@SCOTUS agrees to take up #TX v. #NM and #Colorado

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

From The Courthouse News (Kevin Lessmiller):

The nation’s high court also agreed to take on Texas’ lawsuit against New Mexico and Colorado over the nearly 80-year-old Rio Grande Compact.

The Lone Star State claims New Mexico’s increasing use of water from the Elephant Butte Reservoir deprives it of water apportioned to it under the 1938 deal, which governs the distribution of Rio Grande water among Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

Dates for oral arguments have not been set in either case, both of which are original-jurisdiction cases, meaning the lawsuits were filed directly with the Supreme Court.

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District is ending deliveries for the season

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

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

Irrigation officials already have begun dialing back on the water flow coming from two upstream reservoirs because the Las Cruces-based Elephant Butte Irrigation District ended its water-delivery season Sept. 30.

There’s still some water continuing to flow in the Rio Grande near Las Cruces because El Paso irrigators are continuing to use water. But that flow is set to end within the next week, officials said.

“Down here, it’s mostly pecan orchards watering their trees one last time — and some alfalfa,” said Jesus “Chuy” Reyes, general manager for the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1. “We’ll be winding up between the 15th and the 18th of this month.”

At that point, after the dam at Caballo Reservoir is shut down, Las Crucens can expect to see the Rio Grande dry. Barring any large rain storms that create significant run-off, the riverbed will stay mostly dry until late next winter or early next spring, when farmers from Doña Ana County, El Paso and Mexico begin watering their crops for 2018…

Irrigators are winding down what has been a bumper water year in comparison to recent drought years. Strong water run-off from the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado fed into Elephant Butte Lake and Caballo Reservoir. Farmers locally were allotted 24-acre-inches — or 2 acre-feet — per irrigable acre. That was the most water since 2010, when Elephant Butte Irrigation District farmers received the same amount…

The bigger water allotment this year and a strong summer monsoon rainy season, which cuts down on crop water demand, helped the length of the EBID irrigation season stretch into October, said James Narvaez, district irrigation systems director…

There’s roughly 250,000 acre-feet left in storage in the two reservoirs, Narvaez said. The amount, which also has to be finalized, is about double what it was a year ago.

#TX v. #NM and #CO update

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

Here’s a report Laura Paskus writing for The NM Political Report. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging that New Mexico was taking water that legally should flow to Texas under the terms of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact by allowing farmers to pump groundwater connected to the river.

Were the Supreme Court to side with Texas, it could force some southern New Mexico chile, pecan and cotton farmers to stop pumping groundwater. Or, the state could even wind up paying Texas up to $1 billion in damages. For perspective’s sake, the state’s operating budget for 2017 was $6.1 billion, and the Land Grant Permanent Fund currently has $16 billion.

But New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine, the state’s top water official, painted an optimistic picture for LFC last week, saying settlement discussions are moving forward.

Blaine said he and Texas’s Rio Grande Compact Commissioner, Patrick Gordon, “talk about issues that would have to be considered for settlement.”

He also told the 18 members present and LFC director David Abbey that one of the “most noteworthy accomplishments” of his office in recent years has been building relationships in and outside the state. “Previous engineers have referred to the Lower Rio Grande as ‘Compact Texas,’ meaning ‘We don’t really represent you in New Mexico,’” Blaine said of southern New Mexico farmers who irrigate below Elephant Butte dam. “I am trying to change that paradigm, trying to build a coalition where everybody south of Elephant Butte and north of Texas, you’re in New Mexico.”

Blaine said he’s made “deliberate efforts to build relationships” with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, or EBID.

That’s the irrigation district stuck smack dab in the middle of the lawsuit.

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

@wildearthguard: You are invited to help us launch the #RioGrande Waterkeeper!

Rio Grande River photo credit Wild Earth Guardians.

Click here for the inside skinny:

Please join WildEarth Guardians as we launch the Rio Grande Waterkeeper—our new partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance—to protect and restore the iconic Rio Grande.

Our special guest, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Senior Attorney and President of Waterkeeper Alliance, will join Guardians for an inspiring evening of education, advocacy, and fundraising to help save America’s Great River.

As challenges continue to mount against the Rio Grande, Guardians is excited to join Waterkeeper Alliance’s global movement of over 300 member organizations fighting to protect rivers around the world.

