Rio Grande Water Conservation District quarterly meeting recap

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

In spite of more moisture from “Mother Nature,” plus the efforts of farmers to manage irrigation through self-governed sub-districts and other good intentions, it will take more hard work and painful decisions to get the San Luis Valley’s aquifer back to where it needs to be.

“From the very beginning, I think everybody was under the illusion this wasn’t going to hurt,” Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Board President Greg Higel said during the board’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday in Alamosa. “It’s going to hurt. Some people are going to go out of business. There’s nothing anybody can do about it. Some wells are not going to come back.”

RGWCD Board Member Dwight Martin said, “Nobody said it would be easy.”

He said the sub-districts will keep the Valley alive and “without it, it’s going to die.”

Sub-districts are not an easy fix , but they are making progress, he and other members of the sub-district’s sponsoring board said.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said one of the programs that can help ease the pain is CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) “because CREP provides the soft landing.”

CREP is a federal program providing incentives to farmers willing to temporarily or permanently fallow acreage, and the sub-district board of managers has offered additional incentives to those willing to sign up for CREP.

“The sub-district has struggled to get as much acreage into CREP as possible,” Robbins said.

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey said CREP incentives have to be higher than the commodity prices farmers can get for their crops in order to get them to sign up. That has not been the case to this point. Godfrey said if the Valley’s first sub-district is going to meet its mandated goal of taking 40,000 acres out of production and bringing the underground aquifers up to legislatively required levels within 20 years, then the sub- district will need to provide stronger encouragement to farmers to retire acreage. She suggested the sponsoring district board give that kind of direction to the sub-district .

“We can’t force the board of managers,” Higel said. “You are wanting this board to be policing them to push CREP.”

“To do something,” Godfrey responded, “make some sort of decision to get them to move forward.”

“That’s not our job, and I am not going to do it,” RGWCD Board Member Lewis Entz said.

Higel said, “I really don’t feel as a board that’s our place to police them. We are not a police force.”

Godfrey said that’s not what she was asking, but she believed the sub-district board wanted some direction from its sponsoring board.

“They have sat here and said ‘we would really want to know what the board thinks’ .”

“They know what we think,” Martin said.

He said the sub-district has made monumental efforts to reduce pumping and continues to make progress, and that progress will take time.

“We have approved their rules of management, and now we need to let them manage themselves,” Martin said.

RGWCD Engineer Allen Davey addressed the sustainability issue. He said if the aquifer does not recover naturally through really wet years, the only solution to bring it back up is to reduce irrigated acreage.

“That’s going to be very painful,” he said. He added that even if normal runoff occurs and continues to occur, “there has to be even with average conditions significant dry up in that area.”

RGWCD Board Member Lawrence Gallegos said the pending state groundwater rules and regulations would put some teeth into the mandate to bring this basin’s aquifer back up to sustainable levels. However, if irrigators did not address the mandate sooner than later, they might find themselves up against a deadline and requirement they could not meet, and their wells might be shut off.

“I think that would be a tragedy,” he said.

Gallegos added, “if we had more years like this year I think it would solve the problem. If it doesn’t happen, if it goes back to the way we have been having the last few years before this year, I think it would make it really hard for them to meet sustainability . I don’t know it’s our job to go in there and tell them they have to do something, but at the same time they have to be aware if they don’t meet sustainability, the state engineer has said their solution is to come in and shut everybody off.”

Higel said, “They are grown people and they will have had 20 years to figure it out.”

Higel added that the RGWCD board could not make anyone form a sub-district .

Godfrey said at the same time, however, the board could encourage folks to take some actions such as increasing CREP incentives to help the sub-districts succeed and let them know the sponsoring board supports them.

RGWCD Board Member Kent Palmgren said, “Those guys understand they have an issue, but they also want to come up with the best possible plan they can.”

He said the sub-district board has been dealing with very challenging issues, and the sponsoring board cannot fault them or push them.

“They have gone over every issue there is several times,” he said. “They know there’s an urgency there.”

Higel said this is a heated subject, and the RGWCD board needed to be careful about what it decided to push. The only power the sponsoring board has at this point is not to approve the subdistrict’s plan, he explained, and that is not an option he wanted to pursue.

“We have set up an avenue for them to take care of themselves,” he said. “I am not going to sit on the south side of the river and tell guys north of the river how to do things.”

The RGWCD board will try to meet with the Sub-district #1 board this fall.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

For the first time in seven years, the Rio Grande will likely experience an above-average year.

The river is currently running at slightly above average, Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said during Tuesday’s Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board meeting in Alamosa.

“If this holds true, and this is an above average year,” he said, “it will be the first time in the last seven years that we have had an above average year.”

He said the current predicted annual flow for the Rio Grande is 675,000 acre feet, which is about 25,000 acre feet above average. The Conejos River system will likely not quite reach average this year, with its projected annual index flow of 270,000 acre feet just under the average of about 300,000 acre feet, “but it’s a lot better than we anticipated earlier in the season,” Cotten said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the water division that relies on NRCS forecasts have had to increase their predictions as the spring and summer progressed, Cotten added, because the water kept coming. He said early in the season, in May, NRCS was not predicting an average year on the Rio Grande, and it looked like they would be right, based on the flows in the river at that time. By June 1, however, the Rio Grande spiked above average and has remained above average since that time.

