ALAMOSA — Efforts continue in the Rio Grande Basin to manage one of its most vital resources — water.
One of the leaders in these efforts is the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), a levy-supported district that has protected and promoted San Luis Valley water interests for decades, tackling such Goliath projects as the American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) that promoted a water export plan in the 1980’s to the development of water management sub-districts in the last decade or so to help balance and restore the basin’s aquifers.
The district’s board, representative of varied water and geographic interests in the Valley, held its regular quarterly meeting on Tuesday and heard updates on the sub-districts it has directly sponsored as well as water projects it has supported through funding over the years.
The water district’s first sub-district, lying roughly in the closed basin area of the Valley, has been operational for a few years under its own board of managers, with RGWCD Program Manager Rob Phillips concentrating on that sub-district.
One of the major goals of the sub-districts is to offset injurious depletions that wells have and are causing to senior surface water rights. Sub-districts are located in different geographical areas of the basin or represent specific water user groups.
Five other sub-districts are at various stages of development, and RGWCD Program Manager Amber Pacheco updated the board on their status on Tuesday. She said Sub-district #2 has prepared its plan of water management (how it proposes to accomplish its part in making up for injurious depletions and restoring the aquifers), which the overseeing board approved and will now go to the state engineer for approval. Sub-district #3 is also working on a plan of water management and has already purchased 755 acre feet of water (through the RGWCD, to be reimbursed once the sub-district is operational and collecting its own fees) from the SLV Water Conservancy District to make up for injurious depletions from well pumping in that sub-district.
Sub-district #4 has been approved by Chief Judge Pattie Swift and has selected its board of managers, which will work on bylaws and subsequently the sub-district’s plan of water management. Sub-district #5 has submitted its petitions to form a sub-district and filed them with the court in Saguache, which will hear the matter in December. Sub-district #6 is still gathering petitions, with about 350 collected so far, and hopefully will present those petitions to the sponsoring RGWCD board in early 2018, Pacheco said.
Phillips and RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson reported that the district had closed on its purchase of nearly 8,000 acres of the Medano Ranch (see separate story), which had been two years in the making in a “continuing effort towards sustainability of Sub-district #1.” The water on the ranch, formerly owned by The Nature Conservancy, will be used to recharge the aquifer.
Other items shared during the Tuesday RGWCD meeting included:
“We have had a great year at the sand dunes,” he said. “Visitation keeps going up.”
The park broke a record with 299,513 visitors logged in 2015, broke that record again in 2016 with more than 388,000 visitors and will likely hit 400,000 visitors this year, Bunch said.
He added that the dunes has also seen more precipitation this year with 13 inches, compared to the average 11 inches, and the Medano Creek is still flowing.
He said Park Superintendent Lisa Carrico would be leaving for the Grand Canyon. (A community farewell party is scheduled in Alamosa for November 10 from 6-11 p.m. at La Manzanilla, Alamosa.)