A framework for assessing ecosystem services in acequia irrigation communities of the Upper Río Grande watershed

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

Here’s a paper that suggests an analysis of acequia flood irrigation and the environment that exists now is needed prior to a move to drips, from N. Raheem, et al. that’s posted on the Taos Acequia Association Website:

‘What we need to do is inventory the different types of agricultural landscapes and bring to light the typical rural architecture, such as the acequias and desagües (irrigation supply canals and excess water drains). We need to find ways of conserving the landscape, including the flora and fauna as well as the role the agricultural landscape has played in the evolution of the surrounding area. Before we abandon the past (flood irrigation) for the contemporary (drip irrigation), we need a thorough analysis of the pros and cons of each system for the whole cultural landscape. The future may be one where the old and new learn to coexist, such as the hoe with the plow’ (Arellano, 2014, p. 204). © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

San Luis Valley: “We have had a good season so far” — Craig Cotten

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From The Alamosa News (Ruth Heide):

Following record rainfall in July, water levels in area rivers have declined significantly, according to Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten.

He said the annual streamflows on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will wind up above normal, however, and the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) should have no trouble meeting its Compact obligations to downstream states.

“We have had a good season so far,” he said on Tuesday.

The basin experienced a good runoff, followed by a drop-off of flows and then above-average precipitation that bolstered streamflows, in some areas significantly, Cotten explained.

“We always anticipate precipitation in the monsoon periods, July and August time period, but the extent of that was a little bit unanticipated,” he added.

Streamflows in the San Luis Valley have dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks, Cotten said, on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems. The Rio Grande is currently below average for this time of year but should total about 700,000 acre feet streamflow for the year, which is above the average of 650,000 acre feet.

The Conejos River system should wind up with about 425,000 acre feet, which is well above the average of just over 300,000 acre feet…

Currently, irrigators are being curtailed 13 percent on the Rio Grande and 37 percent on the Conejos system, according to Cotten who said only three ditches with the highest priority are taking water on the Conejos River system right now.

Cotten said his goal is to meet the Compact obligation with some to spare but not over-deliver too much downstream…

With irrigation still ongoing, the Rio Grande Compact reservoir storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs in New Mexico has dropped below 400,000 acre feet to about 350,000 acre feet, Cotten explained. When that happens, reservoirs like Platoro Reservoir in the Valley that were built after the Compact went into effect cannot store water until the Compact reservoir storage in New Mexico exceeds 400,000 acre feet again. The storage prohibition will probably last until January, Cotten said.

Irrigation use is tapering off somewhat in the Valley for most crops except alfalfa, which is gearing up for a third cutting.

@USBR Launches New Basin Studies in #NewMexico and #Arizona

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen announced that Reclamation is launching two new basin studies. The Rio Grande Basin Study in New Mexico and Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield Basin Study in Arizona will help inform water managers within their respective basins.

“Growing imbalances between supply and demand are impacting many basins throughout the West,” Mikkelsen said. “Through collaboration and using the latest science and data we can develop solutions that will help ensure a sustainable water supply.”

The Rio Grande Basin Study in New Mexico is focused on the Middle Rio Grande from the Colorado-New Mexico border to Elephant Butte Reservoir. The basin has been fully allocated since 1907 and future potential conditions in the basin could result in decreased water supply and quality. Reclamation is partnering with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District on this study.

The basin study will enhance existing models and data to evaluate infrastructure and operations. It will also develop strategies to improve water supply reliability and improve stakeholder collaboration and water management in an area of competing needs. Reclamation is providing $498,000 and the non-federal partners are contributing $517,000 for a total study cost of $1.12 million.

The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield groundwater basins in Southern Arizona encompass most of the corridor between Phoenix and Tucson. The area receives about 340,000 acre-feet of water annually through the Central Arizona Project, which is used in conjunction with more than 435,000 acre-feet of groundwater for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses. The basins also provide aquifer storage of CAP water to increase regional supply reliability. The groundwater is being overdrafted by about 230,000 acre-feet per year and is causing severe subsidence in the basins, putting critical infrastructure at risk.

