that a workshop be conducted to discuss, and come to a solution , for complying with state water regulations.

    Antonito water has been scrutinized since the Guadalupe water test came back positive for E. coli in November . Only one test came back positive, but it raised some concern amongst residents and brought the town’s past violations into question.

    From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Residents of Antonito are worried about their water quality after the town was notified it failed to comply with state water regulations for months. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sent a letter threatening to penalize the town for allowing town administrator Rossi Duran to operate the town’s water systems without a license.

    At a meeting last week, resident Ronald Hope asked Antonito Mayor Michael Trujillo if he was aware of the violations. City officials acknowledged that Duran has been operating without a license since August, and the town’s waste and distribution licenses expired in 2012.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    “It’s obvious there isn’t anything like” the Rio Grande — Gabriel Eckstein

    December 16, 2013
    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Here’s a report about Rio Grande River administration from Julián Aguilar writing for The New York Times. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Researchers say the Rio Grande is one of the most studied and controversial bodies of water in North America. But with various levels of government in two countries making decisions that influence it, the Rio Grande has become the subject of interstate and international legal battles that have intensified during the continuing drought.

    “It’s obvious there isn’t anything like” the Rio Grande, said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and the director of the International Water Law Project. “It’s a border river amongst U.S. states and internationally. You just have so many stakeholders with different jurisdictions and laws that apply.”[...]

    It is at the New Mexico border where water needs and individual interpretations of laws create one controversy. New Mexico and Texas are embroiled in a lawsuit over groundwater extraction. Texas argues its neighbor is allowing excessive pumping, reducing the flow of the Rio Grande into Texas.

    A 1938 compact between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas governs how much of the river’s water the states are allotted. Mr. Eckstein says that the compact does not consider different state practices.

    “Are they allowed to do it? That’s a different question,” he said. “New Mexico has a different law for groundwater versus surface water, and it’s unclear whether the compact relates to that.”

    As the Rio Grande continues southeast, intrastate needs create more domestic discord. Tom Miller, the director of the Lamar Bruni Vergara Environmental Science Center in Laredo, said people there are monitoring a proposal by the city of San Antonio that would pipe in water from the San Felipe Springs in Val Verde County. The springs feed the river, and Mr. Miller said the action would harm one of the few hundred springs left in a state that once had thousands.

    “We’re very concerned about this intrabasin transfer of water,” said Mr. Miller, whose Webb County office is just feet from the Rio Grande’s banks. “How will it affect the general water table of the river, and will it lower so that the water will have a harder time being delivered to the intended recipients? How will it affect ours?” San Antonio officials say considering the option is necessary to help satisfy its growth needs, which have been magnified by the drought.

    The clearest example of how international politics affects the Rio Grande is a 1944 water treaty between the United States and Mexico. The treaty states that Mexico must provide the United States surface water from Mexican tributaries that feed into the river. In turn, the United States is to deliver water from the Colorado River. Mexico is supposed to provide 1.75 million acre-feet of water every five years. American officials contend that Mexico should supply 350,000 acre-feet annually, unless prevented by extreme environmental circumstances. Others say Mexico can make good on its delivery at any point during the cycle.

    Sally Spener, a foreign affairs specialist with the El Paso-based International Boundary and Water Commission, said that as of Nov. 23, the supply deficit was 275,000 acre-feet, down from 484,000 in June.

    The deficit prompted Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Republicans of Texas, to file legislation urging Mexico to comply and Gov. Rick Perry to write the Obama administration with a similar demand.

    But Mexico has not technically violated the treaty. And in certain areas along the Rio Grande, its tributaries are the main supplier of water. Mexico also cites the drought as one reason it continues to hold on to its supply.

    At Falcon Lake, a massive reservoir that straddles Mexico at Tamaulipas State and Webb and Zapata Counties in Texas, more than 80 percent of the water that is distributed comes from Mexico, Mr. Miller said…

    Mr. Eckstein said that bureaucratic hurdles also affect what stakeholders know about the river and how it is fed. Transnational aquifers, he said, are a mystery because data is not shared across the border. Knowing how many aquifers span the border would inform public use practices and legislation, he said, citing the basics of the hydrological model.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: Pumping down 30,000 acre-feet from 2012

    December 16, 2013
    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

    VALLEY Pumping in the Valley’s first sub-district is down 95,000 acre-feet from 2011, and 30,000 acre-feet from last year. Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program General Manager Steve Vandiver said during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting on Tuesday afternoon the fees for the 2013 irrigation year were tallied up last month, totaling $7.1 million, down a touch from last year. About 168,000 irrigated acres were charged for 230,000 acre-feet of water pumped.

