Water workshop for agriculture producers set for Feb. 28

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

From the Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop via The Valley Courier:

Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop will be held on February 28, at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa. The workshop will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at 2 p.m.

There is no cost.

Register at riograndeag@eventbrite.com or call Judy Lopez at 719-580-5300. For more information contact Judy Lopez at jlopez@coloradoopenlands.org or 719-580-5300 or Helen Smith at hssissy@gmail.com

Workshop topics include: “Motivations for Ag Producers to Use Their Water Differently;” “What Do Colorado Ag Producers Think About Ag Water Leasing?;” “Leasing water in the Arkansas Valley;” “Alternatives to Permanent Fallowing;” “Thinking about Water as Crop;” “Ag/Urban Partnerhips Concepts;” “Conejos ATM Project;” “Lease-Fallowing Tool;” and more.

Speakers will include representatives from the Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Division of Water Resources, City of Aurora and Conejos Water Conservancy District.

@DOINews: Secretary Jewell, Tribal Leaders Mark Enactment of Four Additional Water Rights Settlements for Indian Country

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from Secretary Jewell’s office:

As part of President Obama’s historic commitment to empowering tribal nations, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor today joined tribal leaders to celebrate four landmark water rights settlements that will resolve contention among tribes and neighboring communities over water rights and improve the quality of life for tribal communities and their non-Indian neighbors.

The settlements, negotiated during the past eight years, were ratified and approved in December 2016 under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The legislation authorized $422 million in funding to the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana to provide clean drinking water and other water-related infrastructure projects that will improve the health, safety and welfare of the Tribe. More than $28 million was authorized for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, located in southern California, enabling them to gain secure water supplies. The legislation secured for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations of Oklahoma the right to use and benefit from water resources within their historic treaty territories without any federal funding. Finally, the five San Luis Rey Bands of southern California settlement legislation finalized and effectuated a settlement originally enacted in 1988 and did not require additional funding.

“With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.”

The total $3 billion in funding authorized for Indian water rights settlements during the current Administration represents a major commitment to help provide safe drinking water and support economic development activities, including hydroelectric power, agriculture improvement and water marketing.

“The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”

The Blackfeet settlement reflects decades of struggle and commitment by the Tribe – and negotiations with the State of Montana – to quantify and secure a tribal water right of more than 800,000 acre-feet while protecting the rights of existing water users. The settlement includes funding for the Tribe to develop and manage its water resources.

The Pechanga settlement, which will partially settle litigation filed by the United States in 1951, was achieved only after a long and arduous struggle. The Pechanga Band negotiated the settlement with its neighbors, the Rancho California Water District, Eastern Municipal Water District and the Metropolitan Water District. The Band has tirelessly pursued the quantification of its water rights and engaged its neighbors in a multi-year process of building mutual trust and understanding. The resulting settlement benefits all of the parties, securing adequate water supplies for tribal members and encouraging cooperative water resources management among all parties.

The Choctaw and Chickasaw settlement in Oklahoma – the first Indian water settlement to be finalized in that state – reflects a unique and collaborative approach to water management in the Nations’ historic treaty territories. It will advance a collaborative approach to water management and help achieve water security for the State of Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The settlement includes important protections for the Nations’ future and existing water rights, conserves water resources and provides for cooperation in the regulation of water use.

The San Luis Rey settlement allows full implementation of amendments to the 1988 San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act that benefits the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians in southern California. The agreement allows the five Bands and the local parties to realize the full benefits of the 1988 Act, including: expressly recognizing the continuing federal reserved water rights of the Bands; addressing the fair allocation of water among the Bands; protecting the water rights of allottees; waiving all past claims the Bands may have against the U.S. regarding water rights and breach of trust relating to water rights; and allowing the Bands to access a trust fund established in 1988 that has now grown to approximately $60 million.

“These settlements recognize tribal stakeholders’ reserved rights to one of their most precious assets and offer the most efficient way of providing vital water supplies to both tribal and non-Indian communities,” said Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts. “Under the Obama Administration, Indian water rights settlements are a visible example of the Federal trust responsibility to federally recognized tribes and of Federal policies that promote tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. I congratulate all of the parties to these settlements for their leadership in achieving these settlements.”

