Creede receives state funding to fix 66-year-old flume — @ChieftainNews

Typical Erosion along the Left and Right Toes of the Willow Creek Flume. Credit Bohannan-Huston Engineering.
Typical Erosion along the Left and Right Toes of the Willow Creek Flume. Credit Bohannan-Huston Engineering.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The historic mining town west of the San Luis Valley is in line for a long-awaited fix to the flume that carries Willow Creek through town.

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs awarded $1 million to the town of Creede Tuesday to fix the stone-masonry structure whose potential failure was regarded as a flood threat to much of the town of 425 people.

“This is something we wanted for a long, long time,” Town Manager Clyde Dooley told The Chieftain Wednesday.

The 1.1-mile flume that catches the creek as it tumbles out of a steep canyon was built in 1950 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Homes and businesses back onto the flume. Four street bridges, eight foot bridges and water mains also cross the flume’s path.

In a 1989 report, the corps found the structure was nearing the end of its life cycle, with deterioration along the flume’s toe — where the side walls meet the bottom of the flume.

But the town struggled to find matching funds for repairs in the 1990s and when the corps made its regulations more strict following Hurricane Katrina, the deteriorated state of the flume left it outside the agency’s funding stream.

The town also made an unsuccessful attempt to insert a fix into a 2010 federal bill for water projects.

Enter the state’s Department of Local Affairs.

“This just turned out to be perfect timing,” Dooley said. “DOLA is the hero here.”

Dooley also credited Randi Snead, the town’s clerk and treasurer, for developing the current proposal.

The town will contribute $520,000 from reserve funds for construction in addition to budgeting $5,000 annually in the future to meet maintenance demands.

The repairs will fill voids and cracks in the flume and see the installation of concrete curbing along the toes of the channel.

The town hopes it can complete the repairs in August and September to avoid spring runoff and impacting the bulk of summer tourists.

San Luis Valley: New groundwater sub-district forms

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Southern San Luis Valley water users took charge of their future on Tuesday as they became the third group to form a water management sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

The sponsoring district board unanimously accepted petitions for its latest subdistrict , which encompasses 141 wells covering 170 parcels of land in Conejos County.

The sub-districts are designed to provide an alternative to individual well regulation by grouping wells in geographic or hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley (Rio Grande Basin), which as a group replaces its injurious depletions to surface water rights. Sub-districts are also beginning to repair long-term depletions to the Valley’s aquifer system caused by well pumping.

Sub-district participants pay fees, which are used to buy water and/or provide incentives to reduce pumping. In the sub-district presented on Tuesday, participants will be assessed fees per well and per acre foot of water.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Amber Pacheco presented to the sponsoring district board on Tuesday petitions representing 141 of a potential 198 wells in Sub-district #3. Nathan Coombs and LeRoy Salazar, who were part of the group that formed the subdistrict , were also present for the petition presentation to the RGWCD board.

Pacheco told the board staff and working group members had been working on this third sub-district for many months. Once they had information from the groundwater model, which determines depletions, the group was able to move forward.

Pacheco said the group was very successful in persuading well owners to join the sub-district , which is an “opt-in” sub-district . People had to choose to join. The first sub-district , on the other hand, was drawn up to cover a specific geographical area in the Valley’s closed basin region, and the work group then had to gather petitions from at least 51 percent of the landowners and 51 percent of the land.

Pacheco said efforts were made to contact every well owner in the Conejos subdistrict to give them the opportunity to join the subdistrict . Only one well owner, whose address was in Florida, did not respond at all, and another did not want to be involved. Both of those wells had not been used in a while.

Four other well owners opted out, not because they were against the sub-district but because they had other plans for their properties, and 21 wells belonging to governments such as towns or school districts indicated they would like to contract with the sub-district but could not participate directly, Pacheco explained.

She added a number of well owners decided to move their wells to exempt status so they would not fall under the groundwater rule process, for example downgrading them to stock or domestic wells, and a couple of well owners planned to seek abandonment of their wells.

