The Crestone Eagle, May 2002:
by David Nicholas
This spring, the wind is blowing and the snow is disappearing off the mountains into the air, not down the creeks. The spring runoff, which replenishes the unconfined aquifer, has peaked and in some places failed to materialize. It’s the worst year for drought conditions that anyone has seen in the San Luis Valley in living memory.
Since Federal and State authorities began measuring the amount of water flowing from the headwaters of the Rio Grande in 1890, there have only been two times when the water levels reached chronic proportions, in 1902 and in 1978. At those times, the rains did not come and the snows did not fall as expected, and on each occasion the drought became the worst in recent memory. That is until this year, when all generations in the Valley have said that this one was the worst they have ever seen.
Talk to residents living close to creeks here in Crestone and the Baca Subdivision, and they will tell you that normally the water rushing down the watercourses in the spring is loud enough to drown out all other sounds, but not this year. Residents say they can barely hear the water running.
This drought is a bad one and to get just how bad it is, the quarterly meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) described the bleak picture. “If you are not praying for rain, you’d better get started,” said Steven E. Vandiver, the San Luis Valley’s water engineer for the state Division of Water Resources and Colorado’s engineer advisor for the Rio Grande Compact Commission.
When asked how much rain and snow would be needed to bring it up to normal, he replied, “Forty days and 40 nights of rain would help. We need sustained rain now and significant snow pack next year to even start to turn this situation around.”
What Vandiver had not seen in 30 years on the job, was the snow pack on April 17, which the SNOTEL electronic meters, which read snow levels up in the mountain catchments, was at 13%, and by the beginning of the District’s meeting at 9am on Thursday, the following day, was at 12%. The difference of 1% of snow was not the problem. The problem was that the snowmelt had not increased the flow of water into the Rio Grande at all. The wind had blown it away.
The spectacle of the upper reaches of the Rio Grande drying up is considered a possibility these days, but more likely it will turn into a muddy trickle.
How will the drought affect Baca’s water supply?
Scott Johnson, the Manager of the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District, is watching the situation closely. “The district can draw up to 500 acre feet under its agreement with the current owner of the Baca Ranch,” said Johnson. “But on average, residences in the Baca use only about 50,000 gallons a year or approximately 1/6th of an acre foot (an acre foot of water = 325,851 gallons).”
Currently, the District’s main well for the Baca Subdivision, located on the western edge of Chalet I, is sanding up due to poor casings in the well. In addition, the water table at Well 17, as it is called, has dropped from 25 feet below the surface to 45 feet, which Johnson says is normal for this time of year, and he expects it to come back up. “If it doesn’t,” he says, “a lot of people are going to know about it.”
After it was discovered that the well was sanding up in March, it was reset to increase the flow. It will eventually dry up, but not anytime soon. Right now, to cater to the residences in the Baca, the well has to pump 1 cubic foot per second (CFS or 448 gallons per second). At present the well is pumping 2 CFS. Also, the District has applied for emergency funds to drill another well some distance from 17. Well 18, as this new one is called, is close to North Crestone Creek. “These wells are not dependent on steam flows,” said Johnson. “They draw from the unconfined aquifer.”
With the exception of Cottonwood Creek, Johnson expects all creeks to be dry by early June. The District draws water directly from Cottonwood Creek because the draw for the creek is big. He expects to be able to draw water from it until late summer.
Casita Park residents should have little to worry about. They have their own well, quite separate from the Baca.
Crestone residents have domestic wells, and so residents will monitor water levels on their own. There will be little or no ditch flows through the town this year.
The Rest of the Valley
Already, many ranchers and farmers have been notified as to whether they will receive water allocations under the compact provisions this year. Many ditch companies have been told that there will be no water available for their use.
Most towns in the Valley have wells that draw water from the confined aquifer, some 700-1,000 feet deep, but unconfirmed reports have it that some of Del Norte’s wells are going dry now. Even for irrigators who draw water from the unconfined and confined aquifers, the news is not good.
Allen Davey, who is the RGWCD’s water engineer, has tracked the valley’s aquifer since 1976. Water is measured by the acre-foot, which is enough to cover an acre of land a foot deep, or 325,851 gallons. It takes two to three acre-feet of water to grow a crop or keep a lawn green, according to officials.
