Acequia Pathways to Funding: Financial Compliance Workshop, December 7th 2017 — Taos Valley Acequia Association

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

From the Taos Valley Acequia Association:

Acequia Pathways to Funding: Financial Compliance


December 7th 2017, 9:00am-12:00pm

Juan I Gonzales Agricultural Building
Taos, NM

A look at the San Luis Valley Irrigation District

Rio Grande Reservoir

From The Valley Courier (Helen Smith):

The San Luis Valley Irrigation District and Rio Grande Reservoir is one of the biggest success stories to ever emerge from the Rio Grande Basin. As a key provider of water from critical sources to the San Luis Valley and beyond, this district plays a pivotal role in the water delivery cycle that stretches all the way to Mexico. SLVID is the keeper of the gateway for the Rio Grande.

Originally formed on December 8th, 1908 as a result of the Irrigation Act of 1905, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District continues to serve water users over 100 years later. SLVID is governed by a board of directors that is composed of five elected members. The current board is led by president Randall Palmgren. The district encompasses portions of Rio Grande, Saguache and Alamosa Counties with the headquarters being in Saguache County (Center).

Quite simply, SLVID exists to serve the famers who reside in the counties it is made of. SLVID delivers water to 62,000 acres of highly productive farmground in the Center-Hooper areas. Crops that are produced within district boundaries include fresh market potatoes, Coors barley, and dairy quality alfalfa.

One of the key assets that SLVID possesses is the Rio Grande Reservoir. In 1888, farmers near the Center-Hooper area established the Farmer’s Union Irrigation Company. The intent was to build a canal system that could deliver irrigation water to 90,000 acres. The Farmer’s Union Canal became a reality. However, the need for a secondary source of water quickly became apparent for the control of these deliveries and the insufficient amount of water that the canal was delivering because it had a junior water right. Due to an embargo from the federal government which prevented any new dams/reservoirs from being constructed on the Rio Grande this initiative was put on hold. The present site of the reservoir was purchased from A.V. Tabor who had claimed it in 1903. The construction plans began in earnest once the embargo was lifted in 1907. In 1908, the process of forming the San Luis Valley Irrigation District began in order to raise the additional capital that would be needed for construction. The first board of directors took shape. On June 10th, 1910, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District signed a contract for construction of a dam and spillway with Ellswoth, Knowles, and Klaner of Pueblo. An engineer by the name of J.C. Ulrich drew the plans and specifications and was hired as the project supervisor. The tunnel was drilled in 1910. By 1912, Rio Grande Reservoir was storing water. The dam and spillway were fully completed by September of 1913 and the reservoir was full by June 16th, 1914. The result was a reservoir that is still standing after over 100 years that continues to deliver water for agricultural needs, serve as a tool for compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, and aid for fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and flood control.

Age can bring the necessity for repairs and Rio Grande Reservoir was/is certainly no exception. The dam and spillway began to be in need of repairs. Out of this necessity resulted the Rio Grande Cooperative Project. This project is a public-private partnership that was established in 2002 when the SLVID board of directors recognized the need to address the dam safety issues of the Rio Grande Reservoir. In 2003, a Yield Analysis Study to find what benefits would be obtained from improved storage and release was conducted with the assistance of a $25,000 contribution from the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. In 2005, SLVID was awarded Rehabilitation Study Grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Another grant came in 2007 for $230,000 from the Rio Grande Roundtable for a rehabilitation and enlargement study. In 2008, SLVID received another $100,000 grant for the development of an operations model.

Finally, in 2011 the Rio Grande Cooperative Project became official and plans were underway. In 2012, the Colorado General Assembly passed the Colorado Water Conservation Board Projects Bill which included a funding package for the repairs of Rio Grande and Beaver Reservoir.

Phase 1 of the Rio Grande Cooperative Project began following the 100th Anniversary of Rio Grande Reservoir. The Dam at Rio Grande was completely resurfaced to address seepage issues and saw completion in the fall of 2013. Repairs of the Beaver Reservoir Dam also took place. This monumental task was accomplished in spite of obstacles such as the West Fork Complex Fire. The Rio Grande Cooperative Project continues to move forward with Phase 2 which is the repair of the outlet tunnel at Rio Grande Reservoir.

