ALAMOSA — Proposed water projects in the San Luis Valley literally span from one end of the Valley to the other — dam improvements at Mountain Home Reservoir southeast of Fort Garland to a pipeline at the Mineral County Fairgrounds in Creede.
Both projects are receiving funding through the Valley-wide water organization the Rio Grande Roundtable, which heard requests for funding on Tuesday for five future projects and approved funding requests for two projects that had already made presentations to the roundtable, including the Mineral County project.
The roundtable board approved a request for $9,190 for the Mineral County project, which involves piping water from a recently replaced historic ditch head gate under reclaimed (capped and vegetated) mining-contaminated soil to the Mineral County Fairgrounds. Zeke Ward, who presented the request, said piping the water was more economical and would require less maintenance than a new ditch, which would have to be lined.
Ward said there are many benefits to the project including preserving a historic water right and benefitting the environment. He said it is not a big project but is important in getting water from the headgate to the land that needs to be irrigated.
Ward said the approximately $9,200 from the roundtable funds would be matched by about $1,500.
A much larger project that was approved on Tuesday was a funding request for $64,480 in basin-allocated funds for a three-year water education proposal. The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation & Education Initiative, directed by Bethany Howell, is taking the lead on educational and outreach efforts that range from web site content to video vignettes. For example, six video vignettes on water topics are proposed to be completed in the next three years. The funding will also be used to update and maintain a web site, produce newsletters and produce educational articles.
The other projects that were presented on Tuesday were previews, with the actions on funding them to occur at the next meeting in January.
The Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking $50,000 from funds allocated to the Rio Grande Roundtable and $822,438 from statewide funds towards a $993,863 project to make necessary dam repairs at Mountain Home Reservoir. The roundtable has supported feasibility and design phases on this project in the past, consultant Nicole Langley reminded the roundtable board when she gave the presentation on Tuesday on behalf of the Trinchera Irrigation Company. The current funding request will go towards implementation of those designs.
Langley said the 1905-constructed Mountain Home Reservoir has provided irrigation and recreational uses for a long time and is still functioning, but the state engineer has some safety concerns about the current gate valves. One is in poor condition and the other two have never been used and have deteriorated over time.
“We have to be able to lower the level of the lake five feet in five days,” she said. “We can’t do that.”
The problems with the reservoir are also restricting the irrigators who depend on that water from being able to obtain it when their rights are in priority, Langley added.
Another important aspect of Mountain Home Reservoir operating to its full capacity, Langley added, is that it is also a state wildlife area under an agreement with the Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
She added that the Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking other support such as Louis Bacon Moore Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado via the Town of Blanca.
Two of the projects involve funds for conservation easements. One of the conservation easements is proposed on the Lazy EA Ranch along Pinos Creek near Del Norte. The total cost of the easement will be $202,951, and Colorado Open Lands is seeking $36,213 from the Rio Grande Roundtable, with other funding including $101,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), $15,000 from Colorado Open Lands and approximately $50,738 from the landowner match, depending on the land appraisal. The plan is to get the conservation easement in place by next September, Judy Lopez told the Roundtable board.
Lopez, who is a conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands, explained that a conservation easement on this piece of property is important for protecting it from development. She said there is just a narrow band left along the river corridor for farming and ranching. Encompassing 80 acres of flood-irrigated pasture, the property is used for hay production, is a corridor for wildlife and encompasses wetlands.
The land was originally homesteaded in 1849 and has a water right of 1.4 cubic feet per second.
RiGHT (Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust) is seeking funding for another conservation easement, this one on the Paulson Ranch in the Monte Vista area near Swede Lane and the Rio Grande. There are other conservation easements in the area, RiGHT Director Nancy Butler explained, making this conservation easement a good fit. The 180 acres that would be under conservation easement encompass senior water rights, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat and wetlands.
RiGHT is seeking $18,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $157,000 from statewide water funds administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The total project is estimated at $405,000, with $100,000 to be sought from the Gates Family Foundation and $130,000 in landowner contribution, depending on the final appraisal.
Another project, seeking $46,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $300,000 from the statewide pot, as part of a half-million-dollar total project, is the “Conconco to the Confluence” project upgrading the Richfield diversion and diversions on the Conejos. This project will help correct some of the sedimentation problems. Nathan Coombs, SLV Water Conservancy District director, said sedimentation at the Richfield diversion, for example, is a big problem because the area is so flat. Irrigators are not able to use their water rights, he explained.
This project will also correct inconsistent measurements at the Conconco gage, which is not currently functioning properly, a problem not only for irrigators but also for Rio Grande Compact compliance.
Probably the most “dynamic” project presented on Tuesday was a project presented by Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited, to use dynamite to fell trees around the Spruce Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness area. Terry explained that two reservoirs, seven miles in from the Continental Divide, are clogging up with dead spruce trees, with more trees near the lakes threatening to cause further problems.
This is a problem not only for the water rights associated with the reservoirs but also for fish habitat.
Terry said since the lakes are in an area designated as wilderness, the tools that are permitted to be used there are limited. So far the efforts used to remove the dead trees have included large horses pulling the logs out of the reservoirs and using handsaws to cut down dead trees.
Trout Unlimited is working with the Forest Service and the owners of the reservoirs on what may be a more efficient and innovative manner of taking down the trees that threaten the lakes. They will use explosives to fell about 430 trees near the reservoirs. When it is finished, it will look like winds took down the trees, Terry explained.
The project will cost about $84,000, with the request for basin allocated funds being about $65,500. Half of the cost is for the explosives themselves, Terry explained.
The entire project could be completed in a week with professional staff felling the trees, he added. The plan would be to take out the trees next September.