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Water projects provide economic development

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 15th, 2013

Giving a regional and even statewide perspective, this map shows where the Seven Mile Plaza Project is being completed between Monte Vista and Del Norte. This is a reach of the Rio Grande identified as problematic and requiring restoration in a comprehensive study of the river conducted about a dozen years ago.

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — Water projects provide a unique form of economic development to the San Luis Valley.

If funded in March, the latest five projects will bring more than $2 million to the Valley, spreading the dollars from the San Luis area on the east to the Creede area on the west.

In addition to the $2 million in grants, local landowners are acquiring loans to help pay for their water projects, and entities such as USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are providing in-kind services and funding.

Approved by the Rio Grande Roundtable this month to move forward to the state water board for final funding approval were:

• El Cerro Ditch, seeking $25,000 from locally-apportioned funds from the Rio Grande Roundtable and $425,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers statewide funds from severance tax revenues;

• Plaza Project-McDonald Ditch supplemental, seeking $42,000 local funds and $409,000 state funds;

• Prairie Ditch Company, seeking $21,500 local funds and $408,500 state funds;

• Romero-Mogote Headgates, seeking $16,700 local funds and $268,300 state funds;

• Santa Maria Reservoir conveyance systems, seeking $23,000 local funds and $440,750 state funds.

El Cerro Ditch

“This project is massive and complex but the explanation is quite simple,” Diana Cortez said when she presented El Cerro Ditch’s request for funding for a multi-phased project to replace a concrete ditch that has experienced sediment problems resulting in farmers not receiving the water they are entitled to for their crops.

“A lot of people aren’t getting their water at all,” she said.

This project is in southern Costilla County and involves 82 landowners, Cortez said. The project will encompass about 10,000 feet, 1,900 feet with concrete and 7,300 feet with pipe, she explained.

Cortez explained the acequia is two systems, northern and southern cerro running side by side all the way into the San Luis commons.

“It is one huge system that was hand dug back in the 1800’s,” Cortez explained. “We are quite proud of our heritage.”

The cerro ditch gets its water from the Culebra watershed, she added.

Cortez said this project focuses on the northern ditch. The southern ditch, a heritage ditch, will continue to be maintained as it has been, she said.

The northern ditch was lined with concrete in the 1960’s that has since worn out. That is where the concrete and pipe will be replaced. A subsequent phase will run from this project all the way to Carpenter Ranch, she said.

Roundtable member Cindy Medina said she had visited this watershed recently and was able to see firsthand what the problems are with El Cerro. She added this project has a lot of support from the community and is a good project. She made the motion to approve funding for it and send it forward to the state.

The total project is estimated at $733,100 including the local and state water supply reserve account funding in addition to $283,100 in other funding sources.

El Cerro Ditch’s project received unanimous support from the roundtable and will go to the state water board in March.

Plaza Project-McDonald Ditch

Also receiving unanimous support from the roundtable was a supplemental budget request for the Plaza Project-McDonald Ditch for $42,000 locally-apportioned funding and $409,000 from state-allocated funds. Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project Coordinator Heather Dutton explained the funding was requested for a change of scope in this project in the Seven Mile Plaza area about five miles north and seven miles west of Monte Vista.

Dutton said in the course of developing this project, the question arose about whether the channel restoration would cause scouring of the bridge. Analysis showed scouring would not be a problem but potential flooding could be.

Dutton said the project could not move forward in good faith with that possibility, so the project design was changed. This resulted in $460,000 above what was originally budgeted.

The project had previously received $295,000 ($20,000 from local funds and $275,000 from state funds.) McDonald Ditch landowners also have a $70,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and will be increasing that loan amount to cover their share of the increased costs for this project.

Prairie Ditch Company

Dutton also presented the Prairie Ditch funding request, which represents Phase 3 of the Plaza Project, one of the priorities identified in a study of the Rio Grande performed about a dozen years ago to see what kind of shape the river was in and what might be done to improve it.

The Prairie Ditch project is also located in the Seven Mile Plaza area.

Prairie Ditch is an old ditch incorporated in 1902, involving 65 stockholders and decreed for 367 cubic feet per second. The ditch’s headgate was constructed in 1920 and is showing wear and tear. The diversion was built in the early 1900s and reconstructed in 1962 with odd bits of railroad iron and Air Force surplus thrown in, Dutton explained to the roundtable.

She said the streambanks in that area are unstable and the channel has been negatively affected by sediment.

The $960,000 Prairie Ditch project will address headgate, streambank and channel problems. NRCS is completing the design for about $90,000 in-kind, and the landowners are obtaining an $115,000 loan.

Gibson said NRCS has been vital for this and other water projects in the basin, and he appreciated the local staff’s efforts and support.

The funding request for locally-allocated basin funds is $21,500 with an additional $408,500 requested from state-apportioned funds.

There was no opposition to the funding request, which now moves to the state for approval in March.

Romero-Mogote Headgates

Seeking the smallest amount of funding in January was the Romero-Mogote Ditch requesting $16,700 in locally-apportioned basin funds and $268,300 in statewide funds. The total project cost is estimated at $380,350. Water users and NRCS will make up the difference. The Conejos Water Conservancy District is contributing $60,350 for the project.

This structural project includes installation of 16 measuring weirs and telemetry to quantify where losses might be occurring in the system so they can be corrected and water can be more fairly distributed to irrigators.

Ditch board members explained to the roundtable board the Romero and Mogote ditches are experiencing substantial losses, and those losses need to be calculated and corrected. This will be important not only for the irrigators who depend on the ditch system but also for the Rio Grande Compact.

The Romero and Mogote are some of the oldest ditches on the Conejos River system and although they are separate ditches, one board administers them. The extensive ditch system includes 80 miles of earthen ditch irrigating about 15,000 acres.

Santa Maria Reservoir

In another unanimous motion, the roundtable approved at the local level and will forward to the state requests for $23,000 basin funds and $440,750 statewide funds to be matched with other sources for a $1.8 million project to repair conveyance systems at the Santa Maria Reservoir.

This represented the largest project and funding request at the January meeting and will be outlined in more detail in a separate article.

The project is going from design to implementation with this request.

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