The partners in this project are The San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The main purpose of the cooperative project is to optimize the use of available water through the reoperating and retiming of the reservoirs owned by the partners. Additionally, volunteer efforts have aided in the use of compact storage for the native trout species to adjust to water level changes and the benefit to recreation. Methods that were dismissed before are now being put to use and the larger water community is now profiting from the results. Travis Smith, superintendent of SLVID has observed that it is about “culture change” and addressing how needs can be met.

The story of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District continues to unfold, but there are many great chapters that have already been written. SLVID continues to be a mainstay for San Luis Valley water.

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Proposed water projects in the San Luis Valley literally span from one end of the Valley to the other — dam improvements at Mountain Home Reservoir southeast of Fort Garland to a pipeline at the Mineral County Fairgrounds in Creede.

Both projects are receiving funding through the Valley-wide water organization the Rio Grande Roundtable, which heard requests for funding on Tuesday for five future projects and approved funding requests for two projects that had already made presentations to the roundtable, including the Mineral County project.

The roundtable board approved a request for $9,190 for the Mineral County project, which involves piping water from a recently replaced historic ditch head gate under reclaimed (capped and vegetated) mining-contaminated soil to the Mineral County Fairgrounds. Zeke Ward, who presented the request, said piping the water was more economical and would require less maintenance than a new ditch, which would have to be lined.

Ward said there are many benefits to the project including preserving a historic water right and benefitting the environment. He said it is not a big project but is important in getting water from the headgate to the land that needs to be irrigated.

Ward said the approximately $9,200 from the roundtable funds would be matched by about $1,500.

A much larger project that was approved on Tuesday was a funding request for $64,480 in basin-allocated funds for a three-year water education proposal. The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation & Education Initiative, directed by Bethany Howell, is taking the lead on educational and outreach efforts that range from web site content to video vignettes. For example, six video vignettes on water topics are proposed to be completed in the next three years. The funding will also be used to update and maintain a web site, produce newsletters and produce educational articles.

The other projects that were presented on Tuesday were previews, with the actions on funding them to occur at the next meeting in January.

The Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking $50,000 from funds allocated to the Rio Grande Roundtable and $822,438 from statewide funds towards a $993,863 project to make necessary dam repairs at Mountain Home Reservoir. The roundtable has supported feasibility and design phases on this project in the past, consultant Nicole Langley reminded the roundtable board when she gave the presentation on Tuesday on behalf of the Trinchera Irrigation Company. The current funding request will go towards implementation of those designs.

Langley said the 1905-constructed Mountain Home Reservoir has provided irrigation and recreational uses for a long time and is still functioning, but the state engineer has some safety concerns about the current gate valves. One is in poor condition and the other two have never been used and have deteriorated over time.

Another important aspect of Mountain Home Reservoir operating to its full capacity, Langley added, is that it is also a state wildlife area under an agreement with the Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

She added that the Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking other support such as Louis Bacon Moore Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado via the Town of Blanca.

Two of the projects involve funds for conservation easements. One of the conservation easements is proposed on the Lazy EA Ranch along Pinos Creek near Del Norte. The total cost of the easement will be $202,951, and Colorado Open Lands is seeking $36,213 from the Rio Grande Roundtable, with other funding including $101,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), $15,000 from Colorado Open Lands and approximately $50,738 from the landowner match, depending on the land appraisal. The plan is to get the conservation easement in place by next September, Judy Lopez told the Roundtable board.

Lopez, who is a conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands, explained that a conservation easement on this piece of property is important for protecting it from development. She said there is just a narrow band left along the river corridor for farming and ranching. Encompassing 80 acres of flood-irrigated pasture, the property is used for hay production, is a corridor for wildlife and encompasses wetlands.

The land was originally homesteaded in 1849 and has a water right of 1.4 cubic feet per second.

RiGHT (Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust) is seeking funding for another conservation easement, this one on the Paulson Ranch in the Monte Vista area near Swede Lane and the Rio Grande. There are other conservation easements in the area, RiGHT Director Nancy Butler explained, making this conservation easement a good fit. The 180 acres that would be under conservation easement encompass senior water rights, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat and wetlands.

