State Engineer: Upper #RioGrande Basin is ‘actually quite good’ — @AlamosaCitizen #SanLuisValley

San Luis Valley center pivot. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

‘Innovative thought and hard work’ have helped with sustainability

State Engineer Kevin Rein said his current description of the Upper Rio Grande Basin is “actually quite good” and acknowledged in a recent interview with the Alamosa Citizen the efforts of San Luis Valley farmers to restore sustainability to the river system.

Rein also recognized in an email QA the ongoing challenges in Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and with the unconfined aquifer. The Valley has two aquifers, the confined and unconfined, and Rein had characterizations of both based on the state’s rules and regulations governing the Upper Rio Grande.

The State Engineer will curtail water wells as part of the Colorado Division of Water of Resources’ daily administration of surface water and groundwater in the Valley. His views then of the Upper Rio Grande Basin carry significant weight with water users up and down the Rio Grande.

“My description of the current state of the Upper Rio Grande Basin (that portion of the basin within Colorado) is actually quite good. The water users have responded to the implementation of the Groundwater Rules, which brings about balance to the use of the water sources in the Basin.” said Rein.

“I can’t downplay the frequency of the ‘bad water years’ and the fact that persistent drought has impacted both surface water users and groundwater users; that impact is felt across the Basin.” – Kevin Rein, director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

He said he expects the $30 million earmarked for the Valley through the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund sponsored by State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa will help Subdistrict 1, in particular, with efforts to retire more irrigated acres.

San Luis Valley farmers will talk until the cows come home about the critical work they’ve done to help restore the confined and unconfined aquifers of the Upper Rio Grande Basin. Rein, director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, acknowledges as much.

“It has taken a lot of innovative thought and hard work from a lot of people in the Basin to achieve that,” he said. “These administration tools allow us to manage our water in good water years and bad water years. Add to that, we are in compliance with our interstate compact on the Rio Grande with Texas and New Mexico.”

To be clear, the Upper Rio Grande is far from being called a healthy river – particularly the unconfined aquifer, which runs west from the Alamosa and Saguache county lines in Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and provides water to the lush potato and alfalfa fields that largely drive the Valley’s agricultural economy.

In a Q&A exchange with Alamosa Citizen, Rein gave further context to how efforts from the Valley’s farming and ranching community are paying dividends, but with a lot more work and sacrifice to come.

SLV WATER: Find more coverage of Valley water issues HERE

Too many groundwater wells permitted by the state and two-plus decades of drought have taken a toll.

“I can’t downplay the frequency of the ‘bad water years’ and the fact that persistent drought has impacted both surface water users and groundwater users; that impact is felt across the Basin,” Rein said.

“It’s in the context of this climatic trend of reduced water supplies that the struggle to achieve sustainability in the unconfined aquifer is an acute issue,” he said. “Subdistrict No. 1 has a standard, as required by state statute and articulated in their current Plan of Water Management, that is very specific in terms of an aquifer storage level and the need to achieve that level within a specified time.

“While the Subdistrict has taken steps to meet that goal during the last decade, the current drought and the associated reduction in available surface water has impacted the Subdistrict’s ability to recover the aquifer. This is not new information for the members of the Subdistrict and I believe that meeting the current goal within the specified time would require measures more drastic than the Subdistrict anticipated 11 years ago.”

The unconfined aquifer is specific to Subdistrict 1, and it’s the farmers and ranchers in that area of the Valley who have asked Rein and the state Division and Water Resources for more time to meet the state’s sustainability requirements. Subdistrict 1 board of managers recently submitted an amended plan of water management that would see farm operators pumping only the amount of their natural surface water. For farms that have no natural surface water, they would be forced to purchase surface-water credits from a neighboring farm with excess surface water or potentially watch their fields dry up.

“The published data showing levels of aquifer storage in the unconfined aquifer of Subdistrict #1 indicates that the aquifer is not at the level that must be met by 2031 according to Subdistrict No. 1’s current Plan of Water Management,” Rein said. “The Division of Water Resources is in discussion with Subdistrict No. 1 regarding their efforts to achieve sustainability and a revised POWM (Plan of Water Management). To allow for a fair and constructive discussion with the Subdistrict, I will limit my comments at this time to just say that we are developing feedback for their consideration.”

The only other unconfined subdistrict in the Rio Grande Basin is the Trinchera Subdistrict, and “it too is having difficulty with sustainability of the aquifer in its area,” Rein said. “Currently the Trinchera Subdistrict is significantly curtailing the production of wells in order to build the aquifer level back up to a point where full production will again be allowed.”

As for the confined aquifer, Rein said artesian pressures associated with the confined aquifer are currently at levels consistent with the state’s Groundwater Rules for all of the confined aquifer subdistricts except Subdistrict 4, the San Luis Creek subdistrict. Subdistrict 4, he said, is taking steps to reach sustainability by limiting pumping in that area.

“Therefore, at this time, almost all subdistricts are operating in a sustainable environment in regard to the confined aquifer,” he said.

