#RioGrande River Basin: A look at administration of the Rio Grande Compact from the Colorado side

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From The Taos News (J.R. Logan):

The offices of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District are housed in an aging Quonset hut on a sleepy side street in Center, Colo. To an outsider, the hand-painted sign and worn carpet imply an organization that is old-fashioned and outdated. But in reality, the district is part of one of the most modern and sophisticated water management operations in the country.

District superintendent Travis Smith has made a career out of water management in the San Luis Valley. He’s well acquainted with the myriad challenges the valley’s irrigators face — both environmental and economic — and he’s wary of outsiders who are quick to criticize the enormous amount of water consumed by the farmers he serves.

In recent years, those criticisms have grown louder. Prolonged regional drought has strained relations between water users north and south of the border. Long sections of the Río Grande in New Mexico have dried up entirely, and the state’s pecan and chile industries have suffered badly for lack of water.

Rafting outfitters in Taos County have joined those focusing their ire north. Some guides complain scant Río Grande flows are killing their businesses. This is particularly true because rafters and kayakers can’t run one of the area’s main recreation attractions — the Taos Box — if irrigators leave almost nothing of the river in the late spring and summer.

In preparation for his interview with The Taos News, Smith has three things on his desk: the daily Río Grande flow report detailing exactly how water from the river will be allocated that day; a pocket-sized copy of the Río Grande Compact, which shows how much water Colorado owes New Mexico; and a newspaper article about a Santa Fe environmental group threatening to sue Colorado over its irrigation practices.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

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