All of the irrigation wells in the third sub-district are included, however, Pacheco said.

After receiving the petitions , RGWCD staff verified ownership and legal descriptions before presenting them to the board.

“It’s a massive undertaking ,” said RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson who commended the staff who completed that process. He also commended the residents who have been working on this for some time.

“The people have been great to work with,” Pacheco added.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the process now is to file the petitions with the district court in Conejos County (because that is where the land lies in this subdistrict ) and seek the court’s approval for the sub-district’s formation. The court must hold a hearing no less than 60 days and no more than 90 days after receiving the petitions , he added. Individuals with questions or challenges against the sub-district formation may express those to the court.

“With our participation basically 100 percent, we would hope we wouldn’t see much of a protest to the formation of the sub-district ,” Pacheco said.

If there are no challenges, the court will enter an order forming the sub-district , and a board of managers can then be appointed and a plan of management prepared, Robbins explained.

That plan will be submitted to the state engineer’s officer for approval.

The first sub-district , which is one of the largest and most complicated, has been in operation for a few years now, and the second sub-district in the alluvium of the Rio Grande was officially formed in March of this year and is currently working on its plan of water management.

Pacheco said progress is also being made in sub-districts in the San Luis Creek, Saguache and Alamosa/La Jara areas. She said the goal is to have the remainder of the sub-districts in front of the court by early next year.

RGWCD staff has been meeting with entities such as the towns of La Jara and Saguache and the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District to discuss their options for contracting with sub-districts . Discussions are also occurring with federal agencies.

San Luis Valley aquifer marks another year of gains — Pueblo Chieftain

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The shallow aquifer leaned on heavily by farmers in the San Luis Valley is up 58,000 acre-feet over last year at this time.

The news delivered by Rio Grande Water Conservation District Engineer Allen Davey marks the third straight year the aquifer has gained.

“The last three years have seen a significant change in direction,” he told the district’s board Tuesday.

Davey, as he has in previous years, credited gains to the reduction in groundwater pumping by well owners in Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in 163,000 irrigated acres in the north-central part of the San Luis Valley.

The subdistrict, which was implemented four years ago, assesses a combination of fees on its members that aim to reduce pumping and also pay to fallow farm ground.

Groundwater pumping was expected to be 238,000 acre-feet, according to the subdistrict documents, although a final tally won’t come until later in the year.

Landowners in the subdistrict have also fallowed 14,245 acres of ground since 2013 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

The program pays farmers to either permanently retire ground or fallow for 15 years.

Davey also said Mother Nature has cooperated by providing decent snowpack.

“If we can just get in that cycle where we’re average, we have a good future ahead of us,” he said.

The shallow aquifer, also known as the unconfined aquifer, recharges from stream flow and from the return flows that follow surface-water irrigation by farmers.

Once stream flows dwindle in late summer, farmers typically rely on groundwater to finish their crops.

The shallow aquifer has recovered by nearly 250,000 acre-feet since 2013.

The aquifer would have to recover by another 350,000 acre-feet to meet the goals laid out in the subdistrict’s management plan.

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

Ranch on Conejos River conserved — The Valley Courier

Rainbow Trout Ranch photo credit DudeRanchcom.
Rainbow Trout Ranch photo credit DudeRanchcom.

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust via The Valley Courier:

Over a mile of the upper Conejos River is now protected forever, thanks to the commitment of the VanBerkum family. As of last week the beautiful Rainbow Trout Ranch was preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement with the community’s Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT).

“On behalf of Linda, David, Jane and myself, we would like to express our appreciation to RiGHT and to the many individuals who have helped us in our journey to preserve this beautiful stretch of the Conejos River,” said Doug Van Berkum. “We are blessed to live in the spectacular Conejos Canyon and are honored to share the traditional western lifestyle with our guests, and to know that the natural and unspoiled beauty will be preserved for generations to come.”

