The Paseo Project is excited to present Acequia Aquí: The history and preservation of the Acequia Madre del Río Pueblo. The essay and series of maps illuminate the deteriorating acequia network at the heart of the town of Taos. Through community collaborations, The Paseo Project seeks to educate, illuminate and support this historic and culturally important public infrastructure. Through this exploration, the Paseo Project seeks to transform our community by celebrating the downtown acequia network through creative and artistic events and installations. With the help of this booklet, we hope that you will better understand the history and value the acequia system has provided to our community and imagine with us new ways that we can celebrate the gift of their presence. — The Paseo Project Team
Western states take another important step toward stabilizing the Colorado River
The snow is deep this year along the Rocky Mountains, the spine of the American West. Today’s fresh powder will melt in the spring, feeding the headwaters and large desert rivers of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California—the states that comprise the Colorado River Basin.
This region produces most of the nation’s winter vegetables, is home to ten national parks, and boasts millions of acres of wildlife habitat, where deer and antelope play, ducks fly, and fish rise. Healthy snowpack brings relief to the region after 19 years of drought, which drained Lakes Mead and Powell—the big reservoirs in the basin—to less than half full.
So, this wet year is welcome. But it’s not a long-term solution for a river system that is already way over-subscribed. Scientists predict the basin’s future will likely be hotter and, therefore, drier than its past.
The states just signed a drought contingency plan for the next seven years that will almost certainly require real reductions in water use, and this could be painful for those who will have to turn off their spigots.
But, first, here’s how we got to this momentous deal.
Exactly how to share limited water resources in the Colorado River Basin has been a debate for decades, almost since the states signed their original compact in 1922. (Many court cases followed.) In the 1930s, Arizona actually formed its own navy to defend its share of the river from California. In the ‘60s, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in. Meanwhile, as cities and farms in the basin grew and prospered, parts of the natural landscape suffered. By the 1990s the Colorado had stopped flowing all the way to the sea most years.
That same decade, most parties laid down their arms (and their lawyers) and decided to try working together. They extended the table to make room for outdoor recreationists and others, from high country skiers and Grand Canyon rafters to hunters and anglers. This group of diverse stakeholders started to negotiate agreements on how the Colorado’s waters would be used.
Three years in the making, the drought contingency plan signed last week is the most recent of these agreements. Now, Congress will have to pass legislation to implement it.
There’s More Conservation to Come
As big a deal as the plan is, it is not without controversy, and it is not the final chapter. It does not solve all the river’s problems, but it is a bridge to get all parties safely to the year 2026, by which point the basin states must negotiate another round of water-use reductions. The good news is that almost everyone is still sitting at the table, proving wrong (for now) Mark Twain’s old adage that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.
As just one small party in these negotiations, the TRCP is working hard to ensure that one of the benefits is better fishing opportunities.
From EOS Earth & Space Science News (Vincent Gabrielle):
Over the past 50 years, hydrology has experienced a revolution in theory, technical application, and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Space-based topographic data, real-time weather telemetry, and advances in computer technology have created a new, data-rich environment. This new environment has drastically changed how hydrology research is conducted and applied.
But as impressive as these technological advancements are, the hydrological revolution owes as much to a shift in culture.
The breadth and scope of hydrology have evolved. It’s no longer just a matter of the discharge of individual river basins or a top-down “central planner” approach to water resources. It’s not enough to consider water quantity and quality without considering contributing factors and processes.
“There’s been a renaissance in this field, and it happens at the intersections,” says Winston Yu, a senior water resources analyst at the World Bank.
Yu explains that hydrology can now encompass questions of ecology, economics, and politics. The field now recognizes plants and landforms as key factors influencing the movement, quality, and cycling of water. Human activity, too, is no longer considered external to the water cycle. “In each of these subfields, there’s tons of stuff happening,” he said.
The International Hydrological Decade
These changes occurred in parallel and in dialogue with each other. New technology facilitates new ways of thinking. Dissatisfaction with old paradigms and social demand motivate new research and new ways of thinking.
