So far, the only “statement of objection” filed in connection to the proposed Rio Grande Basin groundwater rules is one in favor of them.
Because of the way the response process is set up, all reactions to the rules must be submitted as “statements of objection.” However, “statements of objections” may be submitted in support of the rules.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said on Monday the only response filed so far in regard to the basin groundwater rules was a “statement of objection in support” by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
He said no objections against the rules have yet been filed.
During a recent water meeting Pat McDermott from the Division 3 office explained that if there are no objections to the rules as written, they will move forward through that meticulously worked its way through the rules over the course of about six years to try to iron out any problematic “wrinkles” in the rules before they were promulgated.
The public has also been involved during that process, with all of the advisory group meetings open.
Wolfe officially filed the groundwater rules on September 23 at the Alamosa County courthouse. The rules apply to hundreds of irrigation and municipal wells in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. They set up the means to halt the drawdown of the Valley’s underground aquifers and restore the aquifers to more robust levels. They also are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact compliance. the water court for approval and implementation.
Objectors have a specific amount of time to file responses after the rules have been published. The rules have been published in newspapers as well as in the water court resume.
If there is opposition to the rules, the water division will try to work out issues with objectors short of a water court trial.
State Engineer Dick Wolfe is hoping to eliminate or at least minimize the number of objections to the rules and has gone to great lengths to accomplish that goal. He developed a large advisory group, for example, The rules are clear “that nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water .”
The rules are also clear that they “are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a Sustainable Water Supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact. The rules apply to all withdrawals of groundwater within Water Division No. 3, unless the withdrawal is specifically exempted by the rules, and the rules pertaining to the Irrigation Season apply to all irrigation water rights.”
McDermott reminded folks attending a recent Rio Grande Roundtable meeting that once the rules go into effect which could be sooner than later if there are no objections well irrigators will have a limited time to either join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans. Those measures will have to be taken in the next year or two.
By 2018, he added, the water division will have the ability to shut down wells that have not come into compliance under the rules.
“This is an exciting time,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing. We have done it in Division 1 and 2, South Platte and the Arkansas, and it’s very important to get it down here.”
Part of the groundwater rules define the irrigation season for this basin, which ended in most parts of the Valley at midnight on November 1. Unless Cotten has good reason to decide otherwise, the irrigation season will run from April 1 to November 1 for all irrigators, including those using wells as their irrigation water sources.
On another note, McDermott said Colorado is in good shape with Rio Grande Compact compliance this year and may in fact over deliver the amount of water it is required to send downstream to New Mexico and Texas. This winter should bring a fair amount of moisture, McDermott added. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting above normal precipitation and slightly below normal temperatures for the next several months in this region.
When State Engineer Dick Wolfe turned in a set of proposed groundwater rules and regulations to the division water court on Sept. 23, he channeled Yogi Berra.
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” he said, quoting the Hall of Fame Yankees catcher who passed away the day before.
But for nearly four decades, the San Luis Valley’s water users avoided any path that involved giving the state engineer the authority to shut down or limit pumping by the valley’s roughly 4,500 irrigation wells.
Two aquifers supply the water for those wells and help farmers irrigate valley staples such as potatoes, barley and alfalfa.
The shallower of the two, the unconfined aquifer, is fed by streams, seepage from irrigation canals and return flows from fields, and some upward leakage from a deeper aquifer.
The deeper aquifer, known as the confined aquifer, is fed by streams at the rim of the valley and is under artesian pressure.
Both aquifers are hydrologically connected to the valley’s surface streams to varying degrees, a fact that underlies complaints from surface-water users that their rights are injured by groundwater pumping.
Wolfe’s predecessor had proposed rules in 1975 only to see them shelved as the valley’s water users looked for another way to mitigate the impacts of well pumping on surfacewater users. And while this version still will have to gain approval from water court, enough had changed in the intervening decades to prompt a second stab at rules and regulations.
To begin, the federal Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the eastern edge of the valley for delivery to the Rio Grande, has been ineffective.
The valley’s water user groups signed an agreement in 1985 that divvied up how the project’s water would apply toward Colorado’s obligations to the Rio Grande Compact.
The move was regarded as an olive branch to surface-water users on the Conejos and Rio Grande rivers, since they alone carried the burden of complying with compact obligations.
Without the policing powers rules could give the state engineer, groundwater users faced no such burden.
The pact, commonly known as the 60-40 Agreement, also included a provision that kept valley surface-water users from going to court to shut down groundwater wells.
But since 2000, the amount of water produced by the project has never exceeded 20,000 acre-feet — far below envisioned amounts of up to 100,000 acre-feet when it was authorized by Congress in 1972.
Another change since the last rule proposals involved a pair of unsuccessful efforts in the 1990s to ship large amounts of the valley’s groundwater to the Front Range.
