#Groundwater #conservation easement: A new way to manage #RioGrande — @AlamosaCitizen

The sun rises over Ron Bowman’s ranch in Mosca. Photo by Andrew Parnes for The Citizen.

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

WHEN you’re working on an enormous issue like water – in this case how to recover the Upper Rio Grande Basin and the two aquifers of the San Luis Valley – you have to stretch your mind to find new approaches.

The idea that groundwater pumped to irrigate crops could be restricted through a conservation easement is one of those moments when something that’s never been tried bubbles to the top and provides a new way to look at an urgent problem.

On Nov. 8, Valley farmer Ron Bowman signed the first-ever groundwater conservation easement to restrict the use of groundwater on his nearly 1,900-acre ranch in Mosca. The commitment also set a timeline for Subdistrict 4 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to purchase the ranch for $2.6 million, a deal it will be looking to close in 2023 with a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The subdistrict’s acquisition of the entire ranch not only saves groundwater from being pumped, but importantly helps Subdistrict 4 achieve its sustainability requirements for the confined aquifer as well as offset stream depletions to nearby San Luis Creek from groundwater pumping that occurs in Subdistricts 4 and 5.

“How the law is written and works, we’ll hold those water rights and they’ll still be water rights but we won’t pump them ever again,” said Chris Ivers, program manager for Subdistrict 4 and one of the architects of the deal. “That protects those water rights from being abandoned and somebody else coming in and saying ‘Because these water rights have been abandoned, I can pump water over here.’ So we’re holding their place in line but saying, you can’t pump this water, this is our water to pump.”

Bowman’s groundwater pumping has accounted for about 10 percent of that being pumped by irrigators across Subdistrict 4. The farm has been operating with 12 center-pivot irrigation circles, growing mostly forage crops including some alfalfa.

“If by discontinuing irrigation on my farm, it means that my neighbors may be able to keep their multigenerational farms in their families, then it feels like the right thing to do,” Bowman said. He and his wife, Gail, purchased the property about five years ago.

The reduction in groundwater pumping and the fact the water is being placed in a conservation easement so it’s never pumped again creates a new way for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the state agencies and nonprofit land trusts it partners with to address depletion in the aquifers.

“The nice thing about a groundwater conservation easement is each one can be tailored to that property,” explains Sarah Parmar, director of conservation at Colorado Open Lands.

Parmar has been instrumental in helping create a framework for the groundwater conservation easement that Bowman entered into. She credits Cleave Simpson, the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and state senator representing the Valley’s six counties, with the initial brainstorm.

From there it was getting other smart water people in the room, like Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District; local farmers Sheldon Rockey and Nathan Coombs; and state division engineer Craig Cotten to lend their expertise to determine if groundwater could be placed in a conservation easement.

The concept also went through a rigorous exercise with water attorneys to determine the legality of such a move, and Colorado Open Lands and the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust in Del Norte lent support to the project. There was also the matter of figuring out how to appraise the land given the new construct of groundwater being placed in an easement as part of a sale.

Over 20 years ago conservation easement work began to grow in the San Luis Valley largely with the establishment of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, which was formed primarily out of concern for the surface water provided by the Rio Grande and its tributaries,” Colorado Opens Lands noted. “Now through this new application of a conservation easement on the Valley’s groundwater resources, the land trust community in the Valley is reinforcing its commitment to supporting the community in protecting its most precious resource: water.”

More common in the Valley are announcements of land conservation easements, where a portion of agricultural land is placed in an easement to prevent future development and preserve the land as a natural habitat.

Now water managers like Simpson have figured out that groundwater can also be placed in a conservation easement, which creates a new way for farmers to think about their operations as they continue to reduce the amount of water they use to farm to meet the state’s groundwater pumping rules.

“We are used to keeping water rights in irrigation through conservation easements, so it feels wrong to intentionally dry a farm, but by drying this particular farm, we are ensuring that the other farms in the subdistrict are sustainable and we ensure that this groundwater stays in the aquifer and out of the hands of anyone who might want to try to move it outside of the basin,” said Parmar.

Other approaches to a groundwater conservation easement may be different, she said. Instead of a farmer putting all the groundwater in a conservation easement as Bowman did, maybe only a portion of it is conserved through an easement and the rest continues to be used for crop production.

“Our hope is to work with landowners across subdistricts to avoid the state stepping in to shut off wells,” said Parmar. “I am continually amazed by the willingness of farmers and ranchers to step up to the challenge and grateful to work with irrigators like Ron Bowman, who want to be part of the solution.”

#Snowpack news December 18, 2022

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 18, 2022 via the NRCS.
Westwide snowpack basin-filled interactive map via the NRCS.

Upper #SanJuanRiver #snowpack and streamflow report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

A Dec. 14 snow report from Wolf Creek Ski Area indicated that Wolf Creek had received 13 inches of snow in the previous 48 hours, bringing the midway base depth to 50 inches and the year-to-date snowfall total to 91 inches. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Wa- ter and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 10.2 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14. The Wolf Creek summit is at 100 percent of the Dec. 14 snowpack median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 98 percent of the Dec. 14 median in terms of snowpack…

River and water report

Stream flow for the San Juan River on Dec. 14 at approximately 10 a.m. was 60.4 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This reading is down from last week’s reading of 81.9 cfs at 10 a.m. on Dec. 7.

