2019 #NMleg: Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate — The Sante Fe New Mexican #ActOnClimate

Photo via the City of Santa Fe

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andrew Oxford):

“The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.

The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.

We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler said.

Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.

“It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data. … This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.

The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.

Soil moisture probe pilot project coming to the [San Luis Valley]

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD) is seeking farmers for a pilot project in 2019 to cost-share on the purchase and installation of soil moisture probes. The project will include soil mapping and placement of probes that will give farmers immediate access to soil moisture data in their fields through an online portal and smartphone app. The goal of the effort is to determine if this data can help farmers with their irrigation decisions and lead to water conservation.

The project is open to farmers in parts of Alamosa, Conejos, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. The SLVWCD will contribute up to $2,000 per quarter section of land. The financial cost to the farmer will vary, depending on the selected vendor. Farmers are allowed to leverage other incentive programs such as RCPP to meet their cost-share requirement.

Participating farmers will select a vendor who is able to complete detailed soil mapping of each field. The vendor will then install soil moisture probes in accordance with the recommendations from the soil mapping. The vendor will also provide software that will allow farmers to access real-time weather information and soil moisture data from either a cell-phone application or a web-site portal.

Participants will be required to share the following data with the SLVWCD: The Water District Structure Identification (WDID) of the well or diversion structure used to irrigate the field; the annual quantity of water applied in water years 2013-2018 by the WDID structure and other water sources; the quantity of water applied on a minimum of a monthly basis for any year(s) enrolled in the pilot program; and soil mapping and soil moisture probe data.

At the end of the program’s first year, the average water application data will be compared to 2013-2018 in an effort to determine if use of the soil moisture probes improved water conservation.

Funding for the project was provided by the San Luis Valley Conservation and Connection Initiative and the Colorado Water Conservation Board Colorado Water Plan Grant Program.

To apply for the program contact Matt at the SLVWCD at 589-2230 or matt@slvwcd.org by Feb, 28.

#RioGrande Roundtable meeting recap

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Roundtable member Judy Lopez and her boss Sarah Parmar with Colorado Open Lands (COL) talked with the Roundtable members on Tuesday about providing more options for farmers and ranchers considering conservation easements on their properties. The Roundtable is a group of San Luis Valley residents representing a variety of water uses throughout the Valley.

Parmar said COL has protected half a million acres across the state through conservation easements. “Conservation easements are still the only permanent tool to keep land and water in agriculture,” she said.

Parmar explained that conservation easements originated on the East Coast, and when they were introduced in Colorado, “water was an afterthought.” The focus was on land protection. However, as they evolved, conservation easements also focused on protecting the water rights associated with the land, not allowing the water rights to be sold but requiring them to remain in their historical use, Parmar explained.

Up to this point, conservation easement agreements were very restrictive regarding water use, she said. To meet current conditions and needs, however, COL brought together a team to look at more flexibility with water rights under conservation easements while still protecting the investment of those funding such easements. The efforts began with the South Platte Roundtable, which was concerned that about one third of irrigated land and water would be transferred to municipal use by 2050 through “buy and dry” purchases. “Buy and dry is the easiest way for municipalities to get water,” Parmar said.

To prevent permanent loss of the water, COL began looking at ways in which property owners could lease their water rights for a certain number of years, like seven out of 10, to municipalities like Castle Rock, while retaining some agricultural use of the water. During the years their water was going to municipalities, farmers could fallow their land, deficit irrigate, irrigate for less than a full season or use a crop that used less water, Parmar explained.

Parmar said South Platte Basin water users who were surveyed on the issue were interested in the concept, with nearly 60 percent saying they would be interested in a lease situation.

Parmar said their choices were to preserve the water rights through conservation easements or sell them off entirely, the latter being more profitable. A leasing option provided farmers and ranchers with another alternative, she said. The water would remain with the land but could be involved in a long-term lease with a municipality, which would give that municipality some assurances as well, Parmar explained.

Parmar said attorneys working with COL have developed easements that would accomplish these goals and meet IRS codes for conservation easements and the tax benefits associated with them.