The 591-acre Rainbow Trout Ranch is a historic guest ranch that has been in operation for over 85 years. Largely surrounded by public lands, the entire ranch, including the impressive rock outcrops above the main lodge, can be seen from the scenic overlook on Highway 17 as it climbs the Cumbres/La Manga Pass. Highway 17 is designated as a Los Caminos Antigos Scenic and Historic Byway and the views of the Conejos Canyon and the ranch from the overlook are spectacular. With few privately owned parcels protected along the Conejos, the preservation of this historic and picturesque ranch is an important conservation accomplishment. “We are immensely grateful to the Van Berkum family for their dedication to this beautiful property and to the Conejos Canyon,” said Nancy Butler, RiGHT’s executive director. “As the owners of Rainbow Trout Ranch since the early ’90s, they share the ranch with over 700 guests every summer who come from across the United States and overseas to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Conejos River valley. Protection of the ranch will help ensure that legacy continues far into the future and that the land and wildlife habitat will remain intact for all to enjoy.”

The conservation of Rainbow Trout Ranch was made possible through the generous support of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Gates Family Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Rainbow Trout Ranch was featured by RiGHT in their 2014 “Save the Ranch” campaign, and a total of 57 individual donors also contributed to make this project a success. RiGHT would especially like to thank: Forrest Ketchin, Duane and Susan Larson, Chris and Christy Hayes, Michael and Andrea Banks’ Nature Fund, Jim Gilmore, Tom and Pat Gilmore, Barbara Relyea, Nancy Starling Ross and Wayne Ross, and Bonnie Orkow and many others for their generous contributions to this exceptional conservation effort.

“This project exemplifies the power of partner- ships,” said Katherine Brown, RiGHT’s development coordinator. “The support of these funders, from state and federal programs and private foundations, along with contributions from so many individuals and the Van Berkum family all came together to make this possible. We hope that everyone who drives up Forest Service Road 250 to the Platoro Reservoir or who stops at the Highway 17 overlook to take in the majestic view of the Conejos Canyon will appreciate the spectacular landscape that will remain open and connected through this conservation project.”

As part of RiGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative to protect the land and water along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers, Rainbow Trout Ranch is the first conservation easement on the upper reaches of the Conejos. Bordered by the Rio Grande National Forest on three sides and La Jara Reservoir State Land Trust land to the north, the permanent conservation of the property will enhance and maintain the overall landscape. This is vital for wildlife movement as well as the preservation of the scenic beauty of the area. The property features large intact areas of Douglas fir forest and extensive riparian habitats, both important wildlife resource areas for large mammals including the federally-threatened Canada Lynx, elk, and black bear as well as migratory birds that rely on high altitude river corridors and the important fisheries of the Conejos River.

Nearby landowner, former RiGHT board member, and renowned artist who draws great inspiration from the scenic beauty of the upper Conejos area, Jim Gilmore said of the completed easement, “I feel the Conejos Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in Colorado. And the Rainbow Trout Ranch is one of the largest and most desirable properties along the river. It is great news that RIGHT and the Van Berkum family worked together to conserve this beautiful piece of land.”

Conservation of this historic guest ranch also protects the history of western recreation and the cultural importance of a natural playground that generations of guests have enjoyed. First known as the Rainbow Trout Lodge, the ranch opened to guests in 1927, mainly as a fishing retreat, with horseback riding, backcountry pack trips and hiking also offered. In 1993 the Van Berkum family converted it to a full-fledged guest ranch complete with youth programs, evening activities and recreational and fishing access to the beautiful Conejos Canyon. With an emphasis on the western traditions and lifestyle, the Rainbow Trout Ranch will continue to be a place for families to experience the beauty of nature far into the future.

For more information about the conservation work of RiGHT please visit www. riograndelandtrust.org or contact the land trust office in Del Norte at 719-657-0800 or info@riograndelandtrust.org.