    Sub-district No. 1 affects 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners, and lies north of the Rio Grande in what is known as the Closed Basin area within Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties . Its purpose includes repairing the damage from well users to surface water rights, helping the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states and replenishing the Valley’s underground aquifers.

    “It’s not like the well owners in that area aren’t doing something,” Vandiver said. “It is working well.” One problem unveiled this year, he said, was found in some well metering systems, but alternative methods were used to obtain pumping data.

    One problem solved this year, he added, was figuring out how some government entities like the Center Conservation District existing within the sub-district pay their dues since they are tax-exempt. The Colorado State University San Luis Valley Research Center, however, has not reached an agreement with the sub-district .

    The pumping decline complements the snowfall of late, which Division 3 Water Engineer Craig Cotton said is between 130 and 140 percent of the annual average.

    “We are looking better than we have in a number of years,” Cotton said. “We still have a lot of winter to go… hopefully we will get more snow.”

    While the Valley waits to see what will happen this season, preparations for water challenges in the future are being addressed. Vandiver said the RGWCD is moving forward with meetings regarding the creation of more Valley sub-districts and groundwater rules and regulations, which are scheduled for adoption next spring. “We are pushing really hard to get started (with the new sub-districts ),” Vandiver said. “Those participating in a sub-district or participating in an augmentation plan need to pay attention (to the groundwater rules and regulations). It is a pretty important time.”

    He added, “There is power in the sub-district . We can do it as a group instead of one-on-one , and it makes a lot of sense.”

    The Division of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct meetings today regarding several proposed Valley sub- districts. The meetings will discuss the modeling results and the replacement and sustainability requirements of the sub-districts , and are as follows:

  • Saguache and San Luis Creek Sub-districts , 9:30 a.m., Saguache County Road and Bridge Department
  • Alamosa La Jara Subdistrict , 1:30 p.m., Monte Vista Coop
  • Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , 7 p.m., Monte Vista Coop The San Luis Valley Advisory Committee to the state engineer concerning rules and regulations for ground water use in the Rio Grande Basin meets tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and, Vandiver said, all water users are encouraged to attend.
  • In addition, the RGWCD purchased a property within the sub-district boundaries with two irrigation wells and Rio Grande Canal water rights, he said. The parcel will be placed in a permanent forbearance plan.

    “This is certainly very helpful to Sub-district No. 1,” Vandiver said. outdoor recreation opportunities . A complete list of grant awards is available at

    GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife , rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support . The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided between GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund and school construction. Projects in Saguache County have received more than $13.1 million in GOCO funds over the years.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment Reveals Potential Growing Gap in Water Supply and Demand

    December 13, 2013
    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    Increasing temperatures and changes in the timing of snowmelt runoff could impact the amount of water available on the upper Rio Grande in the future. These are some of the results of the Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment released by Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle.

    “This report uses the most current information and state of the art scientific methodology to project a range of future supply scenarios in the upper Rio Grande basin,” Castle said. “It is a great first step and a call to action for water managers and users in the basin and the partner federal agencies to move forward and develop adaptation to the challenges this study brings to light.”

    The study was conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It includes a detailed evaluation of the climate, hydrology and water operations of the upper Rio Grande basin of Colorado and New Mexico. Also included is an evaluation of the potential impacts associated with climate change on streamflow, water demand and water operations in the basin.

    Temperatures will increase four to six degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century, according to the climate modeling used in the study. Although the modeling projects that total annual average precipitation in the basin will not change considerably, we are likely to see a decreasing snowpack, an earlier and smaller spring snowmelt runoff and an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of both droughts and floods.

    The models used for the study consistently project an overall decrease in water availability in the basin. Rio Grande supplies are projected to decrease by an average of one-third from current supplies. The water supply from the San Juan-Chama Project, which is imported to the Rio Grande, is projected to decrease by an average of one-quarter.

    All of these impacts would contribute to a larger gap between water supply and demand and lead to future water management challenges for the Bureau of Reclamation and other water managers within the upper Rio Grande basin.