The study will help water managers in the basins update existing models, bring together diverse stakeholders and the public, and develop adaptation strategies to better manage groundwater supplies with future uncertainties in Colorado River supplies. Reclamation and the non-federal partners will each contribute $680,000 for a total study cost of $1.36 million.

Reclamation is partnering with the Central Arizona Project, Arizona Department of Water Resources, Pinal County, Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority, Global Water Resources, Arizona Water Company, City of Casa Grande, City of Eloy, Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District on this basin study.

The Basin Study Program is part of WaterSMART. WaterSMART is the Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. For more information on the WaterSMART program, visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART. To learn more about the Basin Study Program or the projects announced today, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/bsp.

It took decades to decide and Aamodt settlement worries acequia communities

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

From The Sante Fe New Mexican (Tripp Stelnicki):

A federal court entered a final decree in the Aamodt settlement to much fanfare earlier this summer, ending more than half a century of litigation and negotiation in one of the longest-running water fights in the country. But even with the decree, a flood of questions lingers over the implementation of the settlement, and the Office of the State Engineer’s proposed rules have touched off particular concern in the centuries-old acequia communities, where there is anxiety about being left high and dry in a post-Aamodt environment.

The communities have operated communal river-diverted irrigation systems in a largely informal and entirely internal fashion for centuries. Many say their localized, community-oriented nature is what makes them special. Some call the acequias, with roots in Spanish colonialism, the oldest form of democracy on American soil.

Now the organizations are racing to interpret what the proposed new regulations will compel them to do, preparing for a public hearing this week that amounts to their last best chance to voice concerns and suggest alterations to the Office of the State Engineer before the rules are promulgated by Sept. 15.

In recent weeks, there have been a few informational meetings for those affected, but members of acequia communities say the rules have come upon them too quickly and, until recent weeks, without sufficient input from the hundreds of parciantes, or irrigators, in the Nambé-Pojoaque-Tesuque water district.

“They had the pueblos, the state, the county — everyone. Everyone came before the acequias. We came last,” said Pablo Gonzales, president of the Acequia de los Trujillos. “And unless we go back to fight all this in court again, we’re going to end up being screwed.”

In a statement, the engineer’s office said acequia leaders and irrigators have been invited to participate in “the pending rulemaking process.”

“Like other affected water right owners, they have the opportunity to comment on the proposed rules through the public hearing process,” the statement read, adding that all public comments will be considered before the rules are finalized.

‘A big burden’

The rules concern the distribution and administration of the water supply and water rights in the Nambé-Pojoaque-Tesuque basin. They implement the terms and conditions of the Aamodt settlement agreement and final decree.

One significant change codified in the rules, to be enforced by a water master or masters, is the compilation and submission of an annual report about lands to be irrigated, or TBI, from each acequia.

By March 1 of each year, according to the proposed rules, the mayordomo, or ditch boss, of each acequia must provide to the water master a written report about the acreage under the ditch to be irrigated; maps will accompany these TBI letters. The water master or masters in the engineer’s office will then determine the maximum diversion rate for each ditch in the system.

But obtaining the information and ensuring its accuracy “places a big burden on the mayordomos,” said Edward Romero, mayordomo of Acequia de Las Jollas for more than 30 years, referring to the TBIs.

Mayordomos and commissioners, many if not all of them volunteers, have always been responsible for maintenance and repairs in each ditch, the division of water, watering schedule and more. But these time-consuming tasks have never before been regulated with meticulous scrutiny or from the outside, Romero said…

Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said the nonprofit has been pushing for irrigators to make their concerns about the proposals heard at this week’s hearing. All comments will be considered before a final draft is promulgated…

Vague rules

Another concern for acequias in the proposed rules is protection against priority enforcement by the pueblos. A priority call is the rarely used mechanism, reserved for times of scarcity, in which junior water rights are curtailed so more senior water rights can be met. It “should be a measure of last resort,” according to the state engineer’s website.

