Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website:
Questions raised whether retirement of Trinchera wells would help reduce groundwater use
Monty Smith, president of the Trinchera Groundwater Management Subdistrict, raised objections at last week’s Rio Grande Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting with how two applications to retire groundwater wells from the Trinchera subdistrict are being reviewed through rules the water conservation district adopted to administer the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund established under Colorado Senate Bill SB22-028.
Smith and Trinchera subdistrict engineer Jason Lorenz said Trinchera irrigators are not getting the same consideration as irrigators in the Valley’s other subdistricts to access the $30 million in the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund due to how the subdistrict allocates groundwater each irrigation season.
“I’m kind of feeling like our applicants are being treated unfairly because they happen to be part of a subdistrict that took the bull by the horns from the beginning and did something that makes a real difference for the subdistrict as a whole,” said Smith.
The Trinchera subdistrict operates within the Trinchera Water Conservancy District and away from Rio Grande Water Conservation District governance. Two farmers operating in the Trinchera subdistrict have applied to be compensated through the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund for retiring groundwater wells under the rules the Rio Grande Water Conservation District adopted to access money in the fund.
“You’re changing the rules for Costilla County, you are,” said Lorenz, who designed the water allocation formula the Trinchera subdistrict uses to tell farmers how much they can use each irrigation season. Like irrigators in the six subdistricts of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, irrigators in the Trinchera subdistrict have to contribute to the overall sustainability of the aquifers under state groundwater pumping rules.
The debate centers around whether the retirement of the groundwater wells in the Trinchera subdistrict will actually contribute to the state’s overall goal to reduce the amount of groundwater pumped by Valley irrigators.
“We have not denied those applications. They are still in the line for the money,” said Amber Pacheco, deputy general manager for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
She said the review of the two applications from the Trinchera subdistrict are ongoing in consultation with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which has to also approve each application to the state’s Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund.
“The state engineer does have the same concerns as the (Rio Grande Water Conservation District) board in general,” said Craig Cotten, the state water engineer in the Valley. He said State Engineer Kevin Rein is concerned whether the applications from the Trinchera subdistrict farmers will withstand state audits of the money since there are questions whether the retirement of the Trinchera wells would lead to a cutback in groundwater use.
Smith said each of the applicants is nearing retirement and could use the money to help retire farm debt since they likely won’t continue on with farm operations.
“If you don’t approve these funds, it sucks for them. You’re just hurting them. You’re not hurting the subdistrict,” said Smith. “By reading the rules, we think they are eligible for this money. The rules are clear. I think you did a good job. They are very straight forward. But when it came to the application of them, it feels like the rug got pulled back from us.”
The Rio Grande Water Conservation District has approved at least two contracts with crop producers worth $1.2 million through the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund. While it reviews additional applications submitted initially, it has opened up a second-round of applications that allows crop producers to submit proposals to get compensated through the fund by retiring groundwater wells.