Lopez said the way this would likely work in the San Luis Valley would be agriculture-to-agriculture leasing, not agriculture-to-municipality leasing. This might help with some of the challenges facing the Valley now from water export threats to state regulations, she said. It might also allow some folks to keep their properties that might not have been able to, she added.

Lopez said the water portions of conservation easements would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Roundtable member Ronda Lobato asked about the possibility of changing existing conservation easements. Parmar said she did not think that was out of the realm of possibility. She said there are about two million acres under conservation easements through various organizations across the state, a lot of it in the San Luis Valley.

Roundtable member Mike Gibson was very opposed to changing existing conservation easements. He said the roundtable had approved funding for conservation easements on the basis the water would stay on the land and be used for historical purposes. He said the people who entered those agreements for their land also did so with the understanding the water would remain protected, and to change that would affect other factors like habitat.

Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs, who is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, said he understood that conservation easements already in place were created with some options off the table, but with the current situation in the Rio Grande Basin, it might be time to look at more flexibility.

San Luis Valley water export [and augmentation] plan presented — The Valley Courier

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As predecessors before them, Renewable Water Resources spokesmen on Thursday outlined plans for a 22,000-acre-foot water export project stemming from the northern San Luis Valley to customers in the south metro Denver area.

“This will be a win-win,” Sean Tonner told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during a special meeting Thursday morning.

Tonner is a managing partner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a Colorado company with support from former Governor Bill Owens (for whom Tonner worked as deputy chief of staff when he was governor), former State Senator Greg Brophy, Greg Kolomitz and others. Tonner said he purchased the former Gary Boyce holdings encompassing 11,500 acres in the northern part of the Valley. Boyce, who died of cancer in 2016, had proposed a similar water export project.

Accompanying Tonner were RWR attorney Kevin Kinnear and Jerry Berry, who manages the RWR property and has been farming in the northern part of the Valley since 1996. Berry said he has been part of the Moffat community most of his life, serving on the school board there and on the RGWCD Sub-district #4 board.

Tonner said RWR wants to partner with the water district in identifying the best sources of water to provide the one-for-one replacement for the 22,000-acre-foot export while meeting the water district’s goals of reducing irrigated acreage and bringing balance to the hydrology of the Valley. The project would budget $60 million for that water acquisition.

Tonner said RWR estimates water could be purchased at about $2,000 an acre foot, depending on the water rights. RWR will be purchasing both surface water and groundwater, he said.

Berry said there are local residents interested in selling their water.

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added she would not be surprised that there were people in the northern part of the Valley willing to sell their water, because they have not been able to use it to the full extent they should have been able to, and what RWR could offer them might help them afford to continue doing what they love to do.

Tonner said RWR would rather work with the water district than have an adversarial relationship. He said this project would return “one for one plus”, making up for the 22,000 acre feet that would be exported, “plus” for a total of 30,000-35,000 acre feet. In addition, RWR would set up a $50 million community fund…

Water would be piped from the Valley, with the buyers footing the bill for that pipeline, Tonner said. He added that RWR was requiring the buyers to limit the size of the pipe to no more capacity than the 22,000 acre feet.

He said currently the estimated cost of building the pipeline is $550-600 million.

RGWCD Board President Greg Higel said he doubted that Aurora and Castle Rock would want to build a pipeline just for 22,000 acre feet of water, and if it were constructed for more water, “that’s the beginning of the end.”

Tonner said the partners have been clear about the pipeline restrictions and the sellers are fine with it.

“Honestly, that’s hard for me to believe,” Higel said.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off, who extensively questioned the RWR representatives, asked how long it would take to capitalize a project of this magnitude, and Tonner said “roughly five years.”

Regarding the project timeline, Tonner estimated close to 10 years “start to finish.”

Tonner said partners have been working on this proposal for about four years and hope to file something in water court in 2019 but would be fine with it taking longer if necessary. He said those involved have been working with individuals on both sides of the hill — potential waters sellers in the San Luis Valley and potential water buyers in the Denver metro area.