RiGHT is seeking $18,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $157,000 from statewide water funds administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The total project is estimated at $405,000, with $100,000 to be sought from the Gates Family Foundation and $130,000 in landowner contribution, depending on the final appraisal.

Another project, seeking $46,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $300,000 from the statewide pot, as part of a half-million-dollar total project, is the “Conconco to the Confluence” project upgrading the Richfield diversion and diversions on the Conejos. This project will help correct some of the sedimentation problems. Nathan Coombs, SLV Water Conservancy District director, said sedimentation at the Richfield diversion, for example, is a big problem because the area is so flat. Irrigators are not able to use their water rights, he explained.

This project will also correct inconsistent measurements at the Conconco gage, which is not currently functioning properly, a problem not only for irrigators but also for Rio Grande Compact compliance.

Probably the most “dynamic” project presented on Tuesday was a project presented by Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited, to use dynamite to fell trees around the Spruce Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness area. Terry explained that two reservoirs, seven miles in from the Continental Divide, are clogging up with dead spruce trees, with more trees near the lakes threatening to cause further problems.

This is a problem not only for the water rights associated with the reservoirs but also for fish habitat.

Terry said since the lakes are in an area designated as wilderness, the tools that are permitted to be used there are limited. So far the efforts used to remove the dead trees have included large horses pulling the logs out of the reservoirs and using handsaws to cut down dead trees.

Trout Unlimited is working with the Forest Service and the owners of the reservoirs on what may be a more efficient and innovative manner of taking down the trees that threaten the lakes. They will use explosives to fell about 430 trees near the reservoirs. When it is finished, it will look like winds took down the trees, Terry explained.

The project will cost about $84,000, with the request for basin allocated funds being about $65,500. Half of the cost is for the explosives themselves, Terry explained.

The Taos Land Trust scores $575,000: “It was a beautiful series of serendipitous events” — Kristina Ortez de Jones

From The Taos News (Cody Hooks):

In a partnership between the Coca-Cola Company and the nonprofit National Recreation and Park Association, the land trust was awarded a $575,000 grant to make those visions a reality.

The “timely … and transformational” money will mostly be put toward the revival of the wetland associated with the Río Fernando, according to Taos Land Trust Executive Director Kristina Ortez de Jones.

Some of the funds will also be used to rebuild the Vigil y Romo Acequia on the property so that mountain streams can again irrigate the land, opening opportunities for experiments in community gardening and other agricultural projects.

“The Río Fernando Park is emblematic of the values held by all Taoseños with its seven acres of wetlands and 13 acres of now-fallow land that will be brought back to life with this important award,” Ortez de Jones said. The Romo property and future park are adjacent to Fred Baca Park.

“It was a beautiful series of serendipitous events,” she said of getting the award. “We are grateful for the opportunity to create a public space that meets our community’s need for open space, locally grown food and pathways for walking and bike-riding.”

The land trust purchased the Romo property in December 2015 and moved into the house-turned-office this past April. Since then, a quarter-mile trail was built on the property — laying the physical and mental foundations for the Río Fernando Park that will now come into shape a lot faster thanks to the grant, explained Ortez de Jones.

The beginning of the wetland restoration, she said, will start with “safely and deliberately removing those introduced species,” like Russian olive and Siberian elm. At the same time, the land trust will reintroduce native plants that can help maintain and mitigate the flow of the river through the wetland.

The stream has been channelized, such that water rushes through the stream bed, making it harder for wetland life to really flourish. In some places, the river may need re-engineering to improve the banks.

In the long run, the land trust wants the Río Fernando to be a functional wetland — slowing down and cleaning water. As climate change forces water users to take a hard look at the availability, timing and quality of water in the future, wetlands have come to be seen as an important tool.

At the same time as the land trust works to restore the wetland to peak conditions, the organization will use that momentum to continue planning for more trails and access to public spaces.

“We’ve asked neighbors, the community — What is missing in terms of public spaces and places? What should we do here? Overwhelmingly, people felt this place should be a park. People really want trails,” said Ortez de Jones.

Yet not all parks are created equal. “You have to look at this through the lens of access. You have to make an effort to get to our parks in Taos. And who doesn’t have access to those public places … the immigrant community, people without cars. A lot of people don’t have access,” she said.