It’s not often that one can point to a specific time and place when both forces met to create something incredible. One of these moments occurred in 1962 in a little bar in Greece.
The International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) was holding a symposium on arid region groundwater in Athens. At the symposium, Raymond Nace, an American hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), approached Léon Tison, then secretary-general of IAHS, with an ambitious proposal: a decadelong global hydrology research initiative. Modeled on the success of the 1957–1958 International Geophysical Year, the initiative would include longitudinal studies, global data collection, and the development of new hydrological education initiatives and would also integrate economics and environmental concerns into the standard “water cycle” paradigm.
Tison, busy with the conference and not terribly fluent in English, passed Nace off to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) scientific attaché, Michel Batisse. Batisse had been involved with the UNESCO Arid Lands Project and was taken by Nace’s proposal.
“The idea of setting up a realistic international program starting from these wildly ambitious dimensions seemed to me both exciting and possible,” Batisse would later write for UNESCO.
Over ouzo, Batisse gave Nace some insight into how to get his idea in front of the UNESCO governing board. They parted ways shortly after.
“I thought afterwards I had surely frightened him more than encouraged him by this peek into international bureaucracy,” wrote Batisse.
Nace’s proposal would eventually become the basis for the International Hydrological Decade (IHD), a foundational initiative in hydrology that encouraged scientists from all over the world to collaborate on water research. It’s hard to imagine the staggering ambition of such a project in the context of the 1960s.
These days, international science conferences are relatively common. Water issues are frequently front and center. But the IHD was proposed at a time when the international scientific community was split by the Cold War. Eastern and Western Bloc scientists were rarely allowed to collaborate.
The Birth of Modern Hydrology
To contextualize the IHD even further, hydrology as a distinct scientific discipline was still in its infancy. Although water had been a topic of philosophical inquiry for thousands of years and water infrastructure has existed since the dawn of civilization, hydrology was relatively late to develop.
At the time of Nace’s proposal, hydrology had formally existed for about 30 years in the United States. It had been carved out as a distinct discipline in 1931 by Robert Horton, “the father of American hydrology,” when he published the now familiar outline of the water cycle in his paper “The Field, Scope, and Status of the Science of Hydrology.” Horton recognized that “hydrology literature” was distributed across many disciplines, including ecology, agriculture, and engineering. Other pioneering hydrologists would follow suit.
“Instead of splintering, [hydrologists] amalgamated themselves into a new discipline, including elements of geology, biology, and so on,” said retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers historian Martin Reuss.
This birth of hydrology coincided with a massive boom in water infrastructure development. Water was fast becoming a resource to be measured and managed. “The quantitative view of water…is so new to thought that familiar units are lacking,” wrote geologist William McGee in 1911.
Acts of Congress empowered federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to build irrigation, flood control, hydroelectric, and water navigation projects across the country. Water projects like the Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River border between Nevada and Arizona, became monuments in their own right.
This massive water infrastructure rollout was not without social and environmental costs. Although many of these projects were built in service of “conservation,” the word meant something different then than it does now. Ecological damage was not a consideration.
“True conservation of water is not the prevention of use,” said President Herbert Hoover in a 1929 speech. “Every drop of water that runs to the sea without yielding its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic waste.”
Social costs, such as the mass displacement and dispossession of Native Americans during the building of North Dakota’s Garrison Dam, were ignored by authorities. The cost-benefit analysis of these projects was often inconsistent and flawed. It was difficult to compare projects or prove that they met their objectives.
In addition, although hydrology had technologically advanced in terms of measurement, approaches were still limited and could not account for weather variations over time, basin topography, and soil properties.
Luna Leopold, then chief hydrologist for the USGS, lamented the lack of good, general tools for water management. “We, the engineers and other scientific personnel,” he wrote in 1959, “…are still trying to run a mechanized complex of water development with a tool kit…limited to a screwdriver and a pipe wrench.”
Redefining Hydrology and the Public Good
Ultimately, there was growing awareness of the tension between water infrastructure, water use, and a more expansive understanding of the public good.
