Water rules: Be prepared or stop pumping — the Valley Courier #RioGrande

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s not a broken record; the needle’s just stuck. Sounding like a broken record, for several years the Colorado Division of Water Resources has warned well users that rules would be coming soon. Several years’ worth of advisory committee meetings and groundwater model runs later, it appears the well regulations are finally close to completion.

“We anticipate one more advisory committee meeting ,” Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten told attendees of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District meeting on Tuesday.

“We are fairly close on the rules, just some last minute tweaks.”

He said the peer review team working on the groundwater model that is providing crucial data for the regulations will be meeting again on Friday in Denver. He said he hoped everyone would come to a consensus on the model and go forward.

“We are fairly close to having that model done,” Cotten said.

Once groundwater rules are in place, well users will have to either be covered by a sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or their own augmentation plan, which must be approved by the water court. Well users’ other option would be to shut down.

Subsequent sub-districts after the first one are going with an opt-in policy where only those who are interested in being included in the subdistrict are part of it. RGWCD staff stressed on Tuesday, however, that well owners opting out of any of the subdistricts would either have to come up with their own augmentation plan to comply with the new groundwater rules or quit pumping.

“If you want to continue to use water from your well you need to be thinking about how you are going to participate in a sub-district or create an augmentation plan,” said RGWCD Program Manager Cleave Simpson. “It’s that simple.”

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins added, “If you don’t do a sub-district or augmentation plan, Craig’s guys will come out and red tag the well. They have done it in the Arkansas Valley ” People have choices to make.”

Cotten said, “One thing’s very important for people to realize these rules aren’t going to be only for irrigation wells. It will be for large capacity wells and even some small subdivision wells in South Fork ” commercial wells ” municipal wells. It’s not just irrigation wells.”

He said his office is trying to get that word out to folks and has held a meeting in South Fork already to alert folks to the pending well rules and how they would affect them.

RGWCD staff has also been meeting with water users around the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) regarding their options in light of imminent groundwater rules. They are trying to work with municipalities and agencies not otherwise qualifying for sub-district inclusion so they can contract with subdistricts to comply with the new rules requiring replacement of injurious depletions to surface water rights. The water district’s first sub-district is already in operation, and four or five others are in the works. Subdistrict #1 is replacing 1,784 acre feet to remedy its injurious depletions this year, with 61 percent of that through forbearance agreements with ditches and canals, RGWCD Program Manager Rob Phillips told the water district board on Tuesday. He said a larger percentage of the sub-district’s replacement water would come through forbearance agreements in the future.

RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver said forbearance agreements have worked well, especially since there is “not enough water in the right places at the right time to offset depletions.”

He said the sub-district has forbearance agreements with six of the major ditches this year.

Phillips said the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was successful this year with 3,400 acres in CREP 1,800 acres in temporary fallowing contracts and 1,600 in permanent retirement.

Simpson updated the group on the status and size of future sub-districts . The first sub-district encompasses more than 3,000 wells involving more than 300 well owners. A legal challenge to the sub-district’s 2012 annual replacement plan is still pending with the Colorado Supreme Court, which heard arguments on September 30 and could announce a decision sometime between the end of next month and the first of the year, according to Robbins.

Statistics on the other proposed sub-districts include:

• #2, Rio Grande alluvium; unconfined aquifer; encompassing about 300 wells, half of which are active and are owned by about 60 individual well owners, with 10 non-irrigation wells in that area including Colorado State Veterans Center, City of Monte Vista, City of Del Norte and school districts; ready for the petition drive; unlike the first sub-district will go with an opt-in approach where only those wanting to be in the subdistrict will be in it; meeting next week will kick off the petition drive; hope to have petitions collected by January 31; next meeting of the work group is 3 p.m. on Oct. 30 in the basement of the Methodist Church in Monte Vista

• #3, Conejos response area; confined aquifer; about 200 wells, 117 of which are active; 50-55 well owners ; private wells including towns of Manassa, Sanford and La Jara; biggest delay is clarity on sustainability; work session set next week to finalize conceptual plan of water management

• #4, Alamosa/La Jara response area; confined aquifer wells; 600 wells with 300-400 of them active owned by about 200 individual well owners; more than 40 nonirrigation wells such as the City of Alamosa and wells owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Colorado Parks & Wildlife; conceptual plan essentially completed; community meeting Thursday, Oct. 23, in Carson Auditorium at 6 p.m.

• #5, Saguache Creek; RGWCD stopped working with this group due to lack of progress but on Tuesday resumed district support after seeing renewed interest in moving forward; working on developing conceptual plan; meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Saguache County Road & Bridge building

• #6 San Luis Creek; 157 wells, about half active; about 35 individual well owners ; next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 in Moffat

Robbins said there is also a way legally to form a subdistrict of well owners within Costilla County but there has not been much interest from Costilla County well owners to do that at this point.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.

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