The proposals from American Water Development and later the Stockmen’s Water Company put all of the valley’s water users in the same boat, said Ralph Curtis, who managed the Rio Grande Water Conservation District for 25 years.
“We kind of just grew and grew together to realize we are neighbors,” he said.
Moreover, less was known in the 1970s about the two major groundwater bodies that sit beneath the valley floor. When the 1975 rules were proposed, a monitoring network that could measure levels in the unconfined aquifer in the north-central part of the valley still was a year away.
Exactly how much was pumped from the aquifers was not known either until 2006 when the engineer’s office implemented well-metering requirements.
Mac McFadden, who was the division engineer for the valley in 1975, and Steve Vandiver, who later would serve 24 years in the same post, both pointed to the development of the state’s groundwater computer model as an important advancement.
While that model could be a point of contention in court hearings for the current version of rules, it provides the basis for estimating how much instream losses are caused from well pumping Lastly, both Curtis and Vandiver point to the drought that began in 2002 as a pivotal point in the valley’s water politics and one that would pave the way to a new version of state rules.
“The drought of 2002 just tipped over the bucket of worms,” Vandiver said. “It was obvious then what the impacts of wells were on the (Rio Grande) — river just went away.”
The lowest flows ever recorded on the Conejos and the Rio Grande rivers where they enter the valley floor came in 2002.
And much of those meager flows were lost to aquifers that were being drawn on heavily by irrigators that had no surface supplies.
The division engineer’s annual report for that year estimated stream losses on the Rio Grande were as high as 40 percent at times, while on the Conejos they peaked as high as 60 percent.
“That provided the impetus for the surface-water users to say we’ve had enough,” Vandiver said.
Vandiver credited Manassa rancher Kelly Sowards and other surface-water users for creating the subsequent push to regulate wells.
Two years later, state lawmakers would pass a bill that created the framework for the current version of the rules and groundwater management subdistricts.
The first such subdistrict, which buys water to return to the Rio Grande and also pays ditch companies for losses caused by pumping, went into operation four years ago in the north-central part of the valley.
For the second time in 40 years, the state engineer has come up with rules and regulations for groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley.
The rules, which were submitted by State Engineer Dick Wolfe to the Division 3 Water Court Wednesday, aim to restore the valley’s two major aquifers and protect senior surface water users from the harm caused by pumping.
The rules would apply to roughly 4,500 high-capacity irrigation wells spread across the valley, with the exception of southern Costilla County, which is not above either aquifer.
Wolfe pointed to provisions that defined sustainable levels for the valley’s groundwater, noting they were a first for any of the river basins in the state.
“You see a lot of what’s going on in a lot of other parts of the Western U.S., particularly California right now, we’re going to look back on this time and say we’re glad we took this step,” he said.
The engineer’s office aims to return the two major aquifers to the levels that existed until 2000, when drought and persistent withdrawals sent them into steep decline.
Toward that end, the rules will require users of the confined aquifer — the deeper and larger of the two — to submit plans to achieve and maintain a sustainable water supply.
The rules would also give the engineer’s office the ability to shut down wells that are not operating under one of three options to mitigate pumping.
To avoid being shut down, well users could join a groundwater management subdistrict, in which its members pool resources to either buy water or pay surface water users for injury.
They could also take out individual augmentation plans for the same purpose.
Third, they could have a short-term temporary water supply plan.
The development of the sustainability section partly accounted for the six years Wolfe, his staff and upward of 100 valley water users took to come up with the regulations.
Developing the computer model that would eventually be used to calculate stream losses from groundwater pumping also took a period of years, Wolfe said.
But it is that computer model that could be one of the biggest differences from these rules and the version from 40 years ago that was never implemented.
“It was really apparent to me that we did not have the hydrologic knowledge to really effectively control wells,” said Mac McFadden, who served as division engineer in the valley in 1975.
After the water court publishes notice of the rules submission, there will be a 60-day period for objectors and supporters to file statements to the court.
Wolfe said he hoped to work out stipulations with objectors that would allow the court to avoid a trial.
It is possible that at least one group of water users in the La Jara Creek drainage will be among the objectors.
They sued the engineer’s office earlier this year, alleging the state’s computer model had failed to find pumping losses to a spring they depend on to irrigate.
Parties in that case are scheduled to meet in court Oct. 5 to determine if consolidation into the rules and regulations is appropriate.
In the works for several years, the groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin are now in final draft form and should be filed with the water court within the next month. Last-chance comments on the final draft of the rules are due tomorrow, August 19, with the rules anticipated to be filed with the water court either by the end of this month or next, depending on how many comments come in.
The groundwater rules, which will apply to well owners in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley), are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact obligations in addition to promoting long-term sustainability of the basin’s aquifers.
