San Luis Valley: Dick Wolfe okays groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 augmentation and pumping plan for this season

May 6, 2015
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

State Engineer Dick Wolfe gave his approval Friday to a plan to mitigate the impacts of groundwater pumping this year in the north-central San Luis Valley.

Wolfe’s approval, issued at the close of business Friday, confirms Subdistrict No. 1 has sufficient water to cover the depletions caused by the 3,412 wells inside its boundary.

The subdistrict, which must get annual state approval for its plan, must replace an estimated 3,655 acre-feet in depletions that well pumping is expected to cause to the Rio Grande this year.

Those wells are projected to pump 238,000 acre-feet of groundwater this year, which impacts surface water given that the two are hydraulically connected to varying degrees around the valley. The subdistrict has a pool of 20,115 acre-feet it can use to replace depletions, drawing off transbasin diversions coming into the basin, reservoir storage and a federal reclamation project that pumps groundwater on the east side of the valley.

The subdistrict also has nine forbearance agreements with ditch companies that will allow it to pay for damages in lieu of putting water in the river.

While mitigating the harm to surface water users is a court-ordered priority, the subdistrict’s other aim is to reduce groundwater pumping through the fallowing of farm ground.

This year, through a federal conservation program, just under 4,000 acres will be taken out of production, a savings to the aquifer of roughly 7,800 acre feet.

Unlike previous years, the subdistrict will no longer have a financial guarantee by its parent organization — the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which draws property tax revenue from five of the valley’s six counties.

Instead, the subdistrict has placed $3.85 million in escrow to ensure well depletions are replaced in the event the subdistrict dissolved.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: South Platte Basin back up to 100% of normal (best in state), sorry Rio Grande = 35%

April 29, 2015

From The Los Angeles Times (John M. Glionna):

Anemic Lake Mead has hit a historic low level.

The surface of the sprawling reservoir outside Las Vegas late Tuesday afternoon fell to 1,079.76 feet above sea level — nearly 140 feet below capacity — as the prolonged drought continues to evaporate the beleaguered Colorado River system.

Mead’s chalky white shoreline is advancing as the waters quickly recede.

For California, Arizona and Nevada, which draw water from Mead, a grim situation is about to get worse: Officials estimate that Mead will drop to the unprecedented low elevation of 1,073 feet as the hottest summer months bear down, with less snowpack in the Rocky Mountains to recharge the Colorado River.

“We’re only at 38% full. Lake Mead hasn’t been this low since we were filling it in the 1930s,” said Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Las Vegas. “All the way around, this is bad news. There’s not much good to say about 15 years of drought, no matter how you look at it.”

Lake Mead, which meanders miles into the parched Nevada desert, held back by the Hoover Dam, is drawing closer to the 1,075-foot level, below which officials would declare a water emergency and begin rationing water allotments to Nevada and Arizona…

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say there is a 21% chance of Lake Mead plunging below 1,075 feet next January. The odds increase to 54% for 2017.

From the Sante Fe Reporter (Laura Paskus):

It’s safe to say that the mood among many Western water managers is grim. When talking about drought or climate change, many still give that obligatory nod toward faith or hope—saying things like “Maybe the rains will come” or “Let’s hope next year’s better”—but the days of blind optimism are long past.

That was the case in early April, when the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office hosted a meeting on the bureau’s plans for the Middle Rio Grande .

With few exceptions, the news across most of the Western United States has been bad, bureau hydrologist Ed Kandl said at the meeting. “If there’s one bright spot—you can cross your fingers—it’s the probability for a good monsoon,” Kandl said. “Of course, they’ve been saying that for a few years now. But this is what we have to hang our hat on.”

Along with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the bureau—which supplies water to cities, farmers and endangered species in the Rio Grande—looks to an array of data to plan out its water operations, which involve moving water between reservoirs, complying with state and federal laws, and trying to make sure no one goes without water.

People like Kandl look at things like snowpack in the watershed’s mountain ranges, streamflow forecasts, reservoir levels and temperatures. Then, they compare current conditions with similar years in the past to predict what might happen in the spring and summer. That’s the time when demands for water—from farmers, city dwellers and even plants in the bosque—are the greatest.

At the bureau’s meeting in Albuquerque, Kandl pointed out that the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, near Santa Fe, received about an average amount of snow this season. The bad news, he said, was that by early April, it was already melting.

As the climate warms, scientists have shown that snowpack moves higher in elevation and farther north. And that snow also melts earlier in the season.