The Rio Grande was not the only river experiencing a spike in June, he added. Saguache Creek, which experiences an average flow of 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) nearly reached 600 cfs in June. Saguache Creek continued to exceed average flows and even experienced some flooding , Cotten said.

Sharon Vaughn, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s three refuges in the San Luis Valley, said all three refuges experienced flooding this year. In fact the new visitors center office at the Baca refuge was flooded, she said, and the Service had to apply for emergency funding to create a berm around the facility.

The Alamosa refuge did not have as much surface flooding on the river but had some swell events, Vaughn added, that placed water in areas that had not had water for years.

The Monte Vista refuge experienced pretty major flooding , Vaughn said, but that provided good habitat for the waterfowl that rely on the refuge.

Vaughn said people told her they had not seen water like this on the three refuges in many years.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Superintendent Lisa Carrico said the dunes have also benefited from the increased moisture. Precipitation in June was the seventh highest recorded for that month since 1951 when data was first logged at the dunes and the 12th warmest June since that time.

Medano Creek typically peaks at 37 cfs but this year exceeded 40 cfs, Carrico added. Visitor numbers have been higher this summer, in large part due to the creek’s levels, she said. In June, 60,757 visitors came through the entrance gate, which was 22 percent higher than last June.

The increased moisture this year also transformed San Luis Lake, which until this year was literally dry to the bottom.

RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver said the plan for this year was to keep Head Lake dry and fill wetlands around Head and San Luis Lakes and if there was excess water, San Luis Lake would receive some. However , Mother Nature had other plans, and Sand Creek charted its own course, filled Head Lake and the wetlands and starting filling San Luis Lake back up.

Richard Roberts, reporting for the Bureau of Reclamation , added, “Before this year, San Luis Lake was dry. It’s been a great year.”

He said the total depth of the lake now is about 6 feet.

“The water is nice and clear and cool.”

He said the water quality is also good, and if the lake continues to fill , it can expect to host a new fish population. It’s too late to stock fish this year, he added, but it is looking promising for the future.

Vandiver said the RGWCD’s first sub-district had based its deliveries to make up for its injurious depletions this year on early river forecasts but because water flows have turned out greater than anticipated, the sub-district will have a significant overdelivery this year and can expected to be reimbursed, water wise.

RGWCD Engineer Allen Davey also reported good news in the long-term water study he has conducted in the closed basin area in the west central area of the Valley . He said the unconfined aquifer experienced recovery of almost 71,000 acre feet in June and nearly 47,000 acre feet in May.

Cotten said the weather service’s moisture prediction for the next three months, August through October, for this area is in the aboveaverage range.

“That’s what we are looking at for the rest of the summer,” he said. Looking ever farther out, the weather service is predicting above-average precipitation in this area for the months of December, January and February.

One of the drawbacks to increased flows on the Valley’s rivers, Cotten reminded the water leaders, is the increased obligation on those flows to downstream states under the Rio Grande Compact. That means higher curtailments on ditches to meet the higher compact requirement to New Mexico and Texas.

For example, the curtailment right now is nearly 40 percent on the Conejos River system ditches and 20 percent on the Rio Grande. Because forecasts were lower in May, the curtailments on ditches were only 0-5 percent at the beginning of the irrigation season but have had to go up as predictions rose.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Groundwater levels in the north-central San Luis Valley increased over late spring and early summer

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Groundwater levels in the north-central San Luis Valley increased over late spring and early summer, thanks to wet weather and reduced pumping.

“Hopefully we’re changing the direction of the storage,” Allen Davey, an engineer for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said Tuesday.

After a three-year decline that saw water levels in the unconfined aquifer drop by 700,000 acre-feet through 2013, the shallower of the valley’s two major aquifers has added over 100,000 acre-feet this spring and summer.

The unconfined aquifer is fed by stream flows, surface-water diversions and the return flows from irrigation.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here

The Colorado Supreme Court upholds water court groundwater Sub-district #1 operating plan decision

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Colorado Supreme Court turned back four challenges Monday from San Luis Valley surface water users who objected to the operations of a groundwater management subdistrict.

The court’s opinion written by Justice Monica Marquez upheld rulings from the Water Division No. 3 Court in 2012 and 2013 that, among other points, allowed Subdistrict No. 1 to use groundwater from a federal reclamation project to mitigate the impacts of groundwater pumping.

In 2012, the subdistrict, which takes in 3,400 wells in the north-central valley, issued its first annual plan on the steps it would take to eliminate injury to senior surface water users and restore the aquifer.

The plan, which was approved by the Office of the State Engineer and the local water court, included the proposed use of 2,500 acre-feet from the Closed Basin Project as a source of replacement water. Objectors argued that the project itself caused injury to users along the Rio Grande, because the groundwater it draws from is tributary to the river and any withdrawals in the overappropriated basin is presumed to cause injury.

The state Supreme Court ruled against that argument, noting that objectors offered no proof that the project’s water was tributary to the Rio Grande.

Further, the court found that the use of project water did not violate its initial decree, nor interfere with the state’s ability to meet its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact.

The court also ruled that the subdistrict’s annual plan to replace injurious depletions did not have to be set aside pending the resolution of objections.

Moreover, its handling of augmentation wells in the annual replacement plan was legal.

Objectors included the San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association, Save Our Senior Water Rights, Richard Ramstetter and the Costilla Ditch Co.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.

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

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.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting recap

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.

Well rules closing in — The Valley Courier

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.

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

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

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

The increase was the first since 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.