    The URGIA is the first impact assessment to be completed by Reclamation as part of the Westwide Climate Risk Assessments through the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program. Impact assessments are reconnaissance-level investigations of the potential hydrologic impacts of climate change in the major river basins of the Western United States. Through WaterSMART, Reclamation is also able to conduct a more in-depth basin study in conjunction with state and local partners that would develop options and strategies to address supply and demand imbalances.

    The WaterSMART Program focuses on improving water conservation, sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. It identifies strategies to ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water supply and demand.

    To read the report or learn more about WaterSMART please visit

    More Rio Grande Basin coverage here and here.

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

    November 30, 2013
    Students pulling samples

    Students pulling samples

    From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More education coverage here.

    The Rio Grande Basin roundtable ponies up $100,000 for Acequia del Cerro piping project

    November 17, 2013
    Acequia del Cerro, San Luis

    Acequia del Cerro, San Luis

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Water leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved $100,000 for an acequia rehabilitation project near San Luis.

    Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson explained that Acequia del Cerro’s application originally included a $400,000 request for funding administered statewide through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Each river basin receives an allotment to distribute, as well, and that is where the $100,000 will come from. Gibson said the criteria for the state-administered funds have changed so this project no longer fit the criteria. Statewide funds can only be distributed to projects with statewide benefit now, he explained.

    The local water leaders comprising the roundtable board have discretion over how they spend money allocated from the state to the basin account, however, so the group voted to provide $100,000 locally for the acequia project.

    Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is funding the $400,000 shortfall the state declined to provide for the project, Gibson explained. This will be funded through the NRCS’ Targeted Conservation Funds. NRCS is also providing $200,000 for the acequia project through EQUIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) funding.

    Consultant Diana Cortez described the acequia project to the roundtable on Tuesday. Acequia del Cerro is a 10-mile long system constructed in 1880, she explained. It is comprised of two systems, the north and south channels serving 82 water users and irrigating 1,880 acres of hay, grass, row crops and vegetable gardens between ¦ See ACEQUIA pg 3 Chama and La Vega Commons in San Luis. Acequia del Cerro consists of about five miles of earthen ditch and five miles of concrete ditch. It is the longest and most complex irrigation system in southern Costilla County.

    The part of the project for which El Cerro Ditch Company requested funding is located at the bottom part of the system and will replace 1,900 linear feet of concrete starting about 20 feet from the main head gate. Cortez said the $100,000 funding from the roundtable is a portion of the entire project, which is divided into phases. This funding will be used in Phase I, which is $138,510 including the roundtable grant, $33,000 of the funding from NRCS and the remainder from in-kind and cash matches. The entire project will exceed $1 million and will encompass 15,000 linear feet of pipeline to rehabilitate the northern ditch “to assure proper water control, eliminate water loss and provide irrigation water to all landowners,” as stated in the funding application.

    “Costilla County is experiencing drought and in many cases, significant crop loss due to insufficient water from the Culebra Watershed. In addition to the drought, the landowners along the Acequia del Cerro are operating with a malfunctioning irrigation water system. With the implementation of this rehabilitation project, the Acequia del Cerro landowners will have a fully functioning irrigation system that will greatly reduce high sediment loads, promote cost effectiveness by minimizing maintenance , and provide increased operational flexibility. With the installation of the HPDE pipeline, the landowners will experience high flow capacity, elimination of bank erosion and sediment loading in the irrigation water and optimizing existing and future water supply needs for all landowners on the Culebra watershed.”

    Cortez explained to the roundtable that the old concrete ditch in use now will continue to exist, and the new project will be constructed alongside it. The new ditch will include a pipeline. Cortez said irrigators will still be able to use the old ditch while the new one is constructed so irrigation will not be disrupted during construction, which is projected to begin next spring.

    She added that once the new project is complete, the old ditch would be maintained to catch sediment and rock that comes down off the hill.

    “We feel it’s a valuable project,” Cortez told the roundtable members. In the ditch company’s application , the value of this project was described: “The sustainability of the Rio Culebra Agricultural Co-op and local farming methods that include heirloom seed products and organic grass and hay for cattle feed, may serve as a model for other parts of the state where irrigation water is either insufficient due to the drought conditions or to low efficiency of water use. With the rehabilitation of the Acequia del Cerro, which will provide a managed distribution, timed controlled and monitored water and irrigation system, the landowners feel that crop production will increase even in years of drought. The area associated with the project will essentially remain as it is now, providing wildlife habitat and a scenic landscape for visitors to this historic area of Colorado that demonstrates how the early Hispanic settlers of the area farmed and irrigated their lands.”

