Alamosa: Councillors review augmentation, loan, project plans

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Like all other larger well owners in the San Luis Valley , the City of Alamosa has to comply with groundwater regulations filed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer and pending court approval.

Those regulations require well owners to make up for the injuries they are causing senior surface water rights. The regulations also require measures to help replenish the basin’s aquifer levels.

The City of Alamosa staff and council have been working on means to comply with the new rules including acquisition of water to offset the city’s well pumping.

The city is setting up financing to cover those costs, which the city has capped at $4.3 million. The city will basically use a portion of its ranch property as collateral to finance the city’s water compliance efforts…

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that the city allowed flexibility in authorizing up to $4.3 million to include the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District, if it wished to participate in the city’s plan.

If East Alamosa opts to develop its own augmentation plan, or other costs for the city’s water plan are not as high as expected, the city will have leeway in the $4.3 million for other projects, Brooks added. The city would also have the option of paying the money back earlier, she said. The city staff and council identified some projects they felt were appropriate to use this money for, if it was not all needed for the water augmentation plan.

These include: water and sewer mains; sanitary lift stations; and levee rehabilitation to meet FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) requirements.

Including these projects in the financing ordinance does not mean they will be completed, but it gives the city more options with the financing , Brooks explained.

“It allows flexibility,” she said. She said the identified projects need addressed. For example, some of the pumps on sanitary lift stations are 30 years old “essentially at the end of their life” and if they were to be replaced, it would increase efficiency, use less electricity and require less staff time.

Likewise, there are sewer and water lines that need to be replaced. Last year lines even collapsed in a couple of areas, Brooks said.

The city also has to recertify the levee and cannot use enterprise funds for that, Brooks said. Councilors agreed it was a good idea to have some flexibility.

“It leaves the door open ” in case we need it,” said Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley . “It doesn’t cost anything extra than what we are already doing.”


The council unanimously approved on first reading the ordinance amendment and scheduled the second reading and public hearing during the city’s 7 p.m. meeting on April 5.

Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers workshop recap

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe tackled the “use it or lose it” concern during the Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop in Alamosa on Tuesday.

“People think they have got to divert everything under their water right or they will lose it,” Wolfe said.

He said the important thing to remember is historical consumptive use.

Most water in Colorado is diverted for irrigation, “for beneficial crop use,” he explained. Wolfe was involved in compiling a special report issued in February 2016 by the Colorado Water Institute in an effort to educate people on the “use it or lose it” concept.

The report addresses five main concerns: 1) maintaining conditional water right; 2) administering absolute water right; 3) abandoned water right; 4) changing use of a water right from agriculture to municipal use; and 5) implications of conservation program participation.

Wolfe specifically dealt with the fourth concern, changing the use of a water right, during Tuesday’s conference. He explained that water right changes come under dual administration, both from the state engineer’s office and the water court, which adjudicates the water right.

“Any change of water right can be time consuming and costly,” he said.

A change of water rights case has to consider whether the change will injure existing users or use more water than historically used.

Water rights come with restrictions such as the maximum that can be diverted, flow rate and area of land, Wolfe explained. The historic consumptive use is critical in water use change cases, he added, with the historical consumptive use of a water right often being less than the maximum that was allowed to be diverted under the original decree. Wolfe used a hypothetical example of a water right decreed for 150 cfs (cubic feet per second), but only 100 cfs had historically been used to irrigate the farmland, with only 60 cfs actually consumed by the crop and 40 cfs returning to the river. If the owner of the property wanted to dry up the farmland and sell the water right to a factory, for example, the owner could not transfer the full 150 cfs that was decreed in the water right, Wolfe explained. The owner could only transfer the 60 cfs that was historically consumed on that property. The water that has historically gone down the river must continue to do so.

Wolfe said someone might argue that they should divert their entire decreed right, then, but the crop can only consume so much water, and that consumptive use is what can be transferred.

“The measure of that is still historical consumptive use,” Wolfe said. “It’s limited by the amount the crop can consume.”

The duty of water is also something to consider, Wolfe added. If folks are diverting more water than they need, they could be depriving others and causing unintended impacts to the stream system, he explained.

Colorado water law does not permit wasteful water use, and Wolfe said he would be issuing an order in the next few months giving clear guidance on what wasting water means.

Water Rights and Governance Guide for #Colorado’ s Acequias (Revised 2016)

Click here to download the handbook. Here’s an excerpt:

This handbook is a joint effort of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School, Colorado Open Lands, and dedicated private attorneys. The handbook was inspired by the New Mexico Acequia Association’s Acequia Governance Handbook, which served as a wonderful model.

The handbook represents the work of law student volunteers at the University of Colorado Law School, with supervision and guidance from Colorado law professors and attorneys.

Taos Valley Acequia Association Annual Meeting, March 26, 2017

Taos Pueblo via Burch Street Casitas

From the Taos Valley Acequia Association:

Taos Valley Acequia Association will hold its Annual Meeting at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center Taos, New Mexico on Sunday March 26, 2017 Beginning at 1:00 p.m. As elected Mayordomo or Commissioner, it is part of your responsibility to your acequia and Parciantes, to report to them keep them informed on the acequia issues by attending this critical Annual Meeting. TVAA looks to the Mayordomos and Commissioners to pass this information to its parciantes.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact the office at (575) 758-9461.