In 1977, the aquifer decreased by 500,000 acre-feet, according to Davey’s records, and it’s already down 300,000 acre-feet this year. In normal years, mountain snowmelt recharges about 2 million acre-feet in the watershed and aquifer, but that didn’t happen this year. His records show the aquifer has fallen 5 feet in some areas and 15 feet in others.
What it means is that, if water levels in the unconfined aquifer, which lies just below the surface to a depth of one hundred feet, drops any further as most irrigation wells draw from it, many wells in the valley will go dry. In the northern part of the valley, that has already begun to happen. Essentially it means the valley economy could collapse as ranchers and farmers go broke or go to other areas to find work to pay the mortgage and to put food on the table.
We in the Crestone/Baca should have enough water unless, the recharge factor does not occur. But if you feel like praying for rain right now, this is a really good time to do it. This drought can get worse, let us pray that it doesn’t. Stay tuned, this drought promises to be an eye-opener.
The Crestone Eagle, June 2002:
by David Nicholas
We are still in the worst drought in living memory here in the San Luis Valley.
We did have some rain and snow in May, which in some places in the mountains actually touched the ground. But in most places if moisture actually hit the ground, it didn’t stay for long. The water did not noticeably alter or add to the streamflows down the mountain. What snow fell and stayed on the higher elevations, was made a memory by the wind in hours.
Fire bans and El Nino
The county fire ban is still in place and while the Rio Grande National Forest is only at a Stage 2 alert, which allows people into the forest but bans all fires, the Carson National Forest to the south has a stage 3 alert, which has closed the forest entirely to all. It is likely a stage 3 alert for the Rio Grande National Forest will go into effect soon, if conditions do not improve.
Currently the National Weather Service (NWS) gives the Southwest a D3 Rating, Extreme Drought. From now until August, the Climate Prediction Center is saying that there may be some short-term improvement in the seasonal outlook, but it will be spotty (to use their term). Their forecast says that there will be substantial water shortages and very low streamflows.
A quick and random check of people with domestic wells in Crestone and the Baca Grants revealed that the average depth is about 50 feet. These are shallow wells. Farmers are drawing water from the unconfined aquifer for irrigating their crops in the central part of the valley at this time. The water table in the unconfined aquifer may drop significantly as a result. People may need to monitor the water levels of their wells. Water drilling companies do offer it as a paid service to check well levels, or you might want to call Ralph Curtis at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District at 589-6301 and ask who does perform this service, if the well existed when you bought your land.
As of May 15, the El Nino condition, which was seen earlier this year forming around the islands of Indonesia, has spread eastward. Intense areas of warming waters at the surface are between 29 to 30+ degrees Centigrade and now cover most of the Pacific Ocean between the Tropics east of New Guinea. However, separately there is intense warming of surface waters off the coast of Central America, just south of Mexico, and if this moves north, which is predicted, it should begin influencing our weather within the year. Earlier this year, the NWS long range forecast said that the El Nino would send rain north of us and south of us, but not in our area.
Help from the Gov.
On Thursday, May 23, Gov. Bill Owens focused primarily on what the state is doing to address current drought and fire hazard issues, during an hour-long stop Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the Trinidad-Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce at Trinidad Holiday Inn.
Calling this year’s drought the worst the state has ever faced, Owens said the state was at 11 percent of the average year’s snowpack with the odds of significant rainfall before year’s end “slim at best. This year we’re in a late August environment in mid-May and won’t have any snow for another four months,” Owens said.
The governor told the audience of about 150 that the extremely dry conditions could lead to another summer like two years ago when huge forest and grassland fires devastated many areas of the state, including two huge fires that scorched western Las Animas County.
“We’ve already had three to four times as many fires year-to-date as we normally would have in a whole year,” Owens said. “We now have four times the fire personnel benefiting the state this summer compared to last summer—120 full-time fire professionals waiting on call to fight these fires.”
A water helicopter is stationed at the Saguache airport during this time, and two slurry tanker aircraft on call at the Pueblo airport.
Gov. Bill Owens also signed two water bills on May 23, that he said will help us battle a worsening drought. Under HB1414 by Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling, and Sen. Lewis Entz, R-Hooper, the state engineer will be able to approve substitute water supply plans much faster than in the past.
