Rio Grande Basin: Water Managers Cooperate to Create Beneficial River Flows, Albuequerque to Elephant Butte #RioGrande

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Silvery minnows were seen doing backflips over the news that their reach of the Rio Grande is going to get an extra drink.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

Flows on the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Elephant Butte Reservoir will increase this week in a coordinated effort aimed at triggering a spawn of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. This pioneering effort by federal and non-federal water managers will create conditions that haven’t naturally occurred over the last four years due to drought.
The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snowpack volumes well below average throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The inflow at El Vado Reservoir is expected to be about 64,000 acre-feet of water or about 28 percent of average. This type of coordinated effort is needed to attempt to cue a spawn, as minnow numbers in the critical habitat from Cochiti Dam to just above Elephant Butte Reservoir are at their lowest since populations have been monitored.

The release out of Abiquiu Reservoir increased to about 1,500 cubic-feet-per-second today to begin moving water toward the Middle Rio Grande. The flow out of Cochiti Reservoir will increase to as high as 2,000 cfs, doubling the current release. It will continue for a week, and then be stepped down to the current release. The goal of this flow is to mimic a natural spring runoff peak to encourage the Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn while still meeting the irrigation needs of the middle valley. The water for this action is being released from reservoirs and will not diminish the available water supply for Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District irrigators.

“This release is the result of focused planning and coordination among water management agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Mike Hamman. “It was a tremendous effort by all involved to use what limited water that is available to help create an artificial pulse flow that we hope will trigger a substantial spawn, which hasn’t happened naturally in the last few years due to the severe drought conditions in New Mexico.”

This multi-agency effort was between Reclamation, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who agreed to an exchange that provided the largest portion of the water, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the city of Albuquerque, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Middle Rio Grande Pueblos Coalition is also working closely with Reclamation to assist in this effort.

“Creating a successful spawn of silvery minnow while still meeting the needs of our farmers and cities is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Estevan Lopez, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “We are proud of this innovative effort and the hard work of all the people involved. This success was only possible through collaboration in the middle Rio Grande valley and demonstrates New Mexico’s ability to work through another summer of drought.”

The approximately 18,000 acre-feet of water to be used for the peak flow came from two sources. About 12,000 acre-feet came from an exchange whereby water held in storage last year on behalf of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos that went unused and would have been released last fall was exchanged at Elephant Butte with the Water Authority for San Juan-Chama water. Updated sediment studies at Abiquiu Reservoir led to the discovery of an additional 6,000 acre feet of water which must now move down to Elephant Butte.

Water managers and biologists have been preparing for this since the beginning of the year. A similar effort was underway in 2013, but could not be attempted due to extremely low river flows. Conditions are now more favorable and recent meetings have focused on the logistics of the release for the best possible timing. It is important that river temperatures are warm enough to allow for minnow spawning and that there is enough natural flow in the river to allow the majority of this water to reach Elephant Butte. Crews will be in the river to gather some of the minnow eggs as part of the FWS’s Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources & Recovery Center propagation program and for the city of Albuquerque BioPark. Other eggs will hopefully hatch in the river to help maintain the wild population. MRGCD is coordinating with egg collection crews and adjusting its intake structures as necessary to avoid accidental entrainment of eggs it in its system.

A similar high flow was released from El Vado on April 25-28 for overall ecosystem improvement on the Rio Chama. In that case, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District agreed to allow its water to be moved down and held at Abiquiu Reservoir for use in the Middle Rio Grande in the coming months. ABCWUA allowed MRGCD to use some of its storage space in Abiquiu. The flow reached 2,000 cfs for about 24 hours before being gradually reduced.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

2014 #COLeg: SB14-195, South Platte River Post #COflood Phreatophyte Study, Ag to Appropriations unamended 12-0

Click here to read the bill.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

USDA: 2012 Agricultural Census shows decline in irrigated acres in the West #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

The 2012 Census of Agriculture is the 28th Federal census of agriculture and the fourth conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census conducted the census of agriculture for 156 years (1840-1996). The 1997 Appropriations Act contained a provision that transferred the responsibility for the census of agriculture to NASS.

The history of collecting data on U.S. agriculture dates back as far as President George Washington, who kept meticulous statistical records describing his own and other farms. In 1791, President Washington wrote to farmers requesting information on land values, crop acreages, crop yields, livestock prices, and taxes. Washington compiled the results on an area extending roughly 250 miles from north to south and 100 miles from east to west which today lies in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, where most of the young country’s population lived. In effect, Washington’s inquiry was an attempt to fulfill the need for sound agricultural data for a nation that was heavily reliant on the success of agriculture. Such informal inquiries worked while the Nation was young, but were insufficient as the country expanded.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture brought a bounty of farm data to the public market on Friday when it released the 2012 agriculture census.

Published every five years, the census is a trove of information down to the county level on production practices, farm economics, and rural demographics. Being a water news site, Circle of Blue is interested in the irrigation trends.

On the whole, irrigation is declining in the dry West and making inroads in the humid East.
Since 1997, irrigated acreage is down 11 percent in California, 20 percent in New Mexico, and 25 percent in Colorado. Over the same period, irrigated acreage shot up 49 percent in Mississippi, 71 percent in Indiana, and 212 percent in Tennessee – albeit each from a much lower starting base.

Irrigation also adds value. Only 14 percent of farms are irrigated, but they account for 39 percent of the market value of farm sales.

Happy Birthday, John L. Leal, physician & water treatment expert who pioneered chlorine disinfection in the U.S.

Click here for the Wikipedia entry. Here’s an excerpt:

John Laing Leal (1858–1914) was a physician and water treatment expert who, in 1908, was responsible for conceiving and implementing the first disinfection of a U.S. drinking water supply using chlorine. He was one of the principal expert witnesses at two trials which examined the quality of the water supply in Jersey City, New Jersey, and which evaluated the safety and utility of chlorine for production of “pure and wholesome” drinking water. The second trial verdict approved the use of chlorine to disinfect drinking water which led to an explosion of its use in water supplies of the U.S.

More water treatment coverage here.

May The Arkansas

What a good way to start the month. Ditches are running, farmers are getting their crops into the ground and watering them up. Optimism is high for the most part due to a decent snowpack in most areas.

Longtime readers will know that I’m a fan of Justice Hobbs’ poetry and writing. Here’s a picture poem that he sent via email on Saturday:

May The Arkansas


Bent’s Fort on the way to Old Mexico


The ever-working river
scallops a field of furrow rows


There’s no closer work to the elemental
– the keepers, the feeders, the binders –


Sunset comes before dinner


And the glow of an early May morning beams
Let’s get-back-to-it!


(for Dan, Jamie, Avery, and all Colorado farm families)

Greg Hobbs 5/3/2014

Reprinted, with permission.

2014 Colorado November election: Initiative 103 — ranchers and water users oppose assault on the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation

Justian I first codifier of riparian rights
Justian I first codifier of riparian rights

From the Ouray County Plaindealer (Sheridan Block):

In an attempt to protect Colorado’s natural resources, the Public Trust Initiative is again trying to make waves and earn its spot on ballots this year. While the initiative aims to secure protection for the state’s precious resources — particularly water — many local ranchers and water users are vehemently against the proposed measure.

Initiative 103, also known as the public trust doctrine, is an effort to protect the state’s natural resources from pollution and irresponsible use. The initiative asserts that it is the state’s responsibility “to secure the rights of the people to protect natural resources” such as “clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment” which the public is entitled to.

More Public Trust Doctrine coverage here. Here’s the link for the Colorado Water Congress Stewardship Project website for more information about the Public Trust Doctrine.