The money for the land trust is part of Coca-Cola’s corporate effort to fund water-related projects in important watersheds around the country. Coca Cola’s money has also funded stream and wetland restoration in the Valle Vidal in the Carson National Forest.

#Texas v. #NewMexico and #Colorado lawsuit update

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Torrington Register-Citizen:

Farmers in southern New Mexico, water policy experts, lawyers and others are all working behind the scenes to craft possible solutions that could help to end a lengthy battle with Texas over management of the Rio Grande.

The case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and all sides say the stakes are high given uncertainty about the future sustainability of water supplies throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, Las Cruces city officials and agricultural interests provided state lawmakers with an update Tuesday.
Lawyers involved in the case say the court could schedule arguments early next year, but New Mexico is still open to settlement talks. Separately, the farmers, municipalities and commercial users that would be affected by a ruling have been meeting regularly to build a framework for a possible settlement.

Details of what that might look like are under wraps because of a court-issued confidentiality order.

Samantha Barncastle, an attorney representing the irrigation district that serves farmers from Elephant Butte south to the U.S.-Mexico border, said there’s no question groundwater will continue to be relied upon into the future to protect everyone’s access.

She said the parties are looking at managing the aquifer in ways New Mexico has never seen before. That could include more flexibility and policies aimed at avoiding the permanent fallowing of farmland…

Texas took its case to the Supreme Court in 2013, asking that New Mexico stop pumping groundwater along the border so that more of the river could flow south to farmers and residents in El Paso.

In dry years when there’s not enough water in the river, chile and onion farmers and pecan growers in southern New Mexico are forced to rely on wells to keep their crops and trees alive. Critics contend the well-pumping depletes the aquifer that would otherwise drain back into the river and flow to Texas.

New Mexico has argued in court documents that it’s meeting delivery obligations to Texas.

The Rio Grande is one of North America’s longest rivers, stretching from southern Colorado to Mexico and irrigating more than 3,100 square miles (8,000 square kilometers) of farmland along the way. Several major cities also rely on the river’s water supply.

Depending on the outcome of the case, New Mexico could be forced to pay millions of dollars in damages. The New Mexico attorney general’s office plans to ask the Legislature for $1.5 million to handle the Rio Grande litigation for the next year.

Tania Maestas with the attorney general’s office said the willingness of New Mexico water users to work together could lead to a “dream settlement.”

Using reclaimed water to drive economic development

Purple, which has become the international symbol for recycled water, is used on valve boxes, manhole covers, newer sprinkler heads and even the pipes inside our Recycling Plant via Denver Water.

Here’s a guest column from Doug Pushard that’s running in The Sante Fe New Mexican. Here’s an excerpt:

Some city in the United States will become the water-recycling capital of the country. Why not Santa Fe, New Mexico? This is a logical place to grow this industry. Santa Fe by necessity has a large need for recycled water. We are an area prone to drought. We have a very high ratio of water professionals in our state. These are a few reasons we could become the water-reuse capital of the country.

Why not put programs together to make this an economic engine for the area as well as New Mexico? Israel has used its need for water conservation to grow multibillion-dollar worldwide water businesses. The Water Smart Innovation Conference is held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada, bringing together conservation professionals from around the world. These are examples of how water conservation can be linked to economic vitality…

So what would a strategy look like? It would mean our state and local economic-development efforts would target people and businesses in this industry. It would mean we put in place programs that highlight existing businesses and attract new ones to our community and state. It would mean we would have centers of excellence. It would mean we would partner with our local education institutions to make sure we’re training individuals in these fields, so companies would have ready access to a local workforce. It would mean we put programs promoting Santa Fe and New Mexico as the place to be!

Colorado State University (CSU) is teaming with the National Western Complex for the One Water Solutions Institute, connecting world-class research with real-world solutions. The university plans to complete its water laboratory, which will be a water-reuse showcase, by 2021.

New Mexico could move into a leadership position, resulting in new jobs and the ability to promote the state as having a sustainable long-term water plan. Water is key to our survival in this beautiful, but harsh state. We can lead, follow, or get out of the way. We need to grow local industries to provide good paying jobs for our communities. Why not water, why not here?