“There appears to be situations where water may be available from various sources that can supplement water supplies in an area where resources are running extremely low,” Owens said. “Without this legislation, approval for this emergency ‘rental’ of water would have to go through a lengthy, cumbersome process. Now these requests can be expedited.”
The other legislation, HB1152 by Hoppe and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, is the annual Colorado Water Conservation Board’s projects bill. The bill authorizes millions of dollars in new low-interest loans for water projects—more than $30 million in new loans and nearly $5 million for satellite monitoring of rivers and streams, water supply studies, watershed and flood control plans.
The Crestone Eagle, July 2002:
Wells and Rio Grande drying, Baca W&S concerned about water,
. . . El Niño monsoons soon?
by David Nicholas
Everyone’s nervous. You hear that being said everywhere. Whether it’s the lack of rain and dwindling water supplies, or the fires which are blazing in the San Juan Mountains or elsewhere in the West, this year drought in the San Luis Valley is making history.
The so-called “Million Fire”, started just south of Hwy 160 at South Fork, filled the Valley with smoke and ash, turned the sun red and at times, completely blotting it out, and heightened the nervousness.
On June 11 Steve Vandiver, the State Water Engineer for the San Luis Valley and the Engineer Advisor for the Rio Grande Compact Commission, gave an update at the Division of Water Resources in Alamosa. Vandiver said that wells have begun to dry up all over the Valley and especially in the Capulin area, where wells that go as deep as 200 feet have gone dry.
He also said, that the Rio Grande, one of the five major river systems which begin in Colorado and supply water for most of the West, has stopped running at two places before it crosses the state line. One place is where it hits the county line of Alamosa, west of the city. The other is just below the city. The Closed Basin Project, that water plume seven miles south of Moffat on Hwy 17 spraying water into a canal, is literally providing the water for the river to send down across the state line for users downstream in the 1880 mile-long basin.
Vandiver also said that the effects of the El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean just west of Central America would not be felt here. There is more on that later.
In Crestone/Baca concerns centered on whether the campground at North Crestone Creek should remain open; whether the new well needed by the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District would be drilled and completed before the old well completely sanded up; and whether the Crestone July 4th Celebrations should be cancelled.
The Rio Grande National Forest
Talk to residents close to the North Crestone Creek Campground, and they wonder why it is still open. Even the town of Crestone considered the issue on June 25, as to whether the town should request that a Stage 3 alert be declared in this area.
There has been no Stage 3 declared by the RGNF supervisor, which would close the campground and the forest to all users until further notice, as has been the case at the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. On June 21, the Forest added further provisions to the Stage 2 alert, which had been already in place.
At this time there is a concentrated effort by local residents to request the closure of the campground. “Everyday we go for walks up to the campground,” said Mary Johnston, resident on Spillway Rd, the road you take to the site. “I am always picking up cigarette butts off the ground. It’s dangerous, and they should close it. I can’t understand why they haven’t done so.”
The new well for Baca residents
“We hope to have it up and running by July 4,” said Scott Johnson, manager for the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District. It was the second day that the driller had been expected but hadn’t shown up yet. Naturally Johnson is concerned; he wants the well done. (The rig did show up the next day.) Well 17, while still operating, is sanding up from the bottom and is not expected to last beyond July.
Well 18, as it is referred to, is going to cost the district in excess $160,000. The cost is for the drilling and lining of the well, purchasing two submersible pumps, 100,000 and 150,000 gallon storage tanks, two booster pump stations, bringing in electricity from Rd T, as well as purchasing the land on which the new well will be located.
The money to drill the well and pumps comes from a loan raised with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, while the treated water infrastructure comes from a loan from the Department of Local Affairs.
Does it mean an increase in rates for customers to repay the loans? “We don’t believe so, said Johnson, “because the way our debt is structured right now, by the time we’ll have to start paying this back, a couple of current debts will be paid off or nearly paid off, so it will probably stay about the same.”
Johnson expects Well 18 to run probably 50 years. The well will be 150 feet deep and 26 inches wide at the base (32 inches wide at the top). At least 100 feet will have perforated steel casing, so the submersible pumps 140 feet below will suck the water from the formation through the casing and up to the surface.
Despite the bleak forecasts for the valley, Scott Johnson says that the water situation for Crestone/Baca is different. How so?
