Rio Grande Reservoir outlet works project update

Rio Grande Reservoir
Rio Grande Reservoir

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The reservoir’s outlet experiences what Smith calls a “hydraulic jump” because of a design flaw that allows air to surge along the ceiling of the tunnel. “It’s kind of a coke bottle affect,” said Smith, who also represents the Rio Grande basin on the conservation board. That flaw has limited the amount of water that can be released from the reservoir during periods of high inflows to 1,200 cubic feet per second. Smith hopes the repairs will boost that figure to between 1,800 CFS and 2,000 CFS. State lawmakers initially approved other repairs to the reservoir as part of the $30 million Rio Grande Cooperative Project in 2012. The current proposal would add another $10 million to that initial approval, although lawmakers would decide how much of that amount is grant or a loan…

Smith sees that cooperation between privately-owned irrigation reservoirs and other interests on the river as a model for advancing water projects.

The reservoir’s main purpose is to deliver irrigation water to just 62,000 acres of farm ground in the north end of the San Luis Valley. With a capacity of 54,000 acre-feet, it is one of only three reservoirs with significant capacity upstream from where diversions begin to pull from the river for agriculture. That means it plays an important role in replacing depletions on lower reaches of the river caused by groundwater pumping on the valley floor.

#Snowpack news: Rio Grande doing well for a change

Westwide basin-filled map February 19, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide basin-filled map February 19, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten explained that both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems, which are under Rio Grande Compact obligations to New Mexico and Texas, are forecasted for above average flows . The snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin that encompasses the Valley is also above average.

More water is good news, Cotten said, but it also means more water must be sent down the river to meet the compact. He explained that the greater the flow, the higher the percentage that must be sent downriver.

That also means irrigators will see higher curtailments on the river systems affected by the compact, Cotten added.

Cotten updated the Rio Grande Roundtable members on the Valley’s river and snowpack status on Tuesday. His early forecast for the annual flow of the Rio Grande at Del Norte is 795,000 acre feet, 124 percent of the long-term average. That is higher than the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) current forecast, which is about 700,000 acre feet, Cotten said, but he believed the runoff would be higher.

He said his office is using multiple sources such as the NRCS and National Weather Service to develop forecasts.

If the forecast of 795,000 acre feet holds true on the Rio Grande, Colorado will be obligated to send 254,000 acre feet downstream to meet its compact obligations.

In order to do that, ditches along the Rio Grande would have to be curtailed by about 27 percent. In comparison, last year curtailments were at 12 percent at the beginning of the irrigation season, Cotten said.

Curtailments on the Conejos River system will be even higher, according to Cotten. He said the NRCS is currently forecasting an annual index flow of 420,000 acre feet, about 137 percent of the longterm average, which would require 206,000 acre feet to be sent downstream to meet compact obligations.

That would require a curtailment of 43 percent, Cotten explained…

As of Tuesday the snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin was 148 percent of average, Cotten said. Some of the snow measurement (SNOTEL) sites were well above that. For example, Costilla and Culebra Creeks’ SNOTEL sites were at 177-178 percent of average, and the Valley’s highest was Sangre de Cristo Creek at 184 percent.

Rio Grande: Special master’s report, “indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment” — Laura Paskus

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full
Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From NMPoliticalReport (Laura Paskus):

When the special master’s 351-page final report arrived this week, it didn’t vary much from the draft this summer, in which Gregory Grimsal delivered some grim messages to New Mexico.

The exhaustively-researched report details the history of water agreements and disputes along the lower Rio Grande and indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment.

Anticipating that the case would be moving forward, earlier this year New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced a new joint defense strategy with the state’s two water agencies, the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.

The Attorney General’s office was unable to accommodate an interview this week about the new strategy, but office spokesman James Hallinan issued an email statement to NM Political Report.