We look forward to seeing you at the Annual Meeting

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: “Shovel ready” projects get design and engineering funding

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Water leaders on Tuesday approved funding for two projects that will improve local reservoir and river operations.

The Rio Grande Roundtable approved $70,000 from locally allocated water funds for engineering work for Mountain Home Reservoir upgrades and $90,000 for surveying, design, and permitting work for projects primarily around the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area near Monte Vista. These funds will be matched with money from other sources to complete the projects. The Mountain Home Reservoir project is in its second of three phases, with the third phase encompassing construction work. The state is mandating repairs at the reservoir. Only one of the gates at the reservoir is operational, and not operating that well.

The reservoir, located east of Fort Garland, is operated by the Trinchera Irrigation Company and supports the irrigation of several thousand acres of farmland in Costilla County as well as fishing and boating opportunities. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife operates a State Wildlife Area at the reservoir and stocks the reservoir with trout. Both local residents and tourists enjoy the recreational opportunities at Mountain Home.

The dam was built in the early 1900’s and is showing its age. Leakage at the gate is costing irrigators, and replacement of the dam gates would restore the reservoir’s capacity and benefit the farmers and ranchers who depend on a portion of their water supply from the reservoir.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request for local roundtable funds, which the roundtable approved on Tuesday. The funds would go towards engineering and design work to replace the dam gates. The irrigation company has chosen Engineering Analytics, Inc., out of Fort Collins to conduct the work. The firm has experience in dam rehab work.

The total for the design phase portion of the dam rehab project is $100,000, with the roundtable funding comprising $70,000 of that. The remainder is coming from the irrigation company and Trinchera Blanca Foundation…

The roundtable was also receptive to the projects around the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area. Roundtable members Karla Shriver and Heather Dutton abstained from voting, Shriver because she is a member of one of the ditches that will benefit from the work and Dutton because she oversees the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Program requesting the funding.

As with the Mountain Home Reservoir project, the Roundtable funds for the wildlife area project will primarily be used for design, survey and permitting work, for which the roundtable board approved $90,000 from the local basin account, to be matched from other sources to complete the $213,990 total.

This project will ultimately stabilize eroded stream banks, preserve riparian vegetation and habitat and replace old diversion infrastructures on the SLV Canal and Centennial Ditch…

In high flows , the stream could wash away a siphon the Colorado Parks & Wildlife maintains for wetland areas and possibly cut off water delivery to the Centennial Ditch, a senior water right provider for 22 stockholders and irrigating 8,500 acres.

As part of this project, the diversion structure for the Centennial Ditch would be improved…

Headgate repairs would also be incorporated into this project on the SLV Canal, also a senior water right provider, which serves 78 stockholders, irrigates more than 20,000 acres and borders the wildlife area.

Bachman explained that another smaller project upstream near Del Norte is included in this request and although it is not geographically adjacent to the wildlife area has similarities in that it will improve the river, and all three are “shovel ready,” so work could begin as soon as funding is in place. Bachman said that in addition to roundtable funding , this project would be supported by funds from Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant Program.

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead


By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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Alamosa councillors cap groundwater compliance right aquisition

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):

The city has already bought some water rights to begin this compliance process.

Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow told the council Wednesday night that staff has estimated it could take $3.5 million to comply with the rules…

The ordinance provides an outside limit to the terms of the financing of $3.7 million principal, $5.6 million total payment, and maximum annual payment of $375,000.

The $5.6 million is based on 5 percent interest over a 15-year repayment period.

Schwiesow said this ordi-ALAMOSA city council this week set boundaries on how much it will spend on its efforts to comply with new water rules from the state.

The council approved on first reading and scheduled for a March 1st public hearing an ordinance setting $3.7 million as the upper limit of what the city will finance to pay for water rights and associated expenses to bring the city into compliance with new groundwater rules.

Under the new rules, well owners (including municipalities ) must make up for their negative effects to surface water rights as well as providing means to replenish the San Luis Valley’s aquifer to more sustainable levels. nance for financing for the water project including the acquisition of water rights. It does not mean the city will be spending that much, but it means the city will not spend more than that, he explained.

The city will be working with UMB Bank to set up the financing . Alamosa Councilman Charles Griego said he hoped local banks would be involved. City Manager Heather Brooks said UMB Bank would shop around for the best rates, and Schwiesow added that the city council would ultimately approve whatever bank UMB Bank brought back to the council for financing. UMB Bank essentially serves as a broker for the city, he explained. In another water related matter of a different nature, the council on Wednesday approved its first budget amendment for the year in part to cover the costs of replacing failing equipment in the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The city will transfer $250,000 from the Enterprise Debt Fund to the water treatment department to replace ultraviolet equipment that is part of the last disinfection phase at the wastewater plant…

Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg added that when the plant was constructed 19 years ago, it had two UV systems. One of those quit working five or six years ago and the other is “on its last leg.” There are no parts even available for it now, he added.

The total transfer from the Enterprise Debt Fund was for $383,000, which included the $250,000 for the UV equipment as well as water department operations including $33,000 to add a technician to backfill existing staff.

The budget amendment also includes interdepartmental transfers to cover the cost of a drone purchase for the city, which all departments from IT to fire will be able to utilize.