In a coauthored piece for the USGS, Leopold and Nace explored the tension between government as developer and government as guardian of the land: “The basic trouble is that traditional concepts of protection and development are naive in relation to the complex nature of land and water problems in a mature society. The approach to these problems has been, and continues to be, a strictly engineering approach.”
In this atmosphere of discontent, political scientists, hydrologists, and economists started to consider other questions: How do you go about doing these projects while not ruining people’s health and communities? How do you evaluate whether a project should be done or if it’s working? What are the long-term costs of these projects?
“It seems to us that a first step toward answering [these questions] would be to reevaluate the criteria for determining what is in the public interest,” wrote Nace and Leopold.
Almost as an answer to these questions, the Harvard Water Program emerged in the late 1950s. Led by political scientist and Army Corps critic Arthur Maass, the program sought to syncretize the fields of hydrology, economics, sociology, engineering, and the new field of computer science into a unified whole.
The program tried to address all the objectives of water planners in a practical way. “The computer model was run such that everything had to be done in the political sphere, to inject common sense in water development,” historian Reuss explains.
It was the prototype for modern, interdisciplinary resources planning and was eventually incorporated into Army Corps practice.
Nace, too, recognized this need. In a 1964 paper outlining his rationale for the International Hydrological Decade, he called hydrology the “laggard science.” He pointed to the overemphasis on large-scale engineering over basic research, the limited scope of hydrology training, and the fractured state of the field. Unification, cohesion, and attention to the discipline were required.
“Wealth and engineering skill are no longer sufficient,” Nace wrote. “New concepts are needed in hydrology and water management.”
An International Effort
But it wasn’t just a matter of unifying practice in the United States.
“Neither water nor science recognizes geographic boundaries,” Nace wrote.
The water cycle was global. Water science needed to follow suit.
One month after bumping into Batisse in Athens, Nace’s proposal was introduced at a formal meeting of UNESCO’s executive board. Nace, it seemed, had not been deterred by international bureaucracy after all.
The measure quickly garnered support in the scientific community, but it took extraordinary effort to organize. Nace, Leopold, and Batisse traveled to Tashkent (now the capital of Uzbekistan) in the USSR to personally secure the cooperation of the Soviet hydrological community. After 2 years of negotiations and with the support of 90 United Nations members—including the Soviet Union—the International Hydrological Decade was launched in 1965.
Over the next 10 years, hundreds of scientists from all over the world worked together to establish a network allowing water to be examined at a global scale.
Participating hydrologists tried to answer basic questions, such as “How much water does humanity have?” and “Where is this water distributed in space and time?”
In addition, the program took into consideration social aspects that had eluded hydrologists in the past, including human migration, water quality issues, and the politics of water. It sought to inform people about flood patterns as well as drought. The watersheds of most member countries were mapped. The effects of urbanization on runoff and erosion were measured and assessed.
Scientists raised the profile of hydrology as a discipline and promoted the creation of hydrology programs at universities. The seminal interdisciplinary journal Water Resources Research was founded by Walter Langbein, a major contributor to the International Hydrological Decade, and published by AGU.
The Long Legacy of the International Hydrological Decade
Modern hydrology’s data-rich environment owes much to the foundational efforts of the IHD.
“I hope this doesn’t sound like an overstatement, but the IHD laid down the basis of hydrology as a science,” wrote András Szöllösi-Nagy, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme, in an email to Eos.
The data, the monitoring stations, and the global mapping of water formed the foundation of later studies that would incorporate satellite data and computer modeling. But just as important, the proliferation of hydrology research programs, scientific associations, study sections, and journals fostered the growth of the field.
“It is undeniable that hydrology plays at the global scale because we have the data,” said Rafael Bras, provost of the Georgia Institute of Technology and a hydrologist himself. He explains that information technology allows us to examine the enormous contextual, spatial, and temporal complexity of water. We can now see these things in almost real time.
“It’s truly revolutionary,” he said.
Today, hydrologists investigate some truly devilish problems, such as how fire, drought, plant communities, and urbanization affect watersheds.