Alamosa outlines rate increases — The Valley Courier

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Utility rates will increase in Alamosa next year, and now residents have a better idea by how much.

The Alamosa city council Wednesday night approved on first reading and scheduled for a December 7 public hearing an ordinance increasing rates for water, sewer and solid waste (trash) disposal in 2017.

City water customers using about 8,000 gallons a month will see a 48-cent increase in their water bills, or just under 3 percent. Based on a conservation-oriented rate structure, customers using 50,000 gallons of water a month will see a larger increase, about $23 more a month, or about 25 percent. Customers using 100,000 gallons a month will see an even bigger increase, of more than $110 a month, based on the city’s conservationoriented rate structure.

Sewer rates will be increased by 8 percent across the board. The average customer using about 5,000 gallons a month will see an increase of $1.42 a month…

“We would never increase rates just to increase rates,” she said.

She said the staff has tried to manage the city systems as efficiently as possible to keep costs down, and staff wants the public to know the reasons for the increases. She explained that while the general fund covers many areas of city service, the enterprise fund covers the utilities, which should pay for themselves through rates and other charges. The enterprise fund revenues must not only cover operating and maintenance costs but also upgrades and improvements to the system, many of which are required by regulations and standards. The city cannot risk becoming noncompliant or its systems failing, Brooks explained. If the city is out of compliance with standards and regulations it could be fined or in an extreme case its systems be taken over by the state.

Sanitation and sewer rates have not increased since 2012 and water rates minimally since 2013, Brooks said.

The past increases have barely kept up with the normal cost of business but not covered capital improvement needs, she said.

“We have significant capital needs, especially with wastewater .”

She said funding sources like the Department of Local Affairs do not want to provide funds to communities where ratepayers are not paying their fair share.

The city contracted with Willdan Financial Services to perform a rate study, and the rate increases are based on what the consultant found and recommended.

Water conservation is key

Water revenues needed to increase by 6 percent, but the city is not proposing to increase rates 6 percent across the board, Brooks explained.

Part of what is driving these costs is the new groundwater rules taking effect in the San Luis Valley. To comply with the rules, the city is working on an augmentation plan, an effort costing upwards of $3 million.

If the city wants to continue providing municipal water, it must comply with these rules, Brooks explained.

The water rate structure takes conservation into account , Brooks added.

“We heard very clearly from council we needed to do more in conservation,” she said.

The city created a water smart team that has been looking at several measures including reducing irrigation needs on city-owned properties while still maintaining those properties for uses such as soccer fields.

“This team looked at every park and right of way the city owns and ways to reduce water usage,” Brooks said.

The team is also: looking at ways to educate the public on how to reduce water usage; creating programs to help residents on fixed incomes; and looking at ways to encourage landscaping changes to use less water and be more deer resistant.

In 2007 the city created a conservation-oriented staggered rate system that charges a higher rate to those who use larger amounts of water. The proposed 2017 rate structure adds another category for industrial users such as the school district and Adams State, which irrigate large areas and might be able to reduce that usage.

Brooks said another reason for larger water users, whether residential or commercial, to pay more is because it costs the city in infrastructure to accommodate that large of a volume.

“We have to build a system for the peak instead of normal residential usage,” she said. “There is additional cost to the city to have a system to meet that peak demand.”

Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg said Alamosa averages 1.2 million gallons a day during the winter but 5.1-5 .2 million gallons a day during the peak summer demand season.

“That’s all irrigation,” he said.

Another reason to be conservation oriented, Brooks explained, is because Valley water users can no longer continue pumping down the system.

“We don’t live in an environment that is water rich,” she said, “and we have been living like that. If you want to live that way, make a choice in landscaping that does not match the environment we have, there’s a cost for that.”

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said compared to San Francisco, where she was from, “we haven’t even touched what is conservation where I grew up.”

People were fined if they used too much water, could only water on certain days and used gray water for their yards.