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

    Dick Wolfe to San Luis Valley pumpers — [Lacking sub-district plan or augmentation] ‘You are going to get shut off’

    November 4, 2013
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Wells will be shut down. Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Deputy State Engineer Michael Sullivan reminded the large crowd attending a well rules advisory committee meeting on Thursday they mean business about implementing groundwater regulations.

    “You are going to get shut off,” Wolfe responded to a question on Thursday about what will happen to irrigators who neither have an augmentation plan in place nor belong to an organized water management sub-district after the grace period for the groundwater regulations is over.

    “That’s the intent of the rules. We made it very clear. There are three options: groundwater management plan accepted by the court, like a sub-district; augmentation plan; or you get shut off.”

    Sullivan reiterated, “You form a sub-district, get an augmentation plan or you turn the wells off and go to Hawaii or wherever you go and quit irrigating.”

    Although it has been two and a half years since the well rules advisory committee met, the timeline for state regulations of groundwater use in the Rio Grande Basin is now moving rapidly forward.

    Wolfe and Sullivan said they expect to have all the pieces of the rules in place in about six months. The rules would then be submitted to water court for approval. The groundwater rules will affect thousands of wells throughout the Rio Grande Basin, encompassing the San Luis Valley. Domestic wells are exempt, but most irrigation, commercial and municipal wells will be covered under the rules.

    Whether or not there are protests to the rules and delays through the courts, the time clock for compliance with the rules starts ticking when they are submitted to the court, they said. That is when they are considered promulgated, Wolfe and Sullivan explained. Wolfe said the rules are effective 60 days after they are published with the water court. The state engineer has built in timelines for people to comply with the rules. For example, irrigations have one year following the promulgation of the rules to get an augmentation plan filed with the court or join a sub-district .

    “We have built into this some realistic and achievable benchmarks people can meet,” Wolfe said. He recognized that many people are already making decisions about what they are going to do to comply with the state rules.

    “These rules are coming. They are going to be put in place, and if you don’t meet these benchmarks, drastic things are going to happen.”

    “You can start now,” Sullivan encouraged irrigators in regards to becoming a part of a sub-district or submitting their own augmentation plan. He said if someone gambled on court delays holding the rules in abeyance, that person would probably lose.

    “If you don’t meet your benchmarks, you are basically done,” he said.

    Wolfe said he hoped there would not be any protests to the rules because he has given the public every opportunity to be involved in the rule-making process. He added, “and the legislature told us this is what we have got to do. If this fails, something will happen. The legislature will have to step in. I am very confident we will get through this.”

    He said it is possible the court could remand the rules back for corrections and refinement, but he was hopeful that all of the work upfront and all of the public involvement beforehand would result in success.

    Wolfe also encouraged those who are forming subdistricts throughout the San Luis Valley to get them organized and not wait until the groundwater rules are promulgated. Data is available now, or will be in the next few months, for the remaining sub-districts to become organized and develop plans for water management.

    One of the biggest factors for the delay in subdistrict and groundwater rules implementation has been the refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System, the computer model used to calculate depletions from well users to surface water rights, streams and the aquifers. The groundwater model now has most of the data available for the sub-districts to proceed.

    Wolfe encouraged those attending Thursday’s meeting to email his office with suggestions on how the proposed regulations could be improved. He and his staff reviewed the proposed rules and the changes that had been made since the last advisory committee meeting more than two years ago.

    Wolfe and his staff will return to the San Luis Valley the end of November or first part of December for another advisory committee meeting.

    More San Luis Valley Groundwater coverage here and here.

    Denver-area businessman gets jail sentence and fines for placing unauthorized structures in Sheep Creek

    November 4, 2013

    Sheep Creek via My eRanch

    Sheep Creek via myEranch

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    In a rare court action yesterday, Chief District/Water Judge Pattie Swift sentenced Gregg Sease to 30 days jail and ordered $160,320 in fines and fees for contempt of court in a water case.

    Sease is to report to the Saguache County Jail this evening to begin his sentence, which will be completed on work-release status under arrangements with Saguache County Sheriff Mike Norris.

    Within 120 days, Sease must also pay: punitive sanction to the court, $50,000; fees for the state’s attorneys, $61,920.50; and remedial sanction to the court, $48,400, based on a $100-per-day fine from May 12, 2012 to Sept. 8 of this year.