The eight other settlements enacted during the Obama Administration were:

  • Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement
  • Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Water Rights Settlement
  • Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement
  • White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement
  • Aamodt Litigation Settlement
  • Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement
  • Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement (Hualapai Tribe)
  • Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe – Fish Springs Ranch Settlement
  • Thoughtful Indian water rights settlements benefit taxpayers when balanced against the potential consequences and costs of continued litigation over Indian water rights claims. Settlements also offer the most efficient way to provide much-needed water supplies to tribal communities in fulfillment of basic Federal trust responsibility to American Indians and Federal policy promoting tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self- sufficiency.

    Settlements are especially important given the need for water on many Indian reservations and throughout the West and the uncertainty regarding its availability due to drought, climate change and increasing demands for this scarce resource. Settlements resolve long-standing claims to water; provide reliability with respect to supplies; facilitate the development of much-needed infrastructure; improve environmental and health conditions on reservations; and promote collaboration between Tribes, states and local communities.

    From the Indian Country Media Network (Vincent Schilling):

    On Friday, January 13, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor joined with tribes and members of Congress to celebrate the enactment of four historic Indian water rights settlements that will benefit nine tribes.

    The celebration included leaders from the Blackfeet Tribe, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.

    U.S. Congressman Tom Cole was also in attendance, along with a number of tribal leaders.

    During the announcement and celebration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thanked the leaders of the tribes in attendance and informed the attendees that the Obama Administration has reached more water settlements than any administration in history.

    “With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.

    “The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor.

    “Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”

    Dugan Ranch – Conserved! — Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.
    Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

    Here’s the release from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust:

    In 1999 the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) was founded as the community‘s land trust, dedicated to serving the entire San Luis Valley. In 2007, RiGHT launched the Rio Grande Initiative, the landscape scale effort with many partners to protect land and water along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. One of the first ranches they protected under the Initiative is owned by Bob and Carol Lee Dugan on the river on Swede Lane, just west of Monte Vista. Now, nearly ten years later, RiGHT is proud to announce that the Dugans have protected yet another nearby ranch with a conservation easement.

    This 316-acre ranch, which combines parcels previously known as the James Ranch and the Stephens Ranch, is just south of the river between Monte Vista and Del Norte. Between the two ranches, the Dugans have now protected a total of 670 acres with conservation easements. In doing so, they have also protected the water that goes with those ranches, the wildlife habitat, the beautiful views, and the important agricultural productivity. Clearly, this represents a strong commitment to conservation by Bob and Carol Lee Dugan and they continue to recommend conservation to others, saying, “We suggest that other land owners consider preserving their ranches for the future generations of this state.”

    “We are immensely grateful to the Dugan family for their dedication to their properties along the Rio Grande,” said Nancy Butler, RiGHT’s Executive Director. “Their land ethic has helped RiGHT and our partners protect more than 26,000 acres along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. That legacy will continue far into the future and that land, water and wildlife habitat will remain intact for all to enjoy.”

    The conservation of the 2016 Dugan Ranch project was made possible through the generous support of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Gates Family Foundation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (via funding supported by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable) and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee. Invaluable support has also been provided by individual donors who ensure that RiGHT’s conservation work can continue.

    As an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NRCS’s mission is to help people help the land. Colorado’s NRCS State Conservationist Clint Evans stated that, “Protecting vital agricultural landscapes is a top priority for NRCS. Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easement (ACEP-ALE), the natural resource benefits we all enjoy derived from prime agricultural lands can be preserved.”

    “This project is an important contribution to the corridor of conservation in this area of the river, with nearly 1,500 acres already conserved nearby,” said Butler. “RiGHT has conserved four other spectacular ranches in this area, providing excellent wildlife habitat and maintaining the beautiful scenery that we all love in the San Luis Valley. Carol Lee and Bob Dugan have demonstrated immense dedication to preserving these lands in perpetuity and we are grateful that RiGHT was able to help them achieve their dreams for these special places.”