This year, measurements at the Otowi Gage on the Rio Grande, north of Santa Fe, show that the river reached its peak spring flows on April 2.

That’s more than a month early.

The endangered silvery minnow will have a rough summer: This year, water supplies are so tight that the bureau does not expect to be able to release water from upstream reservoirs to create the spike in flows that help the minnows spawn. And the river will likely dry again south of Albuquerque from mid-June until the conclusion of irrigation season at the end of October. For the second year in a row, users with rights to water that comes from the San Juan River in Colorado and into the Rio Grande via the Chama may not get their full allotments of water.


Water may reach San Luis Lake this year — the Valley Courier

April 27, 2015
San Luis Lake via the National Park Service

San Luis Lake via the National Park Service

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

San Luis Lake may see some changes in the future and hopefully some water.

The lake, located west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, has been dry in recent years with not enough snowmelt to float a boat.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver, who served as division engineer in the Valley for many years, said the lake was dry when he came to the Valley 40 years ago, and since that time it has filled and gone dry more than once. He said it’s been dry now for a number of years “primarily because there hasn’t been any natural inflow into the lake.”

He added that San Luis Lake is a terminus lake, and if there isn’t inflow from a natural source, there’s no way to fill it up otherwise. The lake relies on inflow from sources such as Sand Creek to fill up the reservoir. Vandiver added that losses from evaporation are also significant.

He said generally the water from Sand Creek hits the wetlands area first , then Head Lake and then the excess goes into San Luis Lake. He said this year Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to allow more of the water from the creek to get to San Luis Lake.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Rick Basagoitia explained that part of the lake is a state park and another portion is a state wildlife area, with each managed by different entities. There’s a move, he said, to make the entire lake part of the state wildlife area. He said boating, fishing and camping would still be allowed, although that is not the primary focus of a wildlife area, because the San Luis Lake campground is an overflow camping area for the dunes.

“We would probably still accommodate some of that but not to the extent Parks did,” he said.

He said the biggest attraction for recreation is the lake, but in recent years there has not been enough water to get to the lake.

With more water diverted to the lake, and water already running at the dunes, folks are hopeful the lake might start to recover.

Sand Dunes Superintendent Lisa Carrico said with the additional snow on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains recently, park staff are hopeful Medano Creek will provide a good flow through the dunes.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting recap

April 27, 2015

riograndebasin

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

One of the major efforts to stop the San Luis Valley’s aquifer depletions drew both questions and support on Tuesday during the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s quarterly meeting in Alamosa.

Some questioned whether the district’s first water management sub-district was working and recommended ways it might work better.

Others defended Sub-District #1 and commended the owners of the hundreds of wells in the portion of the Valley encompassing the sub-district for their volunteer efforts to replenish the aquifer and make up for the injuries they are causing surface water users. Background

Sub-District #1 is the first of as many as six sub-districts to be formed under the direction of the sponsoring district, Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD.)

The sub-district has used various means to accomplish its goals including: paying irrigators to fallow farmland, first directly through the sub-district and now as supplementary compensation to CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program); purchasing water/land that could be retired from irrigation ; and paying ditches and canals through forbearance agreements to allow some of the water rightfully owed them to replace depletions the sub-district owes.

RGWCD has hired two full-time staff Rob Phillips and Cleave Simpson whose sole duties are sub-district administration.

Sub-District #1 submitted its annual report on March 1 and its annual replacement plan, detailing how it intends to replace injurious depletions this year, on April 15.

Phillips said much of the variable fees paid by subdistrict participants in the last couple of years have gone to forbearance agreements, “acquiring wet water.” He said in 2014 70 percent of the sub-district’s injurious depletions to the Rio Grande were remedied through forbearance agreements with six of the area’s major canals between Del Norte and Alamosa . This year, the district has agreements with nine canal/ditch companies.

Phillips added that more than 3,900 acres of crop land are being taken out of production through CREP, 40 percent of that permanently and the remainder through 15-year contracts. Sub-district #1 has committed about $1 million for additional CREP incentives.

In addition, the sub-district is holding $3.8 million in escrow for replacement water to cover lag depletions, the depletions that have accrued over time. The water court is requiring the sub-district not only to replace current injurious depletions to surface water rights but also past “lag” depletions, and there must be a way to guarantee those will be replaced in the future even if the sub-district ceases to exist.

Concerns, support

“It’s not working,” William Hoffner said during Tuesday’s public comment portion of the meeting. Hoffner said he appreciated what Sub-District #1 was trying to do but something needed to change to make it work.