Says Johnson: “One of the reasons for us is that we are very near the source of the water. Number one, Well 18 is very close to the recharge area for the aquifer, so we get a lot of water that does not have to go very far to get to our wells.
“Number two, there are not a lot of cultivated fields on the (Baca) Grant, so we are not competing with agricultural wells.
“Number three, our water needs are very minimal compared to the needs for agricultural water. A farmer will use up as much water on a quarter (approximately 40 acres) of potatoes in a year as we do for all of our citizens. People don’t use as much water to run a household as it takes to do agricultural things. And I think Steve is more concerned about the availability of water for agriculture.“
For the rest of the District, Johnson is watching Cottonwood Creek, which is still providing water to the District at the rate of 130 gallons a minute. Johnson still expects Cottonwood to dry up later in the fall.
Despite several events at the well site which curtailed water service to residents in June, the Casita Park well is back in operation and should have no further problems. 120 feet deep, with the water level of the aquifer 25 feet below the surface, water availability should not be a problem.
Most wells in Crestone are still OK, although a few very shallow ones have gone dry. The town is making water from their municipal well available to townspeople who are experiencing problems.
The July 4th Concerns
Concerns about July 4 stem from a letter written to the Crestone Town Council from the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District, requesting that they cancel the July 4th Parade.
District manager, Scott Johnson put it this way: “The thinking is, that we know the town (Crestone) is experiencing problems with producing water out of their own wells for fire fighting purposes. Chances are, if there were a fire, they would have to get water from the District. This is fine. We don’t have a problem with that.
“What does concern us is that no matter how much water we have available, there’s the problem of getting it back and forth. If a fire got started, they just simply couldn’t get water there quick enough to do any good, no matter how much water we had for them.
“We have somewhere around 900,000–1 million gallons of water in storage. Their trucks only hold one thousand or two thousand gallons per truck, so that’s an awful lot of trips to the well, but they just won’t be able to keep up, number one. Number two, if we do end up supplying a lot of water to fight a fire say in the town, what happens if we get a fire in the District? So we think that, as there is a finite supply of water, we would just as soon not take a chance on having to use it when it’s this likelihood of a possibility.”
In response, town mayor, Kizzen Laki, said that while they had not yet received the letter from the District at the time of our conversation, the Crestone Fire Department had already decided that the two fire tankers/tenders, stationed in the town, would not be in the parade this year but would be on alert.
The Baca Fire Department is responding similarly, the 4,000-gallon truck/ tender is going to spray down the route and the road into the Crestone Town Park where the fair will be held, and then it goes on alert at the POA headquarters. The attack trucks will be in the parade but there will be NO water fights this year, in deference to water conservation. Slogans on the trucks will read, “If We Don’t Ignite It, We Won’t Have To Fight It” and “Fire Prevention Is Up To Us”. The water pack squads will be roaming the crowds, seeking errant smokers breaking the town ban.
The El Nino Condition
Much talk abounds about how the El Nino could alter this drought significantly, and it generally means steady to heavy downpours, while the condition exists. The National Weather Service has said the effects of the El Nino will now start to be felt across the nation in July instead of later this year, as they had stated earlier.
However, Water Engineer, Steve Vandiver’s information is that the El Nino will miss the headwaters of the Rio Grande and the San Luis Valley. The movement from the surface conditions of the Pacific ocean just west of Central America, which will generate the El Nino condition for the US, sets it up so it will pass on the gulf side of Mexico and come up to the continental US much farther east. The path at this time, he says, will move up eastern New Mexico and then onto eastern Colorado and then on to the Midwest. The hope is that the El Nino moves further north up the western side of Mexico to where the normal monsoon condition emanates around Baja California. We can only wait and see.
On July 9, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District will hold its quarterly meeting, where the state of the drought will be addressed in detail. Stay tuned.
The Crestone Eagle, September 2002:
The drought continues . . .Is there any end in sight?
by David Nicholas
The answer is no. We are now deep in uncharted territory. There is no one with any insight into how this drought might end. The long-range weather forecasts are predicting average or below average winter snowfalls. Here is how things look at this time.
State of the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District
Scott Johnson, District Manager of the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District, reports that the new well, Well 18, is not operating yet. The District is still awaiting the infrastructure, pumps and storage facilities to bring it on line.
