Rio Grande Basin: New groundwater pumping rules update

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Here’s an update on the proposed new rules for pumping in the San Luis Valley, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The stated purpose of the rules is to optimize the use of water in the Rio Grande Basin (the San Luis Valley) while preserving the priority water rights system and protecting Colorado’s ability to meet its obligations to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact.

The rules are also designed to regulate the confined and unconfined aquifers to maintain a sustainable water supply.

The proposed rules state that they do not relieve wells from their obligation to replace injurious stream depletions and do not allow illegal water uses or expansions.

The proposed rules are specific to the Rio Grande Basin in recognition that this basin is unique. For example, the Rio Grande Basin has an aquifer system that includes a shallow or unconfined aquifer above a deeper confined aquifer that consists of multiple layers and formations.

The rules will utilize a groundwater model to help evaluate how withdrawals from the underground aquifers are affecting stream systems and other aquifers.

The rules recognize, as the water court has also recognized in the Valley, that the basin is over appropriated and groundwater withdrawals that are injuring the streams must be remedied. These rules allow the state engineer to administer and regulate groundwater and to curtail injurious groundwater diversions that are not replaced through an augmentation plan, sub-district management plan or substitute water supply plan.

Once finalized, the rules will head to water court for ratification. Wolfe said he brought in as many people as he could, from as many sectors as he could, to help draft the rules so there would be less contention over them later on.

The committee has drafted rules that are becoming more refined with each monthly meeting. The committee met again this week to review the 19-page document. Sub-committees of the larger advisory group are also meeting to discuss vital portions of the draft rules, such as the irrigation season that will be defined in the rules.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

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