She said with the water issues here, conservation should be taken seriously and those who choose to water more should have to pay more.

Councilman Jan Vigil said he grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is a desert, like the San Luis Valley, and he believes strongly in conservation.

Sewer system has significant needs

Sewer rates will be increased 8 percent across the board. Brooks said the capital needs in wastewater are significant . Some parts of the treatment system have become obsolete, and the city cannot even find parts and can only find one person anywhere who is qualified to work on the system.

One example is the UV (ultraviolet) system, which the city is cannibalizing parts from one unit to try to keep another working, and there is no backup if the one UV unit fails.

One motherboard is being jumped with a nail.

“When that board fails and it’s going to we can’t even replace it,” Brooks said. “This is an emergency.”

Another costly item, required by the new discharge permit, entails moving the discharge point, which will cost about $500,000. Fixing the HVAC system will cost another $100,000, repairing the aeration system will take another $500,00, and the list goes on, Brooks explained.

The city has deferred many of these repairs and replacements but cannot continue to do so, Brooks explained.

“This is something where we have significant capital needs that is driving the need for a rate increase,” she said.

Rates still comparatively low

Brooks said the city has performed an exceptional job to try to keep costs low. She shared comparisons with other municipalities, not in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses” but to show that even with the extensive system Alamosa has to operate, it has kept rates low, especially compared to other cities.

For example, with the increases the average Alamosa municipal customer will be paying about $42 a month for water and sewer while the average customer in Gunnison pays about $47 a month, East Alamosa $62 a month, Salida about $65 a month, Monte Vista about $73 a month, La Junta about $81 a month, Montrose about $87 a month, Pagosa about $98 a month and Durango about $131 a month.

Councilor Charles Griego said he did not care what other communities were doing but wanted to make sure Alamosa was taking care of its people, and he appreciated the fact the staff only recommended increases to cover the services and capital improvements needed.

Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero also commended the staff and consultant for dealing with this complex and difficult issue.

“There are so many of us that go to the tap, turn that water on and don’t realize what really goes into every drop that comes out of that tap,” Lucero said. “It’s important for us to realize what we are paying for is basically life, because water is life. That’s our lifeblood here. We need to take care of it.”

#RioGrande Water Conservation District board meeting recap

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Although the liquid that attorneys argue about evaporates quickly, legal battles around water do not.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District Attorney David Robbins, who has been on the forefront of many of those battles over the years, updated the water district board this week on several ongoing cases of water litigation.

One of the most significant cases revolves around the groundwater rules promulgated by the state engineer about a year ago. About 30 responses were filed to the rules, some for them and some objecting to portions of the rules.

The Division of Water Resources staff has been trying to work with objectors to resolve their concerns short of trial. However, if the objections cannot be resolved, they will go to trial in January of 2018.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said, “We have met with all of the objectors at least once, most multiple times. We are working out stipulated agreements, getting closer on some of those. We will be continuing to work with those people and see if we can come up with agreements.”

Cotten said the goal is not to need the eight-week trial presently scheduled for early 2018. Robbins said the judge asked parties objecting to the rules to file notices stating specifically what they objected to, such as the model or data the rules rely upon. The parties have done that, he said, and now the state has the opportunity to respond.

Robbins said some objectors are working out stipulated agreements with the state, which will resolve their concerns short of trial. For example, water users with wells in the confined aquifer system in the Alamosa-La Jara and Conejos Response Areas, who objected to the sustainability criteria in the rules, are working out a stipulated agreement with the state. Robbins said he did not think the RGWCD would have any reason to object to the stipulation but he has asked for the documentation.

“The groundwater rules/regulations case is moving along. Judge Swift is doing a good job herding the cats. The state continues to work hard to try to resolve some of the objections so they can winnow it down to people who have concerns they want to pursue before the court,” Robbins said.