“We’ve gotten better at remote sensing for plant cover, but we haven’t looked at plant adaptation over time,” explained Christina Tague, an associate professor of hydrology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She went on to explain that plants adapt year to year in response to drought and that those adaptations are highly heterogeneous over time, location, and species. Developing models for these adaptations is a necessary challenge. Without a working understanding of the interplay of hydrology, plants, and fire, it is difficult to mitigate fire or manage water.
“You have to think about it as a system or it doesn’t make sense,” Tague said.
This systemic, interdisciplinary approach has become part of hydrology graduate programs all over the world. Ecologists, political scientists, geologists, and engineers have their hands in training the next generation of hydrologists. Organizations like the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science sponsor cross-disciplinary training programs, bringing graduate students and researchers from diverse programs together.
“When I go to an AGU meeting and see the topics covered by early-career scientists, it is so much broader and more interesting [than when I was training],” says Scott Tyler, a professor of hydrology at the University of Nevada, Reno. “All the big challenges in hydrology are in other disciplines, how water fits in.”
“There’s an elephant in the room, though, the direct change that comes from humans,” says Murugesu Sivapalan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Humans change natural processes so we can satisfy our needs, but nature and changes in culture have ways of turning this back on us in the long term, Sivapalan explained. Building a levee, for instance, can create more flood risk as people feel safe to encroach on rivers or coastlines. Water shortages can be attributed just as often to sociopolitical causes as to the weather.
With the threat of climate change looming, a systematic way of approaching water issues will be even more necessary. Water is essential for food, sanitation, transportation, and health. But it’s also a destructive force and a site of conflict.
When we talk about water, we are never talking about just one thing. Hydrology as a discipline has rapidly evolved to incorporate ideas and data from many different fields. In an era of rapid technological and social change, in a time when the social and environmental stakes are higher than ever, a robust, transdisciplinary approach to water is even more crucial.
Here’s a guest column by Matt Rice, Bart Miller, and Aaron Citron that’s running in The Pagosa Daily Post:
After 19 years of drought across the Colorado River Basin, we know that our state’s water supplies are vulnerable, and we can’t rely on fluctuations in the weather — or a season of above-average snowpack – for the water security we need.
We are using more water than we have. As our population continues to grow, we need to implement structural, far-reaching conservation solutions to support healthy communities, businesses, and ecosystems. Although snow has been plentiful this winter, last year’s drought devastated local businesses, communities, and fish and wildlife across the state. We can’t afford to forget the images from just months ago: firefighters dropping gravel and mud on wildfires because there wasn’t enough water in the rivers, a first-ever “call” because of record-low water on the Yampa River, farmers standing in dry alfalfa fields, outfitters unable to operate because of low rivers, and fish so stressed from warm temperatures and low flows that anglers were urged to stay away.
Governor Polis has already shown leadership in his commitment to funding Colorado’s Water Plan, which lays out a blueprint for addressing the risks and uncertainties of a continued dry future. In his State of the State address, Gov. Polis committed to providing bipartisan, sustainable funding for the plan, and pledged that his administration would do its part to implement the Plan. He commended the work of his predecessor, Governor Hickenlooper, but acknowledged that there is much more work to do. He also requested $30 million this year to help pay for the water plan.
We recently learned that the budget proposed to the Colorado legislature would cut this $30 million in proposed funding down to $10 million. This reduction primarily cuts funding to lay the groundwork for the implementation of a multi-state Colorado River strategy that will be reviewed by Congress this week. The conservation strategies envisioned in that process can increase our water security and introduce more flexible water management strategies to the benefit of all Coloradans.
To implement this program, all Colorado River Basin states will need to reduce their use of water for the benefit of the whole system. In Colorado, this “demand management” would be a voluntary and market-based approach to conservation. It would be a flexible, dynamic way to provide greater water security, with benefits for the entire Colorado River Basin. The program would pay willing water users like farmer, ranchers, industries, cities and towns to temporarily reduce their water consumption, thereby keeping more water in our rivers and reservoirs. Those reductions can result from temporarily reducing the number of acres under irrigation or switching to crops that use less water, or similarly instituting drought restrictions in cities and towns.