    The water case against Sease involved the illegal creation of 86 structures, obstructions or impoundments (ponds) in Sheep Creek, a tributary to Saguache Creek. Sease, a Denver-area businessman, owns a ranch on Sheep Creek.

    Swift had scheduled a four-day contempt of court trial to begin this week, but the parties reached an agreement that was filed on Friday, Oct. 25.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    SLV drip irrigation trial: ‘You’re not going to have to use a lot of chemicals’ — Roger Christensen #RioGrande

    October 28, 2013
    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

    From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

    Once upon a time, no one thought the center pivot would work, mentioned an old Valley farmer leaving the Drip Irrigation Field Day earlier this month.

    Produces gathered in both Roger Christensen and Dennis Beiriger’s experimental drip irrigation potato fields to see what happens when a tuber is watered under a controlled irrigation system installed underground. The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) and Rio Grande Roundtable sponsored trial proved Valley crops will grow using the system that delivers water and nutrients directly to the crop’s root and is used in many forms on an international scale, but it still needs a bit of tinkering.

    Beiriger and his brothers have turned a small portion their fourth-generation family farm in Hooper into a drip tape demonstration project to prove the benefits of a drip system over a pivot system in a drought-stricken environment . The system is deliberately over-sized at their location to send the water across the road to the center-pivot sprinkler system to compare the amount of water the drip tape uses versus what the center pivot uses to water the crop. He is growing 35 acres divided between the Norkotah Selection 3 and Tabena varieties, and favors the temporary drip tape and the latter potato’s production in his sandy soil.

    First runs with the drip tape turned up a few problems like installation depth and leaks, but after readjusting, the system has maintained itself throughout the growing season. There have been no sand-clogging issues due to the system’s filtration system, decreased phosphate levels are noticeable and, after some trial and error, Beiriger and Maya Ter Kuile-Miller, Cactus Hill Ag Consulting, developed a daily watering schedule meeting the crop’s basic needs, not necessarily fulfilling the entire field. The permanent drip tape struggled to irrigate the entire potato mound, which lends to an idea to combine drip tape with center pivots to ensure the field is wet enough when the tubers are planted.

    “It was dry here when we started,” Miller said. “This is a true drip project. No sprinklers were used to improve the soil profile.” There was also little organic matter in the soil to act as a wicking agent, she said. If grain would have been grown last season instead of potatoes, the soil might have been more prepared to handle the new system.

    Next year, Beiriger will use the system again, but in a barley trial. Miller said she believed the grain quality would improve based on the relationship between barely, irrigation and potential plant discoloration.

    “Adjust your thinking,” said Jim Beirgier. “It’s a worthwhile project. I think it should expand from here.”

    Christensen installed both permanent and temporary drip lines on 15 acres near Center, half of which is in permanent drip, buried 13 inches underground, and the other temporary, buried two to three inches under the soil. He is growing five acres of Norkotah potatoes, five acres of Yukon Gold, four acres of CO99 100s and one acre of Classics. The Norkotah and Yukon Gold varieties are performing the best; and he has salvaged 20 percent of his water, using less than 17 inches; applied only one fungicidal treatment versus three or four and applied only 105 units of nitrogen versus upwards of 200 on land fallowed for the last 20 years.

    “You’re not going to have to use a lot of chemicals,” Christensen said.

    The smaller trial experienced many of the same problems as Beiriger’s , which also included weed management. The problem inspired plans to create a rod weeder that can lift the drip tape to suppress the unwanted growth.

    Although the Valley producers are experiencing water savings, drip tape is not particularly marketed for its water saving capabilities.

    “It’s a production tool, not a water conservation tool,” said Netafim USA agronomist Danny Sosebee, another project sponsor. “It is the tool we are producing the crop with.”

    Missed irrigations, he added , add up quick and could theoretically put a field using the system costing between $12,000 and $15,000 per 120 acres in a drought-like situation in a few days.

    “Drip gives you a lot more knobs to turn,” Sosebee said. “And, it is a learning process.”

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley Advisory Committee Meeting October 24

    October 22, 2013
    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    Click here to go to the Division of Water Resources website to view the agenda and draft rules.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    Understanding augmentation plans

    October 8, 2013
    Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

    Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

    From the Valley Courier (Steve Gibson):

    In the discussions of water in the San Luis Valley we hear of wells being augmented. What does this mean and what is an Augmentation Plan? These are important concepts that are applicable throughout Colorado. This article is intended to describe these concepts as there are Augmentation Plans in the San Luis Valley it is anticipated that we will continue to hear this term as the Colorado Division of Water Resources promulgate Well Rules and Regulations for irrigation wells.