Robbins is also monitoring other ongoing cases such as:

• Bureau of Land Management augmentation plan for wells at the Blanca Habitat Area, which could potentially impact flows on the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers and for which BLM must identify replacement sources for those impacts;

• A Saguache Creek area individual augmentation plan for which Robbins questions the sufficiency of replacements for depletions;

• The City of Alamosa change of water rights case related to the golf course, which is pending information review;

• A case south of the Rio Grande and west of Alamosa revolving around the question of whether recharge replacement can carry over from year to year;

• The Santa Maria Reservoir change case to provide reservoir water for replacement for plans of water management such as those set up in the RGWCD’s subdistricts , and for which a trial is scheduled in April 2017, with James Werner the sole objector remaining;

• Three cases proposing to move water around to provide replacements for well depletions , including one for the City of Alamosa;

• The Texas vs. New Mexico /Colorado compact compliance case, which is being overseen by a special master who has indicated he will deny a motion to dismiss the case;

• Center for Biodiversity’s suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout as endangered, a case in which the RGWCD has not become involved but is considering whether it should, favoring the opinion of the Fish and Wildlife Service that the trout is not endangered.

RGWCD Board Member Bill McClure cautioned against the district spending dollars and time on cases that were already well represented by other agencies. Robbins agreed and said that is why he had not recommended that the district become directly involved in the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout suit, as the US Fish and Wildlife Services is already handling it.

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado will end the year with a credit in Rio Grande Compact accounting.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday it appears both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will end 2016 on the plus side, with the Rio Grande reflecting about 7,000 acre feet credit at this point and the Conejos River system less than 1,000 acre feet credit.

“We try to over deliver just slightly so there’s no issue with downstream states,” Cotten said.

Colorado must deliver water to New Mexico and Texas according to the Rio Grande Compact. Cotten explained that the annual flow on the Rio Grande this year will be about 670,000 acre feet, which is not a bad water year, especially considering some of the previous dry years in the Rio Grande Basin.

He said that of the 670,000 acre feet, the Rio Grande would owe 190,800 acres feet or about 28 percent, to its downstream neighbors through the Rio Grande Compact . The river has met that obligation and then some, Cotten added. At this point, it appears the Rio Grande will have over-delivered about 7,000 acre feet.

There are currently zero curtailments on Rio Grande users and slight if any curtailments since the beginning of September.

The Conejos River system came closer to its obligation without sending too much extra downstream, according to Cotten.

The annual index flow on the Conejos system will be about 280,000 acre feet, of which about a third, or 95,400 acre feet, was obligated to downstream states.

“We will be close on the Compact delivery, within 1,000 acre feet,” Cotten told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday. “We are close to where we want to be on the Conejos.”

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Southern San Luis Valley water users took charge of their future on Tuesday as they became the third group to form a water management sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

The sponsoring district board unanimously accepted petitions for its latest subdistrict, which encompasses 141 wells covering 170 parcels of land in Conejos County.

The sub-districts are designed to provide an alternative to individual well regulation by grouping wells in geographic or hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley (Rio Grande Basin), which as a group replaces its injurious depletions to surface water rights. Sub-districts are also beginning to repair long-term depletions to the Valley’s aquifer system caused by well pumping.

Sub-district participants pay fees, which are used to buy water and/or provide incentives to reduce pumping. In the sub-district presented on Tuesday, participants will be assessed fees per well and per acre foot of water.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Amber Pacheco presented to the sponsoring district board on Tuesday petitions representing 141 of a potential 198 wells in Sub-district #3. Nathan Coombs and LeRoy Salazar, who were part of the group that formed the subdistrict, were also present for the petition presentation to the RGWCD board.

Pacheco told the board staff and working group members had been working on this third sub-district for many months. Once they had information from the groundwater model, which determines depletions, the group was able to move forward.