Romero, the nonprofit attorney, said a section of the settlement protects parciantes against priority calls by those with more senior water rights, whether pueblos or other acequias — but not if the water right “is not beneficially used for more than five consecutive years,” according to the rules…

How beneficial use will be determined was a cause for concern at the Nambé gathering. Water banking is not addressed in either the settlement or rules, Romero said, and it is unclear as yet whether it will qualify for protection against losing priority.

The need for more documentation of acequia water use than has been compiled in the past, then, becomes ever more important under the proposed rules, Romero said.

“We kind of view all of these provisions as adding more pressure in general to acequias,” Garcia said. “In particular to those individuals who serve as mayordomos, commissioners. They will have to step up their game.”

The state engineer’s rules come out of the terms of the Aamodt settlement, an agreement reached between the United States government, the state, Santa Fe County, the city of Santa Fe and four Northern pueblos — Nambé, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso and Tesuque. The settlement established priority water rights for the pueblos, and all water rights in the Pojoaque Basin north of Santa Fe were adjudicated.

But Aamodt developments were hardly finished with the entrance of the final decree in July.

First, the rules governing the administration of water rights in the basin will be finalized.

Hurdles remain, namely the construction of a multimillion-dollar regional water system that is part of the settlement, the funding of which hinges on both state appropriations and the resolution to roadway disputes between pueblos and Santa Fe County. And domestic well users have expressed concerns about the proposed rules, as well. Ongoing road disputes over rights-of-way between the county and some pueblos have also clouded the settlement proceedings.

Albuquerque is embarking on a $6 million ASR project

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Olivier Uyttebrouck):

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority recently began drilling a pair of injection wells that will allow it to build up a water “account” that it can draw from when the Rio Grande is running at a low ebb.

“This project is designed to address those times when we don’t have that flow in the river,” said Katherine Yuhas, the utility’s water resources manager.

When the utility begins banking water in October 2018, the $6 million demonstration project will allow the utility each year to store up to 5,000 acre-feet, or about 1.6 billion gallons. Over a period of 20 years, that will amount to enough water to meet the demand of customers for about a year, Yuhas said.

CPW: Alberta Park Reservoir dam to undergo maintenance

Alberta Park Reservoir photo credit GeoView.com.

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Pagosa Sun:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is lowering the water level at its Alberta Park Reservoir to accom- modate repairs that must be made to the dam as soon as possible. The reservoir, about 40 acres in size, is located at an altitude above 10,000 feet just east of Wolf Creek Pass in Mineral County in southwest Colorado.

The earthen embankment structure is stable; however, CPW is moving quickly to make the repairs, according to John Clark, dam operations engineer for CPW. Work will start July 31 after the water level has been lowered 10 feet. Repairs should be complete by late September.

During a planned field evaluation of the dam that took place the week of July 17, a CPW contractor drilled into the dam. The contractor ob- served that the seepage, as a result of the drilling, was more than expected downstream of the embankment. Field activities were immediately stopped and the drill hole was filled with a mixture of cement and bentonite, which is standard procedure. “The overall integrity of the struc- ture is not in danger and we are monitoring the dam on a daily basis,” Clark said.

For the repair, a small area on the right side of the toe of the dam will be excavated. Sand, gravel and other material will be placed there to slow the flow of the water and provide a filter to mitigate further seepage.

“While this will stabilize that part of the structure, this is an interim measure. This dam is over 60 years old and we plan to initiate major rehabilitation activities as funds become available,” Clark said.

The evaluation of the dam by the contractor was initiated to support the planned rehabilitation of the dam. Constructed in the 1950s, the dam is at the top of CPW’s priority list for reconstruction. Clark said rehabilitation work could cost more than $6 million and is planned within the next two to three years.