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

Water Update — Colorado Central Magazine

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine


Several tributaries of the Colorado River get their start in the crags of the Central Colorado mountains. Storied rivers: Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and the powerhouse Gunnison. They’ve all faced the footstep of humankind. The mines dotting the slopes, hay fields, ranching, orchards and cornfields bear witness and are now part of the allure of the high country. Folks cast a line, shoot rapids and enjoy the scenery of those waterways.

On September 27, 2017, the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico inked Minute 323, the amendment to the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty for Utilization of Water covering operations on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers. (The Rio Grande is another of Central Colorado’s contributions to the Western U.S. economy.)

An important part of Minute 323 are environmental flows for the Colorado River Delta. Most everyone knows the river doesn’t reach the sea any longer. Environmental streamflow was initiated under Minute 319 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

In March 2016 a diverse group of conservationists, biologists, irrigators and government officials effected a release of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam into the dry Colorado River Delta. There was a line of vehicles racing point to point along the river to witness the river’s front. At San Luis Rio Colorado, most of the residents went down to the river to celebrate the return of the river although many had no memory of running water in the sandy channel.

There was a great deal of success from channeling some of the streamflow to restoration sites in the Delta. Within weeks, new growth sprouted – cottonwoods and willows. Much of the diverted water served to replenish groundwater supplies. Wildlife immediately started using the habitat.

There probably won’t be a repeat of the Colorado River once again reaching the sea. The environmental flows in Minute 323 are planned to be set to work in the restoration of the Delta. It was great to see the river reach the sea but the conservationists want to concentrate flows like irrigators do for maximum yield.

Another feature of the deal allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead to better manage their diversions for agriculture. The U.S. is also helping to rebuild and upgrade Mexican infrastructure. Under Minute 319, Mexico was allowed to continue storing water, and that water was used for the pulse flow. The idea is that greater efficiency in Mexico will lead to more storage in Lake Mead.

Currently, Arizona, California and Nevada are working on a drought contingency plan to stave off a shortage declaration in Lake Mead. Arizona’s Colorado River allocation takes a big hit under a declaration. Mexico’s water in Lake Mead will help. Negotiations about the drought contingency plan will now move forward with greater certainty with the signing of Minute 323.

The final signatures for the Minute came from Roberto Salmón (Mexico) and Edward Drusina (U.S.). There were several officials from President Obama’s administration in attendance, including Jennifer Gimbel and Mike O’Connor. The negotiations started before last year’s election but did not conclude before the inauguration.

Minute 323 is an important piece of the puzzle for administering the Colorado River.

Central Colorado is joined at the economic hip with the Colorado River. A lot of transbasin water flows down the Arkansas River from the Twin Lakes and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. Some is pumped over to South Park by Colorado Springs and Aurora but most of it goes down to Lake Pueblo and the Fry-Ark partners. Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security pump some back north in the Fountain Valley. Cities along the river divert and treat the water for their populations. The water also is used to grow the famous crops in the Arkansas Valley: Rocky Ford melons, Pueblo chile, corn and others. Timing the releases from Twin Lakes and Turquoise Reservoir also contributes to the rafting economy. 100 miles of the Arkansas River are designated as gold medal fisheries. Transbasin flows help the riparian habitat.


• Comments about managing the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area are due by November 10, 2017. Check out the AHRA Plan Revision page on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.

• Congratulations to Wet Mountain Valley ranchers Randy and Claricy Rusk for winning the Dodge Award for a lifetime of conservation from the Palmer Land Trust.

• Congratulations to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife folks at the Roaring Judy Hatchery for successfully spawning the line of Cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during the Hayden Pass Fire.

• James Eklund has moved on from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Becky Mitchell is the new director.

• Coloradans cam now legally collect rain off their roofs. Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May.

• R.I.P. Gary Bostrom. He was one of the driving forces behind Colorado Springs’ $825 million Southern Delivery System.

John Orr works for a Front Range water utility where he keeps one eye on the sky to monitor Colorado snowpack. He covers Colorado water issues at Coyote Gulch ( and on Twitter @CoyoteGulch.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)