Pacheco said the group was very successful in persuading well owners to join the sub-district , which is an “opt-in” sub-district. People had to choose to join. The first sub-district, on the other hand, was drawn up to cover a specific geographical area in the Valley’s closed basin region, and the work group then had to gather petitions from at least 51 percent of the landowners and 51 percent of the land.

Pacheco said efforts were made to contact every well owner in the Conejos subdistrict to give them the opportunity to join the subdistrict. Only one well owner, whose address was in Florida, did not respond at all, and another did not want to be involved. Both of those wells had not been used in a while.

Four other well owners opted out, not because they were against the sub-district but because they had other plans for their properties, and 21 wells belonging to governments such as towns or school districts indicated they would like to contract with the sub-district but could not participate directly, Pacheco explained.

She added a number of well owners decided to move their wells to exempt status so they would not fall under the groundwater rule process, for example downgrading them to stock or domestic wells, and a couple of well owners planned to seek abandonment of their wells.

All of the irrigation wells in the third sub-district are included, however, Pacheco said.

After receiving the petitions, RGWCD staff verified ownership and legal descriptions before presenting them to the board.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” said RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson who commended the staff who completed that process. He also commended the residents who have been working on this for some time.

“The people have been great to work with,” Pacheco added.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the process now is to file the petitions with the district court in Conejos County (because that is where the land lies in this subdistrict) and seek the court’s approval for the sub-district’s formation. The court must hold a hearing no less than 60 days and no more than 90 days after receiving the petitions , he added. Individuals with questions or challenges against the sub-district formation may express those to the court.

“With our participation basically 100 percent, we would hope we wouldn’t see much of a protest to the formation of the sub-district ,” Pacheco said.

If there are no challenges, the court will enter an order forming the sub-district , and a board of managers can then be appointed and a plan of management prepared, Robbins explained.

That plan will be submitted to the state engineer’s officer for approval.

The first sub-district , which is one of the largest and most complicated, has been in operation for a few years now, and the second sub-district in the alluvium of the Rio Grande was officially formed in March of this year and is currently working on its plan of water management.

Pacheco said progress is also being made in sub-districts in the San Luis Creek, Saguache and Alamosa/La Jara areas. She said the goal is to have the remainder of the sub-districts in front of the court by early next year.

RGWCD staff has been meeting with entities such as the towns of La Jara and Saguache and the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District to discuss their options for contracting with sub-districts. Discussions are also occurring with federal agencies.

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

#Colorado Water Trust Presents: The Great Divide Screening and Fundraiser @COWaterTrust

thegreatdividefilmhaveyproductions

Click here to buy your tickets. Here’s the pitch from the Colorado Water Trust:

Overview

The destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado. Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. In this time of increasing demand and limited supply, it is essential to promote a more informed and inclusive discussion concerning decisions affecting our water resources.

VIP Reception starts at 5:30pm in Henderson’s Lounge followed by the screening.

Proceeds from the event will go to support the Colorado Water Trust:

The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need. Founded in 2001, the Colorado Water Trust coordinates market-based water transactions, water-sharing agreements, infrastructure projects, and other creative solutions to restore flows to our state’s dry rivers and streams. Together with our diverse partners throughout the state, we are restoring habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving local economic opportunities, and where lost, returning to Colorado’s landscape the beauty of a flowing river. http://www.ColoradoWaterTrust.org

Here’s the Coyote Gulch review of The Great Divide:

“I used to be a orthodox card-carrying humanities academic with contempt for the manipulations of nature that engineers perpetrated. And then, I realized how much a beneficiary I was of those perpetrations.” — Patty Limerick (The Great Divide)

This is an important film and Ms. Limerick hits the nail on the head with her statement. When folks understand the history of Colorado and how water has shaped that history, when they learn about the disease and hardship that goes hand in hand with scarcity of water here in the arid west, when they witness the bounty from plains farms and the western valleys and the economic drivers associated with Colorado’s cities, when they take time to sit down to talk and learn from neighbors and others, opinions can change, understanding can grow, problems can be solved, and opportunities can be realized.