The rules apply to hundreds of well owners in the Valley including towns and cities. A well solely permitted for in-house use would not need to be regulated under these rules. Primarily these rules will affect those who are using their wells for irrigation of crops, livestock or municipal water supplies, wells required to be metered. Although there’s been a moratorium on new wells for many years, the existing wells have continued to negatively affect senior surface water rights, a problem the well regulations are designed to rectify either en masse through collective water management sub-districts or individually through augmentation plans or substitute water supply plans.
“Essentially, the Confined Aquifer New Use Rules recognize that there is no unappropriated water in the confined aquifer, so that any new withdrawal requires one-for-one replacement,” the proposed rules state.
“The rules are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a sustainable water supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact.”
Those themes are stressed throughout the regulatory document: no new withdrawals will be all o w e d w i t h – out the same amount being replaced; injuries to surface r i g h t s m u s t be replaced; and the state’s agreement with downstream states in the Rio Grande Compact must be upheld.
“Nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water ,” the rules state.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten told local water leaders last week that State Engineer Dick Wolfe advised legislators serving on the water resources review committee the rules would be completed within the next month.
“We do have the final draft of the rules out for public comment until the 19th,” Cotten said. “We think the rules are basically done, just giving everybody a last chance to make comments. After that we will take those comments and then file in court.”
Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan, who previously served as Division 3 engineer, said water court resume timelines start from the end of a month, and folks have 60 days after that to respond to the case in court.
“It doesn’t matter if we filed the rules August 10 or August 31, as the clock starts essentially August 31. Thus I think the earliest we could/ would file would be the end of August or September. It all depends on getting any comments considered and gathering all the pieces into a complete package for the court,” Sullivan stated.
“After all the work from the water user community in helping craft the rules I imagine folks would like to get the next phase rolling as soon as possible.”
The rules will be effective 60 days after publication unless protests are filed in the water court, which would delay the process until the protests were resolved.
An approximately 50-member advisory committee has been working with Wolfe since 2009 to develop groundwater rules for this basin. Advisory committee members included representatives from water conservancy and irrigation districts, water user associations, counties, state and federal agencies, municipalities and attorneys . As a group, the advisory committee concluded its work in May, after meeting 25 times over the last several years. The state sent its final draft out to the advisory committee members for one last look this month.
Once the groundwater rules are in place, well owners in the Valley will have two years to come into compliance with the rules by joining one of several water management sub-districts or filing an individual augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan. The other alternative is to be shut down.
One of the delays in getting the groundwater rules to this stage was the development and refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System groundwater model that simulates groundwater flows in this basin and helps determine how much water well users must pay back to make up for the injuries they have caused in the past and are currently causing. That model and subsequent simplified calculations called response functions have been under refinement for several years.
After the first water management sub-district (a subdistrict of the sponsoring Rio Grande Water Conservation District) was formed, subsequent sub-districts throughout the Valley waited for the model and its response functions to be refined to the point that well owners in those sub-districts would know what kind of water debts they were looking at before they formally formed their sub-districts . Many of them have been ready to collect signed petitions from those who will be included in the sub-districts , or have already collected petitions, pending those model runs that would tell them how much they would need to replace to senior surface rights.
Most of the sub-districts are organized by geographical areas of the basin such as Conejos River, San Luis Creek and Saguache Creek, while some are organized by the type of wells they encompass, such as confined aquifer wells.
Only the first sub-district is operating (encompassing wells north of the Rio Grande), but four or five others are in various stages of preparing to file their paperwork and petitions with the water court.
Well irrigators who are part of recognized sub-districts with state-approved water management and replacement plans essentially possess a “get out of jail free card,” but the rules state the sub-districts have to live by their management plans and show some progress over time, or the state will require additional action. Another reason it took longer to finalize the well rules was the lengthy discussions over how to meet the state legislature’s mandate to restore this basin’s confined, or deeper, aquifer to the healthy level it presumably experienced between the years 1978 and 2000, before the devastating drought of the early 2000’s . The draft of the rules, as proposed, allows for fluctuations in the aquifer in the same way the aquifer fluctuated during those years, as long as the average levels are similar to those occurring between 1978 and 2000. Fluctuations will also be permitted in the unconfined , or more shallow, aquifers, which the rules acknowledge are underground water storage reservoirs.
Because artesian pressure data is lacking for the confined aquifer during the period from 1978-2000 , the rules provide for a well network to collect data over the next decade to help estimate artesian pressures in the confined aquifer. Once that data is collected, the state tngineer will define the methods proposed to maintain a sustainable water supply in the confined aquifer system, and if that means a change in the rules, that could trigger another rule making process at that point.
The proposed rules also specify the irrigation season for this basin, presumed to begin April 1 and end on November 1, given some flexibility in climate and other conditions. See http:// water. state.co.us/
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.
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.
Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge via the National Park Service
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Early winter along the Rio Grande on the Gilmore Ranch via the Rio Grande Initiative
Rio Grande River near South Fork via Division of Water Resources
Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey
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.
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.