#Cop15: historic deal struck to halt biodiversity loss by 2030: Agreement on ’30 by 30’ target forced through by Chinese president, ignoring objections from African states — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

he Cop15 agreement in Montreal is the culmination of more than four years of negotiations. Photograph: Julian Haber/Courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Click the link to read the key points from COP15 from The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Main points of the historic agreement signed in Montreal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems

The Kunming-Montreal pact is a series of agreements that range from scientific cooperation to human-wildlife conflict. Here are the main points at a glance in the once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems.

Agreement to conserve 30% of Earth by the end of the decade

Inspired by the Harvard biologist EO Wilson’s vision of protecting half the planet for the long-term survival of humanity, the most high-profile target at Cop15 has inspired and divided in equal measure. The final wording commits governments to conserving nearly a third of Earth for nature by 2030 while respecting indigenous and traditional territories in the expansion of new protected areas…

Indigenous rights at the heart of conservation

Indigenous peoples are mentioned 18 times in this decade’s targets to halt and reverse biodiversity, something to which activists are pointing as a historic victory. Several scientific studies have shown that Indigenous peoples are the best stewards of nature, representing 5% of humanity but protecting 80% of Earth’s biodiversity…

Reform of environmentally harmful subsidies

Definitely in the category of boring-but-important, the world spends at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on government subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a study earlier this year…

Nature disclosures for businesses

Although the language was watered down in the final text, target 15 of the deal requires governments to ensure that large and transnational companies disclose “their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity”…

A way forward on digital biopiracy

Ahead of Cop15, digital sequence information (DSI) was the controversial hot potato – and something few really understood. DSI refers to digitised genetic information that we get from nature, which is used frequently to produce new drugs, vaccines and food products. These digital forms of biodiversity come from rainforests, peatlands, coral reefs and other rich ecosystems, but they are hard to trace back to their origin country, with many in the developing world now expecting payment for the use of their resources.

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments appear to have signed a once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems, but the agreement seems to have been forced through by the Chinese president, ignoring the objections of some African states…In an extraordinary plenary that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours, countries wrangled over the final agreement. Finally, at about 3.30am local time on Monday, news broke that an agreement had been struck. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s negotiator appeared to block the final deal presented by China, telling the plenary that he could not support the agreement in its current form because it did not create a new fund for biodiversity, separate to the existing UN fund, the global environment facility (GEF). China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Mexico are the largest recipients of GEF funding, and some African states wanted more money for conservation as part of the final deal. However, moments later, China’s environment minister and the Cop15 president, Huang Runqiu, signalled that the agreement was finished and agreed, and the plenary burst into applause…

Amid plummeting insect numbers, acidifying oceans filled with plastic waste, and the rampant overconsumption of the planet’s resources as humanity’s population grows wealthier and soars past 8 billion, the agreement, if implemented, could signal major changes to farming, business supply chains and the role of Indigenous communities in conservation. The deal was negotiated over two weeks and includes targets to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restore 30% of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems. Governments also agreed urgent actions to halt human-caused extinctions of species known to be under threat and to promote their recovery. The deal follows scientific warnings that humans are causing the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, the largest loss of life since the time of the dinosaurs. Canada’s Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental campaigner turned minister, said the Kunming-Montreal pact was a “bold step forward to protect nature”.

The #PagosaSprings Sanitation General Improvement District approves 2023 budget — The Pagosa Springs Sun

Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At Dec. 6 meetings, the Pagosa Springs Town Council and Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) held public hearings and approved the town and sanitation district budgets for 2023…

PSSGID budget

At the later PSSGID meeting, the town council, acting as the PSSGID board, was briefed by Phillips on the 2023 budget. Phillips explained that the total resources for the district in 2023, including $817,089 in carryover funds and $1,254,454 in revenue, are budgeted as $2,071,543. She added that the district antici- pates spending $1,397,564 in 2023, thus spending into reserves by $143,110…

She indicated that the district is also planning to begin design and engineering on additional headworks equipment, including an automated bar screen, as well as work on rebuilding outdated lift stations near Apache Street and the Visitor Center. She noted that the budget would likely not contain enough money to accomplish the lift station rebuilding projects and that additional funds would need to be found.

Phillips also indicated that the 2023 revenues assume that the dis- trict board approves an increase in the monthly service fees to $53.50, as suggested by a 2018 rate study, as well as an increase in the tap fee to $4,995 per equivalent unit. She added that the budget assumes that the district will receive 15 new taps and customers in 2023, although she stated that the district likely would surpass this number due to development occurring in the area. Phillips also noted that the budget includes funding for phased replacement of collection lines and money to pay the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) for treat-ment of waste pumped to its plant.