“Do we really care about the underground aquifer and do we really care about the Valley as a whole?” he asked.

Phillips told Hoffner he totally disagreed with him. From 2010-2013 , irrigators in Sub-district #1 reduced pumping by 100,000 acre feet, Phillips said.

“We have not seen any reduction of pumping like that anywhere else in the San Luis Valley,” he said. “This is purely volunteer based. The state does not have groundwater rules going right now. Those people came together as a community to try to make things better, and they are doing that.”

He said the sub-district has helped replenish the unconfined (shallow) aquifer. A portion of that aquifer lying in the closed basin area of the Valley, approximately the area where the first subdistrict sits, has been monitored through a series of wells for more than 30 years. That study has reflected a total decrease in the underground aquifer of about one million acre feet from the 1970’s to the present.

Phillips said that between September of 2013 and September 2014 the aquifer came back up about 71,000 acre feet, in his opinion due to the efforts of sub-district participants , “all through one of the worst droughts in the history of the Rio Grande Basin and keeping the agricultural economy sustainable.”

The group discussed the need to increase the subdistrict’s variable fee, which has been $75.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off commended the sub-district for its accomplishments but said, “there are other problems out there.”

He said between 2011 and 2014 the number of irrigated acres actually increased, and although total pumping between 2011-14 decreased 90,00 acres, pumping actually increased 8,000 acre feet between 2013 and 2014.

He added that even though the aquifer storage in the study area rose 70,000 acre feet last year, between 2011 and 2014 the aquifer in that area declined 423,000 acre feet.

Off said the goal of the subdistrict from the beginning was to make sure the Valley did not experience the catastrophe of the state stepping in and making everyone develop augmentation plans, but another catastrophe would be the aquifer going dry.

Off said if the sub-district is 50 percent successful, that is only 50 percent successful, “and if we go dry because we are not willing to take the next step, that’s illogical.”

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added, “if your rent is $600 and you pay $300 on a regular basis, you are going to get evicted.”

The next step is raising the sub-district variable fee enough to get people to stop pumping as much water, Off said.

Godfrey also suggested raising the CREP fee charged Sub-district #1 participants.

Other RGWCD board members and RGWCD Board President Greg Higel defended the sub-district .

“I commend these guys for trying,” Higel said.

He said the sub-district board of managers has put in a tremendous effort to try to make this work. Sub-district #1 Board President Brian Brownell said, “We are just the first [subdistrict ] and we are the only one providing water to the river. I think we are closer than we ever have been to figuring a way that gets us where we need to be.”

Sub-district #1 Board Member Lynn McCullough said the sub-district board has had 36 meetings in 2 1/2 years and has constantly talked about sustainability, so it is not like the board has not been trying to get the job done.

Higel suggested maybe the sub-district board and RGWCD board should meet more often together.

At the conclusion of the water district’s meeting, Great Sand Dunes Superintendent Lisa Carrico told the board it was people like them who made this Valley such a great place. She had lived here as a child and was fortunate to come back after 40 years of seeing a lot of the world, she said.

“This remains for me one of my very favorite places in the world. Part of it has to do with the people that are here. You guys are doing an incredibly hard work ” The complexity of the issues you deal with here and the way you deal with each other is commendable. I believe you are creating a better place for all of us.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


#Drought news: “Blob of warm Pacific water threatens ecosystem, may intensify drought” — CNN

April 23, 2015

From CNN (Steve Almasy, Dave Hennen and Jennifer Gray):

A University of Washington climate scientist and his associates have been studying the blob — a huge area of unusually warm water in the Pacific — for months.

“In the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year,” said Nick Bond, who works at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean in Seattle, Washington.

Bond, who gave the blob its name, said it was 1,000 miles long, 1,000 miles wide and 100 yards deep in 2014 — and it has grown this year.

And it’s not the only one; there are two others that emerged in 2014, Nate Mantua of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center — part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — said in September. One is in the Bering Sea and the other is off the coast of Southern California.

Waters in the blob have been warmer by about 5.5 degrees, a significant rise.

Persistent pressure

A recent set of studies published in Geophysical Research Letters by Bond’s group points to a high-pressure ridge over the West Coast that has calmed ocean waters for two winters. The result was more heat staying in the water because storms didn’t kick up and help cool the surface water.

“The warmer temperatures we see now aren’t due to more heating, but less winter cooling,” a recent news release from the University of Washington announcing the studies said. The university has worked with NOAA on the research.