    New Mexico acequias to benefit from $225 million water infrastructure bill

    An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
    An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

    From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The federal government will spend nearly a quarter-billion dollars to finance several dozen projects aimed at easing the effects of drought in the western U.S. and restoring watersheds that provide drinking water to communities around the nation, officials announced Wednesday.

    The $225 million in funding will be shared among 88 projects, from California’s Central Valley to centuries-old irrigation systems in northern New Mexico and thousands of square miles of fragmented streams in Maine. More than half of the projects specifically address drought and water quality.

    Jason Weller, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the federal funding will also generate $500 million more in spending for the projects that will be provided by state, local and private partners.

    “That’s important for us because no one organization has the boots on the ground, the financial resources, the technical expertise needed to deal with drought, invasive species, invasive weeds, be more energy efficient and improve the health of their forests,” he said. “It’s really incumbent upon us all to work smarter and more effectively together.”

    Weller pointed to the tens of millions of trees that have died in California due to the epic drought there and other challenges faced by communities bordering public and private forests that are overgrown and unhealthy. He said the dry conditions are putting pressure on watersheds and their ability to provide abundant and clean water.

    The funding also is aimed at tackling flooding problems in places such as Merced County, California, where storm runoff in recent years has forced road closures and damaged prime agricultural land.

    Officials say $10 million will go toward the design and construction of a system that will better capture and use snowmelt and precipitation from foothills while protecting infrastructure in the county.

    Local partners are expected to triple the federal investment in the project.

    Nearly $18 million is dedicated to projects in New Mexico, where Hispanic families have been using acequias, or earthen canals, for centuries to water their crops.

    Acequias are located in 12 of the most impoverished counties in New Mexico and many need repairs. Supporters say revitalization of the historic irrigation systems are a matter of social and environmental justice because of their cultural and spiritual importance for the region.

    Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos
    Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

    In Maine, $6 million is being invested in a restoration project that spans 25,000 square miles. The goal is to reconnect some of the state’s high-value aquatic networks that have been damaged by roads and vehicles. The Nature Conservancy group and 18 other partners will be working on that project.

    In all, the regional conservation program has invested $825 million in nearly 300 projects around the country over the last three years. The program was created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

    #RioGrande: Tackling The Mosaic Puzzle of a Fragile Ecosystem — Water Deeply

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Here’s an interview with Luzma Nava from Matt Weiser and Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    IF THERE’S EVER been a river at the mercy of international politics, it would have to be the Rio Grande.

    The river begins in southern Colorado, flows the length of New Mexico, then forms the entirety of the border between Texas and Mexico. As such, the Rio Grande (known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico) is not only the subject of water battles but also disputes involving public access, legitimate international trade, illegal drug trafficking and, of course, illegal immigration…

    Several treaties govern the flow of water in the Rio Grande, as well as trade and travel across the international border. Because of intense water development and diversion, parts of the river are completely dry and fishless for hundreds of miles during much of the year. The treaties ensure that everyone who is entitled to water gets their share, on both sides of the border.

    Forgotten in all this is what’s best for the river itself – its wildlife and its habitats – and for the people who simply want to enjoy a wet river. Luzma Nava recently explored this problem in a study published in the journal, Water. The study was completed while Nava was a postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, an independent think-tank based outside Vienna, Austria.

    Nava, a native of Guanajuato, Mexico, is now completing a doctoral degree in international studies at Laval University in Quebec. For the Rio Grande study, Nava conducted more than 70 interviews with people involved in Rio Grande water management, on both sides of the border, and concluded that it is possible to amend the Rio Grande treaties to free up water for environmental purposes. Nava spoke recently with Water Deeply about her work…

    Water Deeply: What is the condition of the river today?

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    Nava: If I have to answer in one word, I would say fragile. The main issue is the lack of water. Also the water quality is in danger. And when water quality of the river is not good enough, then we have ecological issues as a consequence.

    The fact we don’t have enough water translates into other issues that depend on the quantity of water. There is a loss of habitat, water quality degradation, pollution, salinization, sedimentation. The community of fish is very, very low. In terms of water quality, the more fish we find in the river, the better the quality of the water. But in the case of the Rio Grande, it doesn’t work like that because there are no fish in the river. They have disappeared because there is not enough water.

    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.