Well 17 is still pumping water at the rate of 200 gallons a minute, but in Johnson’s words, “it could sand up at any time. When that happens,” said Johnson, “it will take about 24 hours to bring well 18 into operation. It doesn’t take much to change it over.”
The water level in the aquifer is still about 45 feet below the surface and has not come back up to the norm of 25 feet, as it was thought it might in August.
Cottonwood Creek facility is still providing water to the District at about 600 gallons a minute. There is no telling when it will dry up. If the winter is a dry one, then Cottonwood will certainly cease to run. “It could last and run through to the winter,” said Johnson, “but there’s no telling.”
The Casita Park well has no problems at this time. The water level in the aquifer at this well remains constant at 25 feet. There has been no drop in the water table.
Will we need to go water restrictions anytime soon? “I don’t think so,” said Johnson. He is confident that restrictions will not be needed in the District in the foreseeable future.
A Water and Sanitation Ballot Measure in November
There have been legal problems about obtaining the loan for Well 18’s infrastructure. “Depending on which lawyer you talk to,” said Johnson. “We are not sure if we qualify under the definition of a Water Activity entity.” It means that if a loan cannot be obtained, then the District will put the needed funding in a debt question to the voters on the ballot in November.
Do we need the infrastructure? “Yes, we do,” said Johnson, “There is no telling how long this drought will last. It could be this way for the next couple of years, so it is better to be prepared to handle the situation.”
Will it mean an increase in rates? Earlier this year, when this was thought to be one alternative, Johnson said, it probably would not make a difference, but then a ballot measure was not on the horizon. If the debt question goes on the ballot, it will probably mean an increase in rates. How much it will be, Johnson does not know, yet, but that information should be included in the case for question in the ballot material.
The Local Picture—Well Water
Folks to the north of Crestone report that the water pressure in their wells is dropping, and some have begun to reduce their water use, but none have gone dry.
Elsewhere, in the Grants, no dry wells to report this month. But well owners are advised to monitor their levels because, while there is no problem with getting a permit to replace domestic at the Division of Water Resources in Alamosa, there is in finding an available drilling rig to do the work. Drilling companies are reporting they have work well into next year. Planning ahead cannot hurt you.
The Big Picture, El Niño
The monsoon season—what there was of it—is over. The long predicted El Niño effect, which the National Weather Service had predicted would occur in November and then revised to July, has reversed itself again.
According to Steve Vandiver, the District Engineer for Water Division 3 and Engineer Advisor to the Rio Grande Compact Commission, the El Niño is due to start having an effect on us in November. We can expect more dry weather.
Vandiver, who works for Colorado’s Division of Water Resources in Alamosa, watches how the rain will fall, or not, because the weather has political implications in the Valley, for the interstate compact and the international treaties. Every millimeter of rainfall which makes the flow of the Rio Grande—each drainage and ditch which contributes to the recharge of the two aquifers below the Valley floor, rise or fall—is of interest. Unfortunately, Vandiver has been extraordinarily accurate as to how this year’s weather pattern has played out.
“Here, in the San Luis Valley, we had that few days where there were some thunderstorms around, but it didn’t do really anything for the river flows,” said Vandiver. “A few streams came up a little but they went right back down as soon as the storms left.
“The long-term forecast: I am seeing several things that the El Niño that was predicted for November, then moved up to July, and now has moved back to November is a very weak impulse. They are not expecting much of a change. I have heard that there is no long-term forecast that would show that this is going to break—now that can change at any time—but there is nothing that anybody’s seeing that, I am aware of, which is going to change this pattern.”
Ramifications for the Valley
In the Valley the ramifications of little or no rainfall for the rest of the year and a winter of average snowfall is bad news for the future. Ranchers and farmers who use irrigation to water livestock and grow crops are not subject to restrictions by any government authority. Encouraging these folks to practice restraint is pushing it uphill.
This year, an effort by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to educate ranchers and farmers to grow fewer crops and so reduce their water usage has fallen on deaf ears. Farmers planted full circles of potatoes, barley and other produce and irrigated to the maximum, drawing on the water from the unconfined aquifer. (Note: A circle refers to the area watered by pivot sprinklers, which rotate in a full circle.)
While it looks to be a bumper crop for both potatoes and barley and prices for both will be good this year, the result has been that the drawdown on the unconfined aquifer at Hooper-Center-Del Norte area and at Villa Grove has been alarming.