    According to the “Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law”, published by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, in 1969, the Colorado General Assembly allowed development of augmentation plans. An augmentation plan is a Water Court-approved plan designed to protect senior water rights, while allowing junior water rights to divert water out of priority and avoid State Engineer shutdown orders. Injury occurs to senior water right holders if the out-of-priority diversion intercepts water that would otherwise be available under natural conditions to the senior water right.

    In over appropriated basins, such as the Rio Grande and Conejos River, or where no unappropriated water is available, individuals or businesses wanting to have a well are unable to obtain a well permit for tributary groundwater without an augmentation plan. This does not apply if the new well is for household use only.

    Augmentation plans allow for out-of-priority diversions by replacing the water a new well owner (junior water right holder) consume, which in turn depletes the hydrologic system by an equal amount of water. The replacement water must meet the needs of senior water rights holders such as being available at the time, place, quantity and suitable quality they would enjoy absent the out-of-priority diversions. Having an augmentation plan allows a junior water user, for example, to pump a tributary groundwater well, even when a Rio Grande and Conejos River Compact call exists on the rivers.

    Replacement water may come from any legally available source and be provided by a variety of means. An augmentation plan identifies the structures, diversions, beneficial uses, timing and amounts of depletions to be replaced, along with how and when the replacement water will be supplied and how the augmentation plan will be operated. Some augmentation plans use storage water to replace depletions. Others include the use of unlined irrigation ditches and ponds during the nongrowing season to recharge the groundwater aquifers that feed the river. A person who wants to divert out [of priority] must file an application with the regional Water Court. Under certain circumstances the State Engineer may approve temporary changes of water rights and plans to replace out-of-priority depletions using Substitute Water Supply Plans. This allows well pumping to continue while Water Court applications for changes of water rights or augmentation plans are being approved. A Substitute Water Supply Plan requires adequate replacement water to cover depletions of water that would injure senior water rights.

    What does this mean in the San Luis Valley? There are irrigation companies that have augmentation plans and decrees that allow them to recharge the groundwater so that their members can pump water. This recharge may take place during different times of the year. Individuals and commercial or industrial well users can have augmentation plans for their specific wells.

    The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and the Conejos Water Conservancy District (Districts) have augmentation decrees that allow them to provide augmentation water to offset the water consumed by different entities that need to use wells for their homes or businesses, but not for agricultural irrigation wells.

    Without the availability of these services a person or company wanting to put in a well would have to have their own individual augmentation plan, which can be very time consuming and expensive to complete. The Districts sell the augmentation water to the well owners and make a commitment to provide the actual augmentation water back into the hydrologic system on an annual basis. This is achieved by determining how much water each well owner will consume each year, which will typically be less than the amount they pump as some of the water will typically return into the ground. The Districts will replenish into the Rio Grande and Conejos River an equal amount of water as that consumed by the users of their clients’ wells. This is done by releasing into the river systems water that the Districts own. This water in turn has come from the yield of water rights the Districts have acquired over time. These water rights were surface water rights or irrigation water rights that have been through Water Court to change the beneficial use from irrigation to the Districts’ augmentation programs. The Districts provides these services to individuals who require a well for their homes and gardens, to commercial businesses and industry, such as restaurants, solar companies, who need water to wash down their photovoltaic panels, and potato storage operators.

    It is anticipated the future Well Rules and Regulations to be promulgated by the Colorado Division of Water Resources will require owners of agriculture irrigation wells to either individually augment the well if the well is not included in a Groundwater Management Subdistrict.

    More water law coverage here.

    Correction! The Rio Grande: it’s not ‘for the birds’

    September 26, 2013

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    In January 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated nearly 1,300 miles of streams throughout the southwest  as critical habitat for this sweet looking bird, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. The area included land along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers in Colorado, as well as an area surrounding the upper part of Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico.

