ALAMOSA — Although the San Luis Valley has not been successful in drawing average moisture recently, it has been more than successful in drawing money for water projects.
Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said in the years since the state has funded water projects through basin-specific roundtables and a statewide account, this basin has garnered more than $8 million from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Account.
“We are the basin that has received the most funding to date,” he said.
Less money is now available statewide so the competition for it will be tougher, he added, but the San Luis Valley continues to put forward good projects worthy of the funding.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board hears statewide funding requests in March and September.
The Valley group continues to submit requests for statewide funding to complement local roundtable funds.
This month, for example, the roundtable approved two funding requests along the lines of water education and public information and reviewed several projects coming up for funding in future meetings. The roundtable meets again on January 8 at 2 p.m. at the Ramada in Alamosa.
During its December meeting the roundtable unanimously approved a $23,500 request from Judy Lopez to implement “The Value of Water,” an educational campaign to continue the informational work begun this year during the “Water 2012” initiative.
“We have had a great year,” Lopez said.
Water 2012 included a variety of activities including weekly articles in the Valley Courier, radio spots, tours, contests and other water informational events.
Lopez said the Rio Grande Basin is a model for others and has been termed the “kumbaya” basin because of how well folks got along and worked together to promote water education.
“The Value of Water” is the next step, Lopez explained.
One of the goals of this next campaign will be “getting people to understand we have a gap between what we have and the amount of water we need.”
She said water users in this basin are probably more aware of that gap because the Valley has been experiencing a water crisis, but many average citizens throughout the state do not understand there is a gap that will continue to grow as Colorado populations grow and water resources do not.
“Narrowing the gap” will be one of the messages of the “Value of Water” campaign, Lopez said. A logo will be developed, and those who help “narrow the gap” will be able to let folks know they did their part in narrowing the gap between water resources and water needs.
The Valley Courier will continue to publish water educational articles, with about 24 scheduled for 2013, and radio interviews will continue, as well as classes and tours on different topics such as wetlands.
Lopez requested $23,500 for salaries and supplies that will be matched for a total of $66,450 for “The Value of Water” campaign. The funding request will go on to the state for consideration for funding from the statewide account.
Roundtable member Travis Smith said he supported this funding application, and he commended Lopez and Water 2012 Coordinator Leah Opitz for getting the water conversation out past the “same 10 guys and gals” to the general public.
He said the educational components are often overlooked in water circles and hard to measure, but they are important.
One of the measures of success from these initiatives will be raising up new water leaders for the future, he added.
The other project approved for funding during the roundtable’s December meeting was a request for $33,237 from the local basin account. The money will be used to publish 7,000 copies of a “Headwaters” magazine focused on this basin. “Headwaters” is published by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and is distributed throughout the state. The last magazine focusing on the Rio Grande Basin was published about six years ago.
Roundtable member Steve Vandiver said the articles in “Headwaters” magazines are top quality and factual, and the local water leaders would have input on the topics and content.
The issue would be available in June of next year.
In addition to approving funding requests, the roundtable members heard about requests that will come before them for action in January.
One of these involved the Plaza Project near Del Norte. The project is being completed in phases with each phase undergoing feasibility, engineering, design and construction. The first two phases focus on the MacDonald and Prairie Ditches with such improvements as headgate and diversion repairs/replacement, wetlands restoration and stream bank stabilization.
Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project Coordinator Heather Dutton asked to increase the most recent grant by $431,000 because the project needed to be modified to incorporate a series of automated headgates to control floodwaters. The $431,000 request also includes $1,000 additional for the wetlands project, which came in a bit more than budgeted.
The request will include $22,000 from basin funds and the remainder from state funds. Dutton said the landowners would increase their loan amount as well.
“It is a small ditch but it has big impacts,” Dutton said, “a big impact on the river and a big impact on the community.”
In past high water years people have been evacuated because of flooding, she added.
Gibson said a Rio Grande study completed in the 1990’s evaluating the river from South Fork to the Alamosa/Costilla County line identified several projects, and this was one of the major priorities identified in that study.
Another future funding request will be for the third phase of the Plaza Project on the Prairie Ditch where a dam and headgates need to be replaced and the stream bank stabilized. Prairie is a bigger ditch with about 50 landowners. The funding request will be $300,000 from the statewide account and $15,000 from the basin. A grant totaling that same amount is already in place as a match, and the landowners would acquire a loan for $105,000.
Another funding request coming before the roundtable in January will be for $16,700 basin funds and $221,300 statewide funds that, with matches, will add up to the $333,500 estimated total project for the Romero-Mogote headgate project requested by the Mogote Northeastern Consolidated Ditch Company and the Romero Ditch Board. The combined ditch system covers 80 miles. The project will include automated headgates and measuring weirs that will help regulate the river more equitably and meet the Rio Grande Compact.
Currently, water is being lost through the ditch system.
Finally, the Santa Maria Reservoir Company will make a formal request next month for $440,750 from statewide funds and $23,000 from basin funds towards an estimated $1.85 million project to repair/replace deteriorated pipelines to the Santa Maria Reservoir, one of the highest reservoirs in Colorado at more than 10,500 feet. The reservoir will be 100 years old next year.
The reservoir is currently under restrictions from the state, and if repairs can be made to lift those restrictions, more water can be stored in the reservoir.