Come celebrate with us, meet the staff, and learn our vision for a healthy, thriving Rio Grande.

When: Monday, October 9, 2017, 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.

Where: Los Poblanos, 4803 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM 87107

How: Buy Tickets $10 Each

Working together, we can bridge the valleys now divided and restore and reconnect a basin-wide community that will navigate a sustainable path forward for this vital artery of life.

Genesis of an effort to recharge groundwater in the San Luis Valley

San Luis Valley Groundwater

Here’s a report from Luke Runyon writing for KUNC. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

[In the drought year of 2002] streams that flow from the nearby San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains slowed to a trickle, some of them before the normal irrigation season had even begun. Rushing water created by snow from the previous winter failed to materialize. That left the ditches, creeks and rivers that recharge the valley’s aquifers dry. The precious groundwater had plenty of demands, and no supply.

“The aquifer was declining,” Messick says. “But nobody really started noticing until they started sucking air instead of water.”

Farmers began to cast blame as to who caused the problem. Fingers pointed at the state, water managers, Mother Nature, and among the farmers themselves, divided into camps depending on where they got their water. All the while, many farmers kept pumping whatever water they could find and the aquifer continued its unprecedented decline.

Instead of giving in to the divisions that could have so easily fractured the rural valley of about 47,000 residents, a group of farmers decided to embark on a risky experiment — the first of its kind in the United States. They agreed to pay more money for the water they pump out of the ground by imposing fees, a kind of tax, per acre-foot of water. To get to that point, family farmers had to put aside old grudges and recognize their shared fate in the aquifer under their feet.

Seeing hope in the farmers’ efforts, researchers are studying the risky gambit to see if it is working…

US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002

Community At A Crossroads

By the end of 2002, it was clear the valley’s farmers were fast approaching a crossroads. Colorado’s top water enforcer, the state engineer, made clear that if the farmers continued to pump from the underground aquifer he would be forced to shut them down.

They were running afoul of the state’s [prior appropriation doctrine] water laws, which prioritize water rights based on their effective date. Some farmers who held rights to divert water from streams dating back to the late 1800s were seeing their supplies drop, partially thanks to water wells dug decades later in the 1950s and ‘60s. In Colorado, when a younger water right is curtailing an older one, it is a serious problem.

In the years that followed the 2002 drought, scientists did enough research and monitoring to link the reduction of the aquifer to the limited availability of surface streams.

For the farmers that depend on the aquifer, the choice was simple: keep pumping until everyone’s supplies ran out and risk the ire of state water officials; or, find a way to curb their pumping.

“It was really the first effort here in a recognition that if they didn’t do something that the consequences would be pretty grave,” says Cleave Simpson, director of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the valley’s main water management authority.

After years of litigation, court cases and a round of state legislation, the farmers formed a plan. A majority made a painful decision. They agreed that it was in everyone’s best interest to pay more money for water, hoping that the higher cost would cause them to think twice when turning on their pump…

Communities formed a network of subdistricts that could levy fees on water use, self-governed by the farmers themselves. Subdistrict one, the largest and most heavily irrigated in the valley, was the first.

“This is kind of a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ situation,” says Kelsey Cody, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder who is part of a research team that studies groundwater pumping in the valley. “As an individual, I have no incentive to leave any water in the ground because any water I leave in the ground I know my neighbor is going to take out. And he knows the same thing.”

Today, farmers in subdistrict one pay $75 for each acre-foot of water they pump and another $8 for every acre of crops where that water is used. An acre-foot is the standard unit of measurement when talking about vast amounts of water, and easy enough to visualize. It’s the amount of water spread out over an acre at a depth of one foot.

If those same farmers are recharging the aquifer by applying surface water to their crops, they’re given a credit for that added water. Some farmers who pump end up paying nothing at all if their water use finds a balance between the amounts pumped and recharged.

For some bigger farms without surface water rights, that is not the case. Their annual water use fees can total tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars. That money is then invested in a fallowing program that pays farmers not to plant or to purchase farmland outright. While the fees have been tough for some farmers to swallow, at least a majority have internalized the goal.

Take a trip back through the Coyote Gulch archives San Luis Valley Groundwater category.

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.