CPW owns and operates more than 110 dams throughout Colorado and the average age of these dams is more than 70 years. Accord- ing to a 2014 study, CPW’s dams are in need of substantial repair and rehabilitation at a cost of at least $60 million within the next five years. In 2016, CPW completed a three-year, $15.5 million project to rehabilitate the dam at Beaver Creek Reservoir,
located in Rio Grande County. “Maintaining and repairing dams is an essential activity, not just to prevent loss of life and property damage, but to enhance outdoor recreation. Unfortunately, it is very costly,” Clark said.

The reservoir is located in an area managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rio Grande National Forest. Forest Service officials have put a closure order in effect for the area around the dam to protect human health and safety during repair work. The closure prohibits people from passing through or being in the restricted area from the boat ramp to 100 yards below the dam, including the dispersed camping site.

Alberta Park Reservoir impounds about 600 acre feet of water, which is used for fisheries management, fishing, wildlife conservation and recreational purposes.

San Luis Valley: “As producers, we’ve got yield figured out” — Brendon Rockey

Photo credit San Luis Valley Heritage.

From The Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

In the heart of prime potato growing country, one San Luis Valley farm has such a worldwide reputation for soil health innovation that a recent field day attracted guests from Canada, France and Sweden in addition to the surrounding area.

Rockey Farms, located a mile north of Center, is a multigenerational operation run by Brendon Rockey, a soil health pioneer who presents talks all over the world, and his brother Sheldon, who oversees distribution and marketing. When they opened the farm to several dozen visitors in mid-July, the resulting gathering was as diverse as the colorful mix of plants that blossomed in the surrounding fields.

The farm’s main business is growing certified seed potatoes, with an emphasis on unique varieties prized by farmers market growers. They also produce 150 acres of fingerling potatoes that are sold into the fresh market, mostly to restaurants but also at retail stores under the Farm Fresh Direct Growers Reserve label.

Five years ago, the Rockeys teamed up with Paul New, owner of White Mountain Farm, to convert an old high school building in Mosca into a processing facility for potatoes, Colorado-grown quinoa and other specialty items. They call the joint venture White Rock Specialties.

But it’s their soil regeneration strategies that have really put them on the map.

Standing in an expanse of bright green cover crops, planted at staggered intervals to accommodate rotational grazing by a local rancher, Brendon Rockey talked about how a period of sustained drought that began in the early 2000s led him to dramatically change his farming practices forever.

Like many farmers across rural Colorado, he was suddenly confronted with a shortage of irrigation water. In response, he dropped malting barley from his rotation, a crop that requires 20 inches of water annually, and replaced it with a green manure crop, which saved about 14 inches.

The way his potatoes performed the following year was a revelation. They were more pest resistant and used less water. (He said it now takes him around 12 inches a year to grow potatoes compared to the norm, which is closer to 20.)

Since then, cost savings from reduced inputs, including the elimination of fungicides, has more than paid for the roughly $45 an acre it takes to plant the cover crop mixes, he said…

In the adjacent potato field, he pointed to flowering strips planted to attract beneficial insects. The field was also interspersed with companion crops like peas, vetch, buckwheat and fava beans, which are intended to further enhance insect habitat, soil microbial activity and overall diversification. The additional seed costs him $9 an acre, he said.

“It is so alive out here, it is just buzzing,” he enthused.

Enhanced biological diversity translates to tastier, more vibrant potatoes, due in large part to better nutrient availability and nitrogen uptake, he said.

“The color of my potatoes has improved dramatically,” he noted. “That all comes back to calcium. It’s more available to my potatoes now.”

His production goals have shifted from quantity to nutrition and quality. “As producers, we’ve got yield figured out,” he said. “What I want to do is improve the quality of my potatoes and do it while spending less money to grow them.”