Says Vandiver, “We have just gotten the numbers and the hole which is developing out in the Center and Hooper area primarily is dramatic. The lowering of the aquifer is extended all the way down to the Del-Norte—Monte Vista Area, and we are seeing declines over all of the aquifer of 15 or more feet. We are aware of places north and east of Del Norte of 30-50’ declines. There has been no recovery—as we predicted there wouldn’t be—without the recharge from the diversions of the large canals, of which there has virtually been none.
“There is no stream flow in the immediate area. Canero and La Garita Creeks are dry or so low that there isn’t any help there. Saguache Creek is the same way. San Luis Creek and all the east side streams are dry. So there has been no help for the aquifers at all.”
The consequences are showing up already. The Division of Water Resources has issued approximately 300 permits for replacement of domestic use wells. These are house wells, people use primarily for drinking and sanitation purposes, which have either gone dry, or they are small diameter artesian wells that have stopped flowing and there is no way to get a pump in. Wells are expensive, and it has put people in a bind.
Says Vandiver, “We have de-watered this valley extensively this year. The alluvium along the rivers has dried up way more than I have ever imagined; the banks of the river are depleted.
“The (proverbial) hole that we are digging for ourselves in the aquifer out in the Closed Basin (Center-Hooper) area is substantial, and it is going to take a number of years to recover. The diversions into that area would have to be more than the annual draught (drawing out of water) to even start to recover the aquifer. So we are going to need multiple high diversion years to recover from this. The long term is that if we don’t get those years, we are going to continue to ‘mine’ water in that area, and it will become more and more difficult to obtain a water supply.”
So, could the unconfined or shallow aquifer, which lies just below the surface, go dry?
“I don’t know that it would go completely dry,” said Vandiver. “But it doesn’t have to. Let’s say a typical 1,000 gallon a minute pump can only produce 300-400 gallons a minute, because the saturated thickness of the aquifer is not available to produce more than that, it renders that well useless.
“Farmers could try and make a go of growing half a circle, if we don’t get some recharge we are going to have to cut down the draught on the aquifer in order to preserve anything that is left. So the aquifer may become so low that it just is not functional in some areas.”
Essentially, that would imply water restrictions. “Well, it does,” says Vandiver, “but because we don’t have rules and regulations in this valley at the present time for the administration of ground water, this is going to have to be a voluntary thing from the farmers. They are going to have to understand that the water supply is not there to produce all of the crops and feed all of the wells. They may have to voluntarily cut back the number of wells which are used and the number of acres irrigated in order to provide a full supply for a smaller number of acres. That is something that may have to come next year, if we don’t get a decent winter. Some real planning is going to have to take place from the farmers here.”
This is not good news for farmers who have financial pressures, and most do. Farmers will not take kindly to being told what to do here. In similar situations elsewhere, particularly south in New Mexico and Texas, farmers have ignored the warnings and are taking what they are entitled to. They face the coming year without any water at all to do anything.
Vandiver suggests that all of us practice using water frugally. Even in the Crestone area, while we are assured that using less water than our ranching and farming friends, the aquifer will not produce water indefinitely unless there is a recharge. Learning to do with less is not that far in our future, if something does not change. So pray hard for a long and snowy winter. What else are you going to do?
The Crestone Eagle, October 2002:
Wells in Crestone going dry; sporadic rains give hope
by David Nicholas
The snow and rains, which brought relief to the Sangres on September 18 and left 1–3 inches of snow on the peaks, was a welcome sight.
“42 hundredths,” said Hal Reinhart, Crestone weather recorder for the National Weather Service. “ Almost half an inch. Good for around here.”
No, it does not end the drought, but occasional rainfalls like this throughout the fall may be a start.
The rains are not from a monsoon condition, but more from tropical storms and depressions in the Caribbean, blown west to the Texas coast around Brownsville, then absorbed and drawn inland by low-pressure systems coming in from the Pacific.
The long-range weather forecast is still for a mild El Nino in November, or sooner, and an average or below average winter snowfall. It means that if the El Niño goes either east or west of the San Luis Valley, we will not benefit.
Crestone residents’ wells go dry
Despite the recent rain and snow, Crestone mayor Kizzen Laki is still very concerned. She has been conducting a survey among town residents regarding the status of their wells. The news is not good. All wells to a depth of 47 feet are dry. This is currently affecting approximately 15 households.