This multi-state program, including demand management, is premised on stabilizing the levels in the Colorado River Basin’s largest reservoirs, providing greater certainty that we will have enough water in dry times. Conserved water would then be delivered to Colorado’s water “bank account” in Lake Powell, supporting the health of our rivers along the way. These increased water-flows support small businesses, rural communities, the outdoor recreation industry, and river habitats as well as birds and other wildlife.
On March 19, seven Colorado River Basin states finalized their drought contingency plans (DCPs), setting the stage for a more secure water future. A key part of the DCP for Colorado is the opportunity to store saved water in Lake Powell. It’s now up to Colorado to create a demand management program and starting putting water into it. Colorado has an opportunity to start building the framework we need to protect our water, but we can’t do it without the resources and support to construct proactive conservation measure like our demand management program.
We know how critical it is to protect our state’s rivers, provide clean, reliable drinking water supplies for our communities, and preserve our agricultural heritage. Colorado has made some progress toward implementing the Water Plan, but further action and investment is urgently needed.
Authors of this essay include Matt Rice, American Rivers; Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates; and Aaron Citron, The Nature Conservancy.
Colorado has suffered from drought that has parched much of the state, hitting the Four Corners area especially hard, since late 2017.
While the snowfall that pounded Colorado’s mountains in recent weeks has helped break the near-term drought, water experts aren’t declaring an end to the troubling long-term trend of low water levels as the state’s climate shifts to greater aridity.
“Snowpack is only one part of the mosaic of the climate in Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the Colorado River District.
In Colorado, snowpack forms a strong pillar of water storage, but spring rains and summer monsoons will still be required to keep this year’s water at a needed high. If trends continue, 2019 will be only the fifth year the state’s water-storage level is at or above average since 2000, Pokrandt said.
“It is hard to tell if we are out of the long-term drought or still in the new normal,” he said.
At the beginning of 2019, much of Colorado was still covered in shades of red on the map created by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a database of drought conditions maintained by the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The dry soil hurt many farms and ranchers in the west and southwest of the state, where the red was its deepest shade, denoting the harshest drought.
With the large snow dumps this winter and early spring, much of the state is back to normal, with some “abnormally dry” and “moderate drought” conditions holding on to patches of the southwest, according to the drought monitor’s most recent update.
Farmers are getting their hopes up that the snowpack will nourish dry soil and return their falling crop yields to a more healthy return.
“After a year of extreme drought across the state, the above-normal snowpack is extremely exciting for farmers and ranchers around Colorado,” said Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau. “However, recovery will mean much more. Low commodity prices, natural disasters and other pressures have made this a really difficult time for agriculture.”
In urban Colorado along the Front Range, the drought was less harsh. In February, Denver hit its 25th month of below-average precipitation. Now snowpack in Denver’s water collection system is at 145 percent of normal. It is the most snowpack Denver has seen this time of year in more than 20 years, said Jose Salas, a Denver Water spokesman…
“Mother Nature gets first dibs on the water in the snow, with the soil soaking up moisture like a sponge,” Salas said. Only after the soil is saturated with runoff does the snowmelt flow into streams and reservoirs.
The McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River north of Cortez is expected to fill and have an extended period of managed release, said general manager Mike Preston.
The snowfall totals came as a surprise to those who work with Preston at the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Usually, the bulk of their snow accumulation that feeds the river falls in December and January. By mid-February, snow totals were just above average. Then came March.
Storm after storm battered the area, piling up historic levels of snow. The above-average year comes after nearly two decades of sustained dry spells.
“Since about 2000 has been one of the worst periods on record,” Preston said. “But you still have good years.”
A key element of NISP, the “Water Secure” program represents a shift away from “buy-and-dry” and is instead an outside-the-box approach to meeting the future water needs of Northern Colorado’s growing communities while also preserving our vital ag industry and environment.
