Water is one of the most precious and essential things in our lives. Without it, there is no life. When you go to your kitchen sink and turn on your tap to fill a glass of water, do you think about
where that water came from? Do you wonder about the agencies and many people who got that water from the original source to the point where it is filling your glass? I am presenting the following issues covered in this blog/website because it is
important to know what is happening to the water in the San Luis Valley.
These are all issues that will have a drastic effect on the quantity and quality of water in this valley and
the Rio Grande River. Many people are making an argument that in the West, water is going to become the new oil. The events here affect a broader scope than just this valley. This is a small area that has people who are trying to fix some
major problems. A subdistrict plan developed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District holds the potential to become a solution for many other areas in the world dealing with similar groundwater problems. As the Rio Grande Water Conservation
District General Manager, Steve Vandiver said, " We have issued too many well permits and now we're trying to unscramble the egg."
Throughout many areas of the San Luis Valley, depth to ground water is less than 12 feet. Ground water
is produced from two major aquifers within the valley. The unconfined aquifer is up to 200 feet deep consisting of unconsolidated clay, silt, sand and gravel with wells yielding up to 3,000 gallons per minute. The confined aquifer is from
50 to 30,000 feet deep consisting of unconsolidated sediment interlayered with volcanic strata with wells yielding up to 4,000 gallons per minute. With the sediment build up from the Rio Grande River developing the Closed Basin, this basin developed
a condition of the water being very close to the surface. There is no surface outlet for drainage. Surface runoff from the Sangre de Cristos soaks into alluvial fans and the ground water migrates towards the lower levels at the San Luis Lake area.
This abundant ground water gives rise to many ephemeral lakes, wetlands and flowing wells. This water became a solution to a water shortage problem in the river which developed during the 1960's. Construction of the Closed Basin project of the
1980s salvaged some of the shallow groundwater that was being lost to evaporation and transpiration. This construction consisted of installing wells, pumping stations and a canal to transport water from the closed basin to the Rio Grande River, in order
to supply some of the water requirements towards the fulfilment of the Rio Grande compact to New Mexico and Texas.(Jones, P. Andrew and Cech, Tom, Colorado Law for Non Lawyers, University press of Colorado, 2009, p.32)
There are currently many issues with water in the valley. I am attempting to introduce an overview of a few of those issues. After the introduction of the center pivot technology, excessive use of surface and groundwater has led
to the water logging of soils in many parts of the valley. Waterlogged soils have become alkaline, and groundwater has become highly mineralized from the concentration of salts. This resulted in a unique aspect of the Rio Grande Compact explained
in the next section. The center pivot technology and high capacity wells with no augmentation process have caused a depletion of the aquifers of over 1,500,000 acre-feet of water. That is as much or more water than is stored Blue Mesa Reservoir
located in the northwestern part of the State of Colorado. By the late 1800's most streams in the San Luis Valley were already over-appropriated, and it is the opinion of water managers today that the over-appropriation is much worse because there has
been very little regulation on pumping from the confined and unconfined aquifers. Mike Gibson, Manager of The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and chairman of the Rio Grande roundtable, told me that "with the current over appropriation, one
drop of water in the Rio Grande River is used four times before returning back to the river, and the surface water in the Rio Grande has declined greatly."
An explanation of the Rio Grande River Compact will be addressed, and the issues
of the need for restoration of the riverbanks, infrastructure repair, and wetland restoration will also be presented. There are two water storage reservoirs that are in need of repair and the ongoing sub-district plan and some of its problems will be
discussed at length.