“Attorney General Balderas is committed to seeking the best result for New Mexico in the decades-long water litigation he inherited from his predecessors, and will work with the joint defense team he formed with New Mexico’s Lower Rio Grande water users and the Office of the State Engineer throughout the legal process,” Hallinan said. “Attorney General Balderas knows that water is the lifeblood of New Mexico’s unique economy and culture, and now that the court has ruled on the preliminary filings, he can push forward his targeted, technical, data-driven strategy towards the most favorable resolution for New Mexico.”

NM Political Report repeatedly requested to speak with someone from the Office of the State Engineer, which is responsible for groundwater permits, or the Interstate Stream Commission, the agency authorized under state law to negotiate compact disputes.

None of those phone calls or emails were returned.

According to Balderas’ office, the three state agencies will work together and also enter into joint defense agreements with New Mexico State University, PNM, the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association, the City of Las Cruces and Camino Real Regional Utility Authority.

One entity from the state absent from the list is the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which sits below the dam in New Mexico, but in the legal world of western water, is considered a part of Texas.

‘No man’s land”

In southern New Mexico today, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District delivers water to about 60,000 acres of fields of crops like pecans, chile and onions.

The district covers more than 90,000 acres, but due to a lingering drought, some of those lands are fallow.

“These are family farms, people who are good stewards of the land,” EBID manager Gary Esslinger told NM Political Report. “It’s a different type of atmosphere here compared with large corporate farms in California that are owned by a bank or an insurance company.”

The irrigation district is different in other ways, too.

To know why, it takes understanding the 1938 Rio Grande Compact and how it divvies up the river’s water among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Annually, New Mexico’s fair share from Colorado is based on streamgage measurements near the state line.

Sending Texas its water is trickier. That’s because New Mexico delivers that water to a reservoir 90 miles north of the state line.

Built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over 100 years ago, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water for what’s called the Rio Grande Project—water the federal government must deliver to farmers in New Mexico and Texas, downstream cities, and Mexico.

Alamosa: Colorado Ag Water Alliance to hold meeting Feb. 28

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

From the Colorado Cattleman’s Association via FencePost:

The next Colorado Ag Water Alliance Ag Producers’ Water Workshop will be held Feb. 28 at the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District in Alamosa from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free, and the organizers hope to have a good turnout of producers in the Rio Grande Basin region.

» The Colorado Water Plan aims to address the water needs of cities, agriculture and the environment in light of projected shortages. Agriculture is a focus.

» What are alternative transfer methods? What’s the motivation for farmers and ranchers to participate in leasing or to improve irrigation efficiency? What are the barriers?

» Brief, highly focused presentations and panel dialogue will cover the basics, followed by opportunity for ag producers to ask questions and engage in dialogue about what they see as opportunities and barriers — and how those barriers and opportunities might best be addressed.

To register, go to

Rio Grande: Special Master rules in Texas v. New Mexico

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

From The Las Cruces Sun-News (Diana Alba Soular):

Special Master Gregory Grimsal declined New Mexico’s request to toss out Texas’ lawsuit — essentially reaffirming draft rulings he issued in mid-2016 that was seen as a blow to New Mexico’s case.

The rulings are not the end of the case. They must now be reviewed by the Supreme Court, attorneys involved in the case said. And the entire matter could end up in a trial if not settled.

After the draft rulings, Grimsal took feedback from the parties involved and could have modified his stances in the document released Thursday. Instead, the final conclusions were the same as in the draft.

An attorney for Las Cruces-based Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which has been at odds with the state of New Mexico over the lawsuit, said the rulings represent a “victory” for the irrigation district. He said they recognize that “EBID members’ surface water rights are senior to all water rights in the basin” and that “the state engineer is obligated to protect that water as EBID delivers that water.”


The lawsuit arose out of the nature of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, which apportioned river water among three U.S. states, experts have said. New Mexico’s measuring point for delivering water to Texas was the Elephant Butte Reservoir — roughly 100 miles north of the Texas state line. The river water released from the reservoir serves farmers in New Mexico-based EBID and Texas-based El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, as well as in Mexico. The groundwater pumping in that same 100-mile stretch, however, has been the purview of the New Mexico State Engineer’s Office.