    The designation had some excited and others concerned that it could impact water availability within the Rio Grande Basin.  CFWE got the information wrong in our Rio Grande Compact story published in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine, we wrote “The USFWS could use the designation to require the delivery of more water downstream, beyond what is required under the compact.” Which is just not true… our most sincere apologies! You can read a correction in the article on our website– but if you’re interested in the designation, read more…

    View original 656 more words

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 (Irrigation Water Leasing Municipal Pilot Projects) implementation

    August 22, 2013


    Chris Woodka is at the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer shindig up in Steamboat Springs. Yesterday the interim water resources review committee met and implementing last session’s HB13-1248 was part of the discussion. Here’s Mr. Woodka’s report:

    Lawmakers are hoping a bill that would expand opportunities for demonstrating projects that share water between farms and cities is implemented as quickly as possible. The interim water resources review committee Wednesday heard from the prime backers of SB-1248, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch, on the need for it.

    “I think this is about having a conversation about keeping agriculture vital in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

    “Agricultural-municipal transfers have to become the preferred alternative, rather than continued buy-and-dry,” added Peter Nichols, attorney for both the Lower Ark and Super Ditch.

    At the heart of the bill is an attempt to streamline state procedures in order to allow transfers to occur on a short-term, limited basis, said Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Winner said the current structure of law and engineering hung up a pilot project to transfer 250 acre-feet (81 million gallons) last year over the timing of delivery of 23 gallons in the 74th month of return flows. The new law gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board authority to look at programs that could sidestep those types of issues in order to allow water users to work out details of such plans. Rein said the CWCB should develop criteria and guidelines by November.

    Legislators want the program to be implemented soon and smoothly. “My concern is that CWCB is on board to implement it in as timely fashion as possible and that we’re not going back to rehashing arguments made against HB1248 when we were passing it,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, chairman of the House ag committee.

    The arguments included that it bypassed water court proceedings meant to prevent injury to other water users. The bill also has been criticized because it disallows transfers only from the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins, while ignoring more exports from the Arkansas River basin.

    “I want to make sure there is the opportunity for public input, comments and concerns,” Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “There needs to be the opportunity for the public to weigh in.”

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The U.S. Forest Service is evaluating its policies as it deals with the damage from two years of large wildfires in Colorado and other Western states. “The unfortunate side effect of fires is flood and mud,” Dan Jiron, regional forester for the Forest Service told the interim water resources review committee of the state Legislature Wednesday. He cited recent damage in Manitou Springs from last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire as an example.

    In Colorado, 60 percent of the water that affects the population comes off Forest Service lands. “We still have a very active fire season,” Jiron said. “Even though there were large fires earlier, we continue to fight fires every day. The Forest Service is looking at partnerships, as well as redirecting resources, to mitigate large fires and prevent future blazes, he said.

    About $500,000 already has gone into rehabilitation of the West Fork Complex near Creede, which has been difficult because much of the fire was in steep canyons in an inaccessible wilderness area. That’s part of $35 million in resources the Forest Service has put into firefighting and remedial work in Colorado.

    Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, questioned whether the Forest Service would look at changing policies in wilderness areas to allow more proactive thinning. “We were west of the West Fork Complex and it looked like an atomic bomb cloud,” she said.

    “It would not have been safe to put firefighters on the ground at West Fork,” Jiron said. While firefighters are sometimes deployed in wilderness areas, the steep slopes in the West Fork Complex were more of a factor than wilderness declaration. “A lot of Forest Service land is not in wilderness,” he said.

    Partnerships with timber companies, utilities, counties and water districts are providing more proactive protection in areas prone to fires, Jiron added. “It’s important how we pull together at a regional level to put resources in place, to be proactive and to protect communities,” committee chairwoman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “We are at a very important juncture. This is critical.”

    More HB13-1248 coverage here.

    Farming news: Tour of trial underground drip irrigation project tomorrow in Hooper

    August 11, 2013


    From the Valley Courier (Laura Krizansky):

    See what happens when potatoes are watered from underground.

    On Monday, Beiriger and Christensen Farms welcome the public for a Drip Irrigation Field Day starting at Coors Farm, Saguache County Roads 50 and E, at 9 a.m.

    The tour bus will stop at both farms participating in the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) sub-surface drip irrigation trial that could lend to the way crops are irrigated in the future. In March, the Rio Grande Roundtable unanimously approved $40,000 from local basin funds to support the $146,395 endeavor based on successful Colorado State University area drip irrigation experiments.

    The trial is located within the Subdistrict No. 1 boundary, covers 40 plus acres and utilizes two different system layouts. Similar to a home-based lawn system, each zone is pressured up and watered in sequence for a few hours before moving on to the next section. In a 24-hour period, the whole farm is watered and the system starts over again.