Simpson, who is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, took that to mean “we’re not pumping any more today than we pumped in 1978 to 2000.” The state’s definition for sustainability of the confined aquifer is “allow the pressures in the confined aquifer to exist as they did 1978 to 2000.”

Through the signing of SB22-028, the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund sponsored by Simpson in the state Senate, another $30 million will be made available to help the Rio Grande Water Conservation District purchase and retire additional groundwater wells to reduce the number of irrigated acres even more. Rein expects Subdistrict 1 to benefit.

“Funding and authorization from SB22-028 is available to help the Subdistrict retire more irrigated acreage that currently relies on groundwater from the unconfined aquifer and the Subdistrict is also considering an amended Plan of Water Management to set a standard and put processes in place to achieve true sustainability. With these positive steps, I’m optimistic that the Subdistrict can successfully address their challenges.”

#Colorado #Water Congress 2022 Summer Conference Day 3: Jennifer Gimbel recognized as the recipient of the 2022 Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award

Jennifer Gimbel. Photo credit: Northern Water

Jennifer Gimbel received the 2022 Aspinall Water Leader of the Year award first thing on Thursday morning. She has had a long and important career in water in Colorado and nationally.

During her acceptance speech she said, “It’s been a long time since my voice was shaking at the microphone. I’ve been so lucky. My resume looks good but my retirement doesn’t. We have a mission, we’re in the national news now, so let’s take advantage of that.”

Thursday’s final session was a panel moderated by John McClow, featuring Tom Buschatzke (Arizona), Colby Pelligrino (Nevada), Rebecca Mitchell (Colorado), and Gene Shawcroft (Utah). The panelists detailed efforts by their states in 2022 to deal with the 22 year drought in the Colorado River Basin.

Rebecca Mitchell had this to say:

“We need to make sure that cuts will actually benefit the system with enhanced measurement. We are committed to continuing the strict admin. of water rights. Colorado is continuing to move on all parts of the 5-point plan. We can’t lose sight of our goals.”

#Drought news (August 26, 2022): Improvements in the #SouthPlatteRiver and #ArkansasRiver basins

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click on the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Record-breaking rainfall led to aggressive improvements in drought conditions across parts of the South. The heavy rainfall and flooding led to communications outages at the National Weather Service office leaving climatologists without access to important data and tools needed to fully analyze the effect of this event. The magnitude of this event meant prioritizing improvements on this week’s map in these areas and in the Southwest, where the Monsoon season remains active. Drought expanded in the Northwest was warm, dry conditions continued across the region. The Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast saw a mix of improvements and degradations…

High Plains

Warm, dry conditions continued across the region. Moderate drought (D1) expanded in western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming where rainfall deficits of near 3 inches over the last 90 days dried out soils, lowered streamflow, and stressed vegetation. Additional analysis across the High Plains next week is likely to result in increasing drought severity across parts of the region due to persistent dry weather…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 23, 2022.


An active monsoon season in the Southwest led to improvements to drought conditions. Precipitation has improved many drought indicators including soil moisture, streamflow, and well data. Moderate drought (D2) improved in northern and southern Arizona. Moderate (D2) and extreme (D3) drought improved in southern and eastern New Mexico. Extreme drought (D3) improved in Utah and Nevada. Additional improvements are expected next week as the effect of the recent rainfall continues to be analyzed. To the north, Idaho and Montana saw an expansion to abnormally dry areas. Persistent warm, dry weather is likely to lead to additional degradations as soils continue to dry and vegetation suffers…


This week’s storm event led to broad 1 and 2-category improvements across large parts of the South. All states in the region show improvements. Rainfall close to the data cut off time (Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. EDT), data communications issues caused by the flooding, and lags in the hydrologic system in response to rainfall events means that the full impact of this storm on drought conditions is not yet apparent. Analysis will continue next week as more data become available. A few impressive statistics include the following. According to National Weather Service records, prior to this week’s event, the Dallas-Fort Worth Area went 67 days without measurable precipitation, the second longest streak on record going back to 1898. The August 21-22, 24-hour total of 9.19 inches tied for the second highest 24-hour total. The Texas State Climatologist noted that the largest flood control rain gauge total was 15.16 inches!…

Looking Ahead

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (valid August 25 – August 28) calls for rainfall over parts of the South, the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, Upper Midwest, and Northeast. Meanwhile, dry weather is expected to continue across the drought-stricken areas of the Pacific Northwest, California, the Central Great Basin, and Central Plains. Moving into next week (valid August 30 – September 1), the forecast calls for more rain across Texas, Oklahoma, and much of the eastern half of the CONUS. At 8 – 14 days, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (valid September 1 – September 7) calls for above normal temperatures across the West, High Plains, Upper Midwest, East Coast, and interior Alaska. Below normal temperatures are predicted across southeast New Mexico, Texas, and Southern Oklahoma. Below normal precipitation is favored across much of the northern tier of CONUS. Above normal precipitation is favored for the southern tier, from New Mexico eastward.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 23, 2023.