Texas has argued New Mexico has over-pumped groundwater, undermining El Paso irrigators’ share of river water. EBID attorneys have said Grimsal’s rulings indicated New Mexico not only was obligated to deliver river water to Elephant Butte Reservoir for downstream users, but also had to protect it from being undermined before reaching the Texas state line.

Hernandez said the special master’s decision from Thursday must now be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take a few different approaches. The court could accept it outright or allow the states involved to make written — or possibly oral — arguments regarding Grimsal’s decision.

If the court affirms the ruling and sends the case back to Grimsal, the case would then be scheduled for a trial, which Grimsal would oversee. The outcome of the trial also would have to be reviewed and signed off upon by the Supreme Court, Hernandez said.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced last week he had met with stakeholders and is hoping to negotiate with Texas toward a resolution of the case.

In addition to declining New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the case, Grimsal on Thursday declined motions by EBID and EPCID No. 1 to become official parties in the case, alongside New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Also, he specified the federal government couldn’t file a claim against New Mexico based on the 1938 Rio Grande Compact but that the federal government could make an argument against New Mexico under federal reclamation law, according to the document.

SLV projects receive $1.4 million in GOCO grants

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

From Great Outdoors Colorado (Rosemary Dempsey) via The Crestone Eagle:

The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded three grants totaling more than $1.4 million to projects across the San Luis Valley. San Luis Valley Inspire, a valley-wide coalition breaking down barriers for kids to get outside, received $1 million in funding as part of the GOCO Inspire Initiative; Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) received a $376,500 grant to permanently conserve the La Garita Creek Ranch near Del Norte; and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) received a $25,000 habitat restoration grant for Rio Grande State Wildlife Area.

The $1 million grant is part of GOCO’s Inspire Initiative, which will invest in places, programs, and pathways to get kids outside in communities across the state. This innovative framework is being looked at as a national model, and each coalition’s approach to the unique challenges of their community will serve as examples to other rural, urban, suburban, or mountain communities across the country.

Youth have led the charge for the San Luis Valley Inspire coalition; this funding will put their plans into action over the next three years. San Luis Valley Inspire will put GOCO funding to work in Antonito, Creede and Saguache, building the Antonito Outdoor Education Center and investing in the creation of the Antonito Adventure Program, improving connections along Creede’s Willow Creek Corridor, the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps, the Saguache Backyard to Backcountry Program, and the Saguache Youth Conservation Corps.

RiGHT’s grant for La Garita Creek Ranch was part of GOCO’s open space grant program, which funds public and private land conservation. Projects sustain local agriculture and economies, give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, and safeguard the state’s water supply.

La Garita Creek Ranch is a 460-acre guest ranch outside of Del Norte near Penitente Canyon, an international climbing, hiking, and mountain biking destination. The ranch is also adjacent to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the Rio Grande National Forest.

Conserving La Garita will protect critical water access and habitat for a variety of wildlife species as well as Ute pictographs and other archaeological evidence of early Native Americans. The conservation project will also create new climbing and bouldering access.

CPW’s grant is part of GOCO’s habitat restoration grant program. In 2016, GOCO doubled funding for the program, which restores habitat through projects that remove invasive plant species, protect Colorado’s water supply, mitigate fire fuels, and perform other critical restoration work.

Restoration of the Rio Grande in Rio Grande State Wildlife Area will protect water infrastructure, local agriculture, and wetlands that support threatened and endangered amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals.

To date, GOCO has invested $42 million in San Luis Valley projects and has conserved more than 90,000 acres of land in the valley. GOCO funding has supported Alamosa’s ice rink and Rio Grande Farm Park, Faith Hinkley Memorial Park in Monte Vista, and Center’s Town Park, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit for more information.

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 or call Judy Lopez at 719-580-5300. For more information contact Judy Lopez at or 719-580-5300 or Helen Smith at

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.