    Roger Christensen installed both permanent and temporary drip lines on 15 acres, half of which is in permanent drip, buried 13 inches underground, and the other temporary, buried two to three inches under the soil. He is growing five acres of Norkotah potatoes, five acres of Yukon Gold, four acres of CO99 100s and one acre of Classics. The Norkotah and Yukon Gold varieties are preforming the best; and he has salvaged 20 percent of his water, applied only one fungicidal treatment versus three or four and applied only 105 units of nitrogen versus upwards of 200.

    What is most interesting, Christensen said in an interview on Thursday, is the way the water moves through his clay heavy soil.

    “It’s funny,” he said about the permanent drip lines that he is finding to outperform the temporary system. “It just rises up.”

    The trial has encountered a few problems, he said, but none that have hindered the potato crop.

    “It’s growing very well,” Christensen said. “I will do it again next year.”

    For five years, Dennis Beiriger and his brothers dreamed of turning their fourth-generation family farm in Hooper into such a demonstration project to prove the benefits of a drip system over a pivot system in a drought-stricken environment. The system is deliberately over-sized at their location to send the water across the road to the center-pivot sprinkler system to compare the amount of water the drip tape uses versus what the center pivot uses to water the crop. He is growing 35 acres divided between the Norkotah Selection 3 and Tabena varieties, and favors the temporary drip line in his sandy soil.

    “It has been a learning experience,” said Beiriger, who is looking to use the system for barley next year. “It’s a better deal. You aren’t going to hurt the aquifer.”

    The trial also includes moisture monitoring, plant nutrition monitoring and pest monitoring with help from Agro Engineering.

    In addition to the tour, attendees will have the opportunity to ask the growers questions about the trial. Diversity D. Inc. drip irrigation specialist Ross Roberts, Maya Ter-Kuile-Miller, Cactus Hill Ag Consulting, Jason Lorenz, Agro Engineering, and Danny Sosebee, Netafim USA agronomist, will also join the panel.

    Coors Farm will provide lunch at 1 p.m. when the tour concludes. RSVP to Judy Jolly at 852-2402 ASAP for lunch.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    Raton: Partnership nourishes Rio Grande cutthroat habitat

    August 11, 2013


    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Rachel Shockley):

    Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Vermejo Park Ranch and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout will have protected habitat long into the future.

    A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Vermejo Park Ranch, recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help conserve and restore the New Mexico State Fish and other native fish in the Costilla watershed.

    The Department works closely with private landowners, states and federal agencies to recover sensitive species and their habitat. By proactively agreeing to conservation activities within a project area, a CCAA can protect existing uses such as agriculture, recreation or commercial activities if a covered species becomes federally protected.

    “We have been working together for 10 years to make sure we can address the needs of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other native fish living in the watershed, while ensuring private landowners continue to be able to manage their own lands. This agreement does that,” said Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane.

    The Rio Grande cutthroat is easy to recognize with its red throat slashes, rosy belly and spotted sides. Anglers have long enjoyed the colorful fish and have contributed millions of dollars to conservation and habitat restoration for the species through the purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment. At Vermejo Park Ranch, non-native trout were removed and Rio Grande cutthroat were stocked. Non-native trout will continue to be removed from the waterways until the restoration is complete. Because of the CCAA, the Costilla basin is set to provide important habitat for New Mexico’s native trout for many years to come.

    “The CCAA is a no brainer for us,” said Carter Kruse, aquatic resource coordinator for Turner Enterprises. “If the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it provides us the protection and flexibility to design the activities on the ranch, and as private landowners, to manage the property to the best of our abilities for conservation and for economic sustainability. We hope we can be an example for other private landowners that you can still do your ranching activities and participate in conservation. We’ve done it, it works, here’s how.”

    Although not listed as endangered, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Department is working hard to keep the fish off the endangered species list by increasing the subspecies’ range and the number of populations through habitat restoration and stocking. Currently, Rio Grande cutthroats are found in about 10 percent of the species’ historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. The species faces many challenges, including non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    Wildlife officials in New Mexico and Colorado have teamed up with the Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton to protect habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says federal officials have approved a conservation agreement for the northern New Mexico ranch that is aimed at conserving and restoring the trout along with other native fish in the Costilla watershed. The agreement gives the ranch flexibility in managing its private lands while working to meet the needs of the fish if it’s ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

    The trout are found in about 10 percent of their historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. Threats facing the species include non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


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