‘The shallower wells, 12-20 feet,” said Laki, “belong mainly to summer residents, and they pretty much have left town. But it is a real hardship for year-round residents with wells in the 25-50 foot depth to now be dry. These are wells that usually never go dry, but Crestone Creek, which usually recharges this water table, has not run since early July.” For Crestone residents, a town municipal well is available to fill up water containers.
“The water shortage will probably go through the winter,” she said. “Snow in the mountains may not start melting until spring and it will take time to recharge the aquifer.”
Permitting for re-drilling domestic wells is still ongoing at the Division of Water Resources in Alamosa. Residents with wells less than 100 feet should consider re-drilling to accommodate the drought’s effects on the water supply, which will last for the next several years or longer.
The drop in the unconfined aquifer is unprecedented and the recharge along familiar watercourses is not a given.
Says Steve Vandiver, the State Division Engineer for the San Luis Valley, who monitors stream flows, aquifer levels and the weather, “The aquifer has been ‘de-watered’ to unprecedented levels. We are not sure what is going to happen.”
No one is quite sure how fast and how long it will take to replenish the aquifer. Estimates for recharging the aquifer range from four to seven years. This is what happened in 1977. The aquifer did not show normal levels until 1984. But this year levels are lower than 1977.
As has happened throughout the 110-year history of recording water flows off the mountains, the water coming off the Sangres recharges the aquifer first, before allowing streams and creeks to remain moist and stable.
A reminder: well drillers are few and far between to offer immediate relief. There are drillers who are available in six to eight weeks, but you have to wait and take a number. To find out who is available, it is best to call the Division of Water Resources at 589-6683.
District Asks Voters To Approve $200K Bond
Scott Johnson, District Manager for the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District, said that the utility would ask voters within the District to approve a Bond for $200,000.
The purpose of the bond is for the infrastructure to go with Well 18, which includes two water storage tanks, two submersible pumps, pipe and other materials. Well 18 is the new water source for the District, which has not come on line yet.
In July, Johnson hoped that the District would be able to apply for a state grant to cover the purchase of the equipment. However, Johnson said that legal definitions in the grant apparently did not cover the District, and so the utility was not eligible.
The correct wording of the question to be put before the voters can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Eagle.
Would this mean an increase in rates to customers? Johnson said that repaying the bond probably would not start until 2004 or 2005.
“In 2005,” said Johnson, “the bond voters approved in 1995 will be paid off, so repayment of this bond would not noticeably increase rates.”
However, the district is facing a major overhaul of its infrastructure within the next few years. In particular, water pipes in some of the older parts of the District need replacing. Johnson said that they would start to replace the water pipes next year.
More important is the installation of shut-off valves at strategic points so that greater control can be exercised when carrying out repairs in built-up areas or installing hook-ups to the system. The original installation of water and sewer lines was basic. The plan was to add infrastructure as needed. More shut-off valves mean fewer residences needing to be without water for long periods of time.
“Right now, we are beginning the budget process for 2003,” said Johnson. “There is just no extra money to carry out repairs. Sharing the costs among 500 households will be hard, so we are looking to see if there is some relief to be had from the state. I don’t know if voters would consider two separate bond issues this year.”
How is the Baca Bearing Up?
Scott Johnson reports that water in Cottonwood Creek is flowing out past Dee Laird’s place for the first time since June. The pump is drawing about 600 gallons per minute. This is up from 200 gallons per minute last month. Water from the Cottonwood Creek pump house is being used to supply almost all of the Chalets. Well 17 is still operating, but minimally. The drilling of Well 18 was to be ready just in case Cottonwood Creek stopped running. Over the winter Cottonwood Creek could dry up, but Johnson thinks it is unlikely. So Johnson wants to wait until the rest of the infrastructure is in place before Well 18 is turned on. However, Well 18 can be put into operation in 24 hours in an emergency.
“No one would really notice it,” says Johnson, “there is enough water in existing storage tanks in the Chalets to cater to customers water needs for 24 hours or more. It’s fall and water consumption levels off right now. So there would be little or no inconvenience to folks.”
The Casita Park or “motel” well is still pumping at full strength and is not a problem.
Water Treatment, Water Restrictions, and Manholes
From time to time the District does put chloride