ALAMOSA — "Radar is the 21st century technology to help us with public safety, early warning and stream forecasting for river administration," said Travis Smith at Monday's San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association meeting.
Smith, the Rio Grande River Basin Representative at the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and current chairman of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT), updated the commissioners on the current progress of having a permanent radar system in the Valley.
Right now the nearest radar is in Pueblo, which doesn't penetrate over the mountains and into the Valley.
"The whole watershed is unseen by radar," said Joe Busto, a researcher with the CWCB. The missing data can create issues in predicting the amount of water when the snow melts in the spring.
"We can be off as much as $42 million in water administration in a bad year," Busto said.
Local radar would also better warn officials of major storms like the recent one in Costilla County.
"It was an anomaly that no one saw coming," said Costilla County Commissioner Lawrence Pacheco, "and it isn't going to be the last one."
Busto suggested purchasing an E750 dual polarized radar system from EWR, a vendor out of Saint Louis, Missouri that sells radar systems to the military. It scans in a horizontal and vertical plane to create a 3D image.
"It's one of the most powerful observation tools on the planet," said Busto. “It's better than a satellite. We believe it'll be the current technology for the next 20 years."
The radar itself will cost $695,000 on top of an estimated $70,000 to build an 80-foot tower. There will also be a yearly service contract of $46,188.
The CWCB has secured funding for the initial purchase and installation for the radar; however it still has to go out to bid before the counties can be financially involved.
"Now we're building a stakeholder coalition and a list of partners for long term operations," Smith said.
Once ordered, the vendor will provide the radar in 90 days and Smith is hoping to have it installed and running by December. They'll return to give another update at the next association meeting on July 17.