Jim Havey and the filmmakers set out an ambitious goal, that is, the telling of Colorado’s water story, without advocacy and without pointing fingers. The Great Divide accomplishes the telling using a superb screenplay written by Stephen Grace, the stunning footage by Jim Havey, along with the old photographs and maps of Colorado (and the Colorado River Basin).

Prior appropriation and anti-speculation are big ideas that form the foundation of Colorado water law. Article XVI of the Colorado Constitution includes detail about the preferred uses and the rights of diverters to cross private land to put the public’s water to beneficial use. All water in Colorado belongs to the citizens but diverters gain a property right allowing them to use the water.

The filmmakers manage to explain these details well during the film. The film describes the law, the compacts between states, river administration, and the 21st Century world of water. They emphasize the work and pioneering efforts needed to get Colorado where it is today.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

Starting with the San Luis People’s ditch (the oldest water right in continuous use in Colorado — 1852) Coloradans have built out many projects large and small to put the water to beneficial use. The Great Divide describes many of these projects including the big US Bureau of Reclamation projects, Colorado-Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, the Aspinall Unit, and what many think will be USBR’s last big project, Aninas-La Plata.

According to the film an early project, Cheesman Dam on the South Platte River, enabled delivery of high quality water to the City of Denver which had been plagued by outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

These projects have gotten Colorado to this point with over 5 million residents and a diversified economy. However, in the documentary the head of Denver Water Jim Lochhead states, “If we grow the next 5 million people the way we’ve grown the last 5 million — that may not be sustainable.”

There is a tension between environmentalists and water developers in today’s Colorado, highlighted by the film. The Great Divide explores the historical roots of the environmental movement starting with the Sierra Club effort to save Echo Park on the Yampa River, up through the legislation allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold and establish instream flow rights, the successful efforts to block groundwater withdrawals in the San Luis Valley for Front Range growth, and the mammoth decision to not permit the Two Forks Reservoir on the the South Platte River.

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

The City of Denver and many of the suburbs were counting on that project for future needs. It is interesting to note that the loss of Two Forks led to increased groundwater withdrawals from the Denver Basin Aquifer System and an increase in purchases of agricultural rights by municipal systems. Both of these alternatives are unsustainable but have led to recharge projects, water reuse projects by Denver Water and Aurora Water, along with serious efforts to allow alternative transfer methods for agricultural water that would protect farmers and keep the water with the land. The Great Divide touches on these newer more sustainable solutions.

Drought is a constant possibility in Colorado. The film shows how the drought of the 1930s spurred northeastern Colorado to line up behind the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for new supplies and storage.

US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002
US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002

When things turned around after the drought of 2002 The Great Divide informs us that municipalities had to rethink conservation efforts and that pumpers with insufficient augmentation water were shut down. Denver Water managed to cut per capita consumption by 20% below pre-2002 levels and other utilities noted similar savings.

The film examines the aftermath of the 2002 drought and the efforts by the Colorado legislature which passed the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. It established the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the nine basin roundtables. The roundtables and the IBCC were formed as a forum to share needs but most importantly share values. One of the outcomes of the effort has been the realization, stated in the film by Travis Smith that, “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

This connectedness, along with the need to solve looming wide-ranging supply gaps were the motivation for Governor Hickenlooper to issue an executive order to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create Colorado’s first ever water plan. The Governor has an opportunity to present his view of the need for the plan in the film. He touches on the fact that however the plan turns out it will be built by the grass roots.

During his introduction of the film Justice Gregory Hobbs advised us to listen to the words along with viewing the images. He was right, the narrative by Peter Coyote engages and informs. You cannot listen to Mr. Grace’s words without learning at the same time. And that’s the point right? Educate and inform with an accurate representation of Colorado water issues and history…

The film is a stellar vehicle for educating and generating conversation. Go see it when you can, buy the book, and then start talking and teaching.