Acequia La Vida ByLaws — Greg Hobbs

Greg is a restless guy. Here’s his report from acequia country.

Acequia La Vida
ByLaws

In late fall, the ancestors
spread blankets

of leaves over the bones
of their ditches

feeding the river down
terraces they plant.

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Udall, Heinrich Announce USDA Grants to Support Acequia Associations & Traditional Communities, Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and Tribal Communities

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

Here’s the release from Senator Tom Udall’s office:

Nearly $525,000 in grants come from USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers & Ranchers Program

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced three grants totaling nearly $525,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to benefit New Mexico’s traditional communities and acequia associations, Hispanic farmers and ranchers, and tribal agricultural communities in the state. The grants were made through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, which Udall and Heinrich have long supported to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters in New Mexico and across the country who have historically experienced limited access to USDA loans, grants, training, and technical assistance.

“New Mexico’s traditional communities have been stewards of our state’s water and land for generations, and this new funding will support acequia farmers and ranchers as they continue to manage our resources for generations to come. These grants will empower farmers and ranchers from Hispanic and tribal communities across New Mexico to continue producing for our state and the nation,” said Udall. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked hard to preserve the Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers & Ranchers Program and to secure additional funding for these grants – because this program provides essential support to the farmers and ranchers who help make New Mexico strong, but who too often are overlooked or left behind when it comes to federal assistance. I look forward to working with our land grants, acequias, and other traditional New Mexico farming communities to build on this progress.”

“Our farmers help drive New Mexico’s economy, especially in rural communities,” said Heinrich. “Acequia users, land grants, and tribal communities have cultivated land in New Mexico for centuries. I will continue fighting for New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers so they can continue our state’s long tradition in agriculture and promote long-term, sustainable use of our land and water.”

The USDA grants announced by Udall and Heinrich include:

Support for New Mexico Acequias and Traditional Communities: Udall and Heinrich announced a $135,964 grant for the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) for the New Mexico Acequia Farmer and Rancher Education Project, to strengthen the agricultural operations of the farmers and ranchers who use acequias or community ditches in New Mexico. According to USDA, “through a statewide membership network, NMAA will provide education and technical assistance to improve agricultural operations through irrigation efficiency, to train new and beginning farmers and youth, and to increase participation in USDA programs. NMAA will work with organizational and agency partners to ensure farmers, ranchers, and acequias meet eligibility requirements for USDA programs and to assist with USDA applications which will benefit over 300 producers. NMAA will also provide education and training through workshops and demonstration sites for new and beginning farmers and youth benefiting over 150 participants.”

Support for Native farmers and ranchers from New Mexico tribes and pueblos: Udall and Heinrich announced two grants totaling $388,492 to benefit farmers and ranchers from tribal and pueblo communities. One grant will help expand access for Northern New Mexico pueblos to key USDA programs to benefit the ownership, operation, and profitability of family farms and ranches for pueblo farmers and ranchers. The second grant will help fund agricultural workshops, training, resources, and free consultations for farmers and ranchers on the Navajo Nation.

More information can be found here.

“The days of water abundance are gone” — Jen Pelz

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andy Stiny):

The Santa Fe-based organization [Wild Earth Guardians] filed notice that it wants the New Mexico Court of Appeals to review a district judge’s refusal to force the Office of the State Engineer to prove that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is entitled to water it uses under permit.

“The appeal looks to compel the State Engineer to require the District actually prove it has used the large quantity of water it claimed upon receiving its permits from the State in 1925,” WildEarth Guardians said in a news release. “Despite the clear mandate under its permits, the District has long avoided confirming its use with the hope of continuing to control and divert the entire flow over the river in perpetuity.”

The district’s diversion of water from the Rio Grande for hundreds of farmers has been a source of contention, especially in dry years when the riverbed has gone mostly dry below the Albuquerque area, threatening the survival of species such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow…

“The days of water abundance are gone,” Jen Pelz of WildEarth Guardians said in a statement. “The reality of these times demands that the basic limitations on water use are met. Our litigation seeks just that, to enforce key provisions of state water law to safeguard and conserve water for our rivers.”