According to New Scientist magazine, some marine species are exploring the warmer waters, leading some fish to migrate hundreds of miles from their normal habitats.

The magazine cited fisherman and wildlife officials in Alaska who have seen skipjack tuna and thresher sharks.

Pygmy killer whales have been spotted off the coast of Washington.

“I’ve never seen some of these species here before,” Bill Peterson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle told the New Scientist.

And he was worried about the adult Pacific salmon that normally feed on tiny crustaceans and other food sources that are not around in the same numbers off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

“They had nothing to eat,” he told the magazine of last year’s conditions in the blob. It appears that food has moved to cooler waters.

In January, Bond told the Chinook Observer in Long Beach, Washington, that his concern is for very young salmon that are still upstream.

“In particular, the year class that would be going to sea next spring,” he said.

NOAA said in a news release last month that California sea lion pups have been found extremely underweight and dying, possibly because of an ocean with fewer things to eat.

“We have been seeing emaciated or dehydrated sea lions show up on beaches,” Justin Greenman, assistant stranding coordinator for NOAA on the West Coast, told CNN.

The numbers are overwhelming facilities that care for the stranded sea lions, most of whom are pups, local officials said.

Record number of sea lion pups stranded in California

Warmer water, less snow

The blob also is affecting life on land. For the past few years, that persistent ridge of high pressure has kept the West dry and warm, exacerbating the drought in California, Oregon and Washington.

One of the primary problems is small snow accumulation in the mountains.

In early April, officials measured the snowpack in California at a time when it should be the highest. This year it hit an all-time low at 1.4 inches of water content in the snow, just 5% of the annual average. The previous low for April 1 had been 25% in 1977 and 2014. (pdf)

Gov. Jerry Brown, in announcing water restrictions the same day, stood on a patch of dry, brown grass in the Sierra Nevada mountains that is usually blanketed by up to 5 feet of snow.

Low California snowpack ushers mandatory water restrictions

The heat has caused rising air, which can lead to conditions that produce more thunderstorms. With warmer air in California, areas at higher elevations that usually see snow have seen rain instead. That has led to the lower snowpack and helped compound the drought. The storms also mean more lightning and more wildfires.

And the blob affects people on other areas of the country.

That same persistent jet stream pattern has allowed cold air to spill into much of the Midwest and East.

This stuck pattern has led to the record cold and snow in the Midwest and Northeast over the last two seasons with record snows we have seen in Boston and Detroit, and the most snow we have seen in decades for cities such as Chicago.

Still a mystery

The weather pattern is confusing the experts.

There are some that think it might be a Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-lasting El Nino-like pattern in the Pacific.

Dennis Hartmann, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, doesn’t believe the answer is clear.

“I don’t think we know …” he said in the university’s news release. “Maybe it will go away quickly and we won’t talk about it anymore, but if it persists for a third year, then we’ll know something really unusual is going on.”

From The Produce News (Kathleen Thomas Gaspar):

With an ongoing drought a major factor in the San Luis Valley’s potato industry, planting this coming season could be down between 8 and 10 percent from last year’s 55,000 acres.

Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee based on Monte Vista, told The Produce News in mid-April he had “no way of knowing” going into planting, but he said given circumstances he looks for it to be down.

“It could be between 50,000 and 52,000 acres, but right now we just don’t know,” Ehrlich said. Acreage in 2014 was bumped up from the previous year’s 49,700 acres, and Colorado’s largest potato production area saw an overall better growing season. Summer hail hit just under 4,000 acres, but nonetheless shipments year-to-date for March 2015 were up from the previous year.


Rio Grande National Forest federal reserved water right decree a “huge success story” — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 23, 2015

riograndebasin

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Few things heighten the blood pressure of water users like a federal reserved water right.

Around the American West they’ve been used to secure water supplies for Indian reservations, national parks and other federal lands, occasionally overturning the pecking order defined in water law by the maxim “first in time, first in right.”

But local water users in the San Luis Valley have spent the last couple of months urging the Rio Grande National Forest to protect one that’s believed to be the only one of its kind ever granted to an entire national forest.

“It’s a huge success story, not only for the federal agency, but for the water users in the San Luis Valley,” said Travis Smith, who represents the region on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Local groups and forest officials spent more than two decades negotiating the decree that protects in-stream flows on the 1.9 million-acre national forest before hammering out an agreement in 2000.

The decree established 303 quantification points on the headwaters of streams and rivers in the eastern San Juan and La Garita mountains and the northern Sangre de Cristos.

