From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
A pair of environmental groups are challenging a proposed land exchange by the U.S. Forest Service that would assist with repairs to the San Luis Valley’s biggest reservoir.
The Forest Service would exchange 6 acres of federal land with the San Luis Valley Irrigation District that would help the district repair the 103-year-old Rio Grande Reservoir in return for 8 acres of private land.
As part of the package, the irrigation district also has offered to sell the agency a 23-acre inholding on the Weminuche Wilderness for $1 and grant a 1,400-foot trail easement.
Jen Pelz, the wild rivers program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the groups do not object to the dam repairs.
They do, however, want the Forest Service to better analyze the impact from eliminating seepage at the dam, which ranges from zero to 6 cubic-feet-persecond, and mitigate the impact to fish and wildlife on the river segment below the dam.
Mike Blakeman, a public affairs officer for the Rio Grande National Forest, said the criticism of the agency’s analysis of the seepage was off base.
“Rio Grande Reservoir dam seepage was repaired last year and occurred on private property,” he said. “We don’t have jurisdiction over that.”
He added that the seepage also was part of the irrigation district’s water right that also was not subject to agency authority.
The reservoir, which sits roughly 20 miles west of Creede on the Rio Grande, assists the irrigation district in delivering water to roughly 70,000 acres of farm ground in the northern half of the valley.
The 54,000-acre-foot reservoir also plays a key role in helping water officials time deliveries to comply with the Rio Grande Compact and mitigate the impact to the river from groundwater pumping on the valley floor.
Resolution of the objection by WildEarth and Western Lands Project now sits with officials at the agency’s regional office in Denver.
The resolution period started Tuesday and could take anywhere from 45 to 75 days.