Northern Water will have to buy “dozens and dozens” of Larimer and Weld county farms to lock down enough Poudre River water to fill a proposed reservoir for the planned Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The unprecedented approach could substantially raise the price of NISP, a $1.2 billion storage and delivery project funded by the 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts that will use the water. Northern Water leaders say the approach will also prevent the dry-up of thousands of acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties because the agency won’t strip the properties of water.
Instead of taking the buy-and-dry route of diverting a purchased property’s water rights to a new use, Northern Water plans to trade its South Platte River water rights for the farms’ Poudre River water rights. That means Northern Water will divert water from the Poudre River to store in the proposed Glade Reservoir and give the farmers a slightly larger portion of South Platte water from the proposed Galeton Reservoir.
Northern Water’s newly minted Water Secure program addresses a giant question mark that has lingered on the NISP road map for more than 15 years: The agency only has about half of the Poudre River water it needs for NISP. But it does have a lot of water from the South Platte River, which is less-suited for drinking than Poudre water and more expensive to treat.
This problem has never been a secret, but until now, Northern Water’s public plans included the assumption that farmers would willingly trade their water with the agency for free.
Those voluntary exchanges aren’t off the table, but Northern Water now plans to secure much of the water it needs by buying farms in two irrigation ditch systems — the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Co. and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Co. Once Northern Water owns those farms and their water, the agency will essentially be trading water with itself.
“We’ve just become the most willing shareholder on the ditch,” said Greg Dewey, a Northern Water water resources engineer and Water Secure project manager.
How we got here
Shares of Poudre River water in the New Cache la Poudre and Larimer and Weld ditches are coveted because they’re senior water rights, which means their owners have first dibs for usage. That becomes important during dry years when there isn’t enough water for everyone who’s claimed a slice of an overallocated pie.
Senior water shares are crucial for NISP because Northern Water’s current Poudre River supply (known as the Grey Mountain right) is a junior water right that will only be useful during wet years.
Dewey called Water Secure’s approach a “risk management strategy” born during negotiations with the two ditch companies. He said it became clear that the farms Northern Water was eyeing for trades are vulnerable to buy-and-dry, a controversial practice that has fed Colorado population growth at the expense of irrigated farmland.
“If that happens over the long-term, that jeopardizes our ability to exchange water with those systems,” Dewey said. “So this is a way to help preserve that exchange and also (address) a common interest we have with those companies to keep water in the system.”
Northern Water unveiled the Water Secure program in February after closing a deal on its first farm, a 28-acre property northeast of Greeley. The farm cost $330,000 and came with 30 acre-feet of Poudre River water. Northern Water will need to buy “dozens and dozens” of farms to secure about 25,000 acre-feet’s worth of water exchanges for NISP, spokesman Brian Werner said. An acre-foot of water meets the annual needs of about three or four urban households…
[Brian] Werner said staff is still evaluating how Water Secure will affect the price of NISP. He said the cost impact will depend on the ratio of farm purchases to willful water exchanges — and how much money Northern Water makes when it eventually sells the farms back to farmers.
Northern Water plans to pursue legal contracts that permanently bind the water to the farmland regardless of its owner, which would shield the farms from buy-and-dry and protect the agency’s water exchange agreements. The water provider plans to lease the land to the original owner or another farmer until selling it to another entity that would be required to keep the South Platte River water on the property.
“If we buy a farm and establish that water agreement, then we’ll be looking to sell it back into private hands,” Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “Our goal is not to be the major landowner up there.”
The legal agreements, likely conservation easements or covenants, would be the first of their kind in the region if not the state. Boulder County leaders have found success with a similar approach for preserving open space, Werner said.
He argued more federal review is unnecessary because Northern Water has included the water exchanges in its NISP planning documents since at least 2004. Northern Water’s water court decree for the South Platte River water allows the trades.
Dewey, a Kersey native and former farmer, is Northern Water’s “boots on the ground” for the program, Werner said. Dewey said Water Secure is getting positive feedback from farmers who’ve watched irrigated agriculture dwindle in Larimer and Weld counties.