Each quantification point includes minimum high flows and maximum high flows that vary depending on the time of year.

The in-stream flows, which don’t involve the removal or consumption of any water, are designed to protect stream function and fish habitat.

The decree also gave forest officials the right to an unspecified amount for fighting fires.

But the upcoming revision of the forest’s management plan has prompted the federal agency to examine its existing management practices — including those for water — and collect public opinion on whether change is needed.

The plan-revision process is expected to last four years, but U.S. Forest Service officials want the feedback before they begin devising management alternatives later this year.

Toward that end, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, a 21-member panel representing users from around the valley, voted earlier this month to submit comments calling for the decree to stay the same.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District followed with a similar vote Tuesday.

Such consensus would have seemed unlikely in the 1970s when the Forest Service began seeking federal reserved rights for in-stream flows at water courts around the state.

The trials for those efforts in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins were sprawling affairs with each ending up in the Colorado Supreme Court before being sent back to their respective trial courts.

Neither water court, in the end, granted in-stream-flow rights to the national forests in those basins.

And, initially, there was plenty of opposition in the Rio Grande Basin as 35 parties filed objections to the Forest Service’s filing.

Steve Vandiver is director of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District but he was involved in negotiations for the Rio Grande’s decree as the division engineer at the time.

He said the lack of development in the headwaters of the Rio Grande compared to other river basins made it much easier to reach a deal.

“If you look at the other basins, there’s a lot of private ground in and above the forest,” he said. “If you’re Vail, or you’re Aspen or Copper Mountain, you don’t want a dedicated flow below you that has to be met every day.”

The decree signed by Judge Robert Ogburn mirrors Vandiver’s point, noting that there are only four large reservoirs and 181 other water rights located on or upstream of Forest Service lands.

Still, local water organizations secured important concessions in the decree.

The priority date for the forest’s water right was pegged at 1999, even though the lands covered by the decree were brought into the national forest between 1902 and 1938.

Another point in the agreement holds that if the Forest Service impeded on the exercise of other water rights or increased its stream flows through the use of its land-use authority, the decree could be reopened.

Jim Webb, who served as forest supervisor for the Rio Grande at the time of the decree, credited Vandiver and other local water leaders at the time for being forward thinking. “There was a high degree of trust,” he told The Chieftain in a phone interview.

Moreover, he said the failed efforts by American Water Development Inc. and Stockman’s Water Co. to take water out of the valley made water managers more amenable to locking down in-stream flows on the forest.

He, like Vandiver, wants the decree left untouched, adding that there’s no unclaimed water left on the forest to increase the in-stream flows or become available for downstream users.

He also doesn’t want to see anyone mess with the decree because of the impact it would have on the forest’s relationships with its neighbors in the valley.

“Politically, it would be a bomb,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Well rules closing in — The Valley Courier

April 16, 2015
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Imminent well rules for the San Luis Valley are now being refined for clarity, consistency and defensibility against potential court challenges.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe reviewed the latest draft of the groundwater rules Tuesday in Alamosa with the group of local residents and water attorneys serving on the groundwater advisory committee. He said although he had hoped the April 7th meeting would be the last one, he expected there would be at least one more next month to review changes related to comments received on Tuesday and within the next couple of weeks.

Other actions that must be completed before the rules can be submitted to the court include: complete statement of basis and purpose; finish the response functions peer review; and complete/gather supporting documents that must be submitted to the court along with the rules. These documents will comprise the evidence that would be presented in court proceedings , should the rules be challenged, Wolfe explained.

The Attorney General’s office is reviewing the rules to make sure they will be defensible in court, Wolfe said. The modelers who would have to testify in court have also been working with the state engineer’s office to make sure the language in the rules is accurate and properly defined.

Wolfe has tried to minimize, if not eliminate, potential objections to the proposed rules by involving a wide variety of folks in the rulemaking process. Each of the advisory committee meetings throughout the multi-year process of formulating the well rules has been public, with crowds generally running from 50-100 people.

The audience was a little smaller Tuesday than the month before, and the questions fewer, with one of the concerns revolving around what happens if efforts to replenish the aquifers do not work, even with everybody giving it their best shot.

The state legislature has mandated that the artesian pressure in the Rio Grande Basin (the Valley) must get back to the level experienced between 1978-2000 , and the well rules are designed, in part, to meet that requirement . Because it is difficult to pinpoint what those pressure levels were, and should be, the state engineer’s office is incorporating data collection in the well rules to better understand the 1978-2000 pressure levels. The state engineer’s office will work with water conservation and conservancy districts, sub-districts and water users to collect data about the confined aquifer system and will release a report within 10 years from the time the well rules become effective.

Based on that investigation and report, the state engineer will determine what’s the best method to achieve and maintain the sustainable water supply in the confined aquifer system that the legislature is requiring.

The new draft on Tuesday included a paragraph giving the state engineer latitude to allow greater pumping in areas of the Valley that might exceed that 1978-2000 level at some point in the future.

“No one knows for sure if that will in fact happen ” if they can demonstrate they are replacing injurious stream depletions, they are in a sustainable condition ” and not interfering with the compact,” Wolfe said.

However, if the opposite is true and efforts to reach that 1978-2000 goal are not successful it might mean going back to the drawing board.

“If pumping levels don’t get them there, then we have to evaluate what else do we need to do,” Wolfe said.

Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said the information that will come out of the data collection within the next 10 years, if not sooner, will determine if additional restrictions might be necessary to get the aquifer to the mandated sustainable level. If additional restrictions become necessary, he said, “that will be a new rule making process.”

Division 3 Assistant Engineer James Heath added, “That’s where we would have to come back and do another rule making and redefine additional parameters to reduce pumping more, recharge more “”

Well Rules Advisory Committee Member David Frees suggested that rather than going through the lengthy rule-making process again in 10 years or so, if it turned out that was the necessary course, it might be better to include some provisions in the current rules to allow the state engineer to enact stricter curtailments if necessary to meet the water sustainability goal mandated by the state legislature.

“We want to be careful we don’t specify one solution to that problem if that’s what happens after 10 years,” Wolfe said.

Frees said he was not recommending that only one provision be included, “but I think there ought to be a provision in these rules if we don’t meet that sustainability the state will take some action or require further provisions.”

Wolfe said the rules do provide for that: “Not later than 10 years from the Effective Date of these Rules, the State Engineer must prepare a report concerning the results of the investigations.” Based upon the results of the investigations, the State Engineer must determine the preferred methodology to maintain a Sustainable Water Supply in the Confined Aquifer System and recover Artesian Pressures and thereafter propose any reasonable amendments to these rules.

Wolfe said, “We created these rules. We can amend them.” Another advisory committee member suggested that the rules include a default provision if the sustainability goal is not met so the state and folks in the basin don’t have to go through another 6-8-year process to develop more rules.

Attorney Bill Paddock disagreed that a default provision should be included in the rules. He said the default provision might not work either , which would just create more problems in the future. He recommended collecting the data that will provide a better understanding of how the system operates before setting up a default provision. Advisory Committee Member Norm Slade said, “Some of these sustainability plans might be impossible ” I would like to see you put something in there so you could regulate these wells if it’s impossible to reach sustainability . If a state engineer deems a sub-district can’t or won’t meet sustainability standards, those wells may be regulated.”

Wolfe said that is in the rules, and any well owner who does not comply will ultimately be curtailed.

Slade asked if the state had to wait 10 years if it looked like it would be impossible for a particular plan to meet the requirements. Wolfe said the rules state that the engineer’s office will prepare a report and proposed amendments no later than 10 years but do not specify a time period.

“I agree we shouldn’t be waiting until the 10th year,” Wolfe said.

He said the state would continue monitoring and evaluating the various plans set up to comply with the rules to make sure they are working.

“These things are set up to allow people to adjust as they go along,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe explained that the rules’ assumption is that hydrological conditions in this basin will return to what they were in 1978-2000 , the period of time the aquifers are mandated to recover to. However, the new normal may be drier conditions, as they have been in more recent history, Wolfe explained, and people cannot just wait and hope things get better on their own.

He pointed to the first subdistrict , which is going into its fourth year of operation, and said in his opinion it has proven that water plans can be successful.

He and other Division of Water Resources staff explained that the well rules and the models the rules rely on provide flexibility and ranges to account for variables such as wet years and dry years. That helps water planners like sub-districts decide what they might need to do, for example providing enough water storage to make up for drier years.

Advisory Committee Member LeRoy Salazar said not all of the tools are in place yet, but he liked the direction things were moving and believed the work being undertaken with the rule implementation process would provide more tools for the future.

Wolfe agreed. “Even though there’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, in some ways this is the beginning ” The state’s going to be working closely with the users as we go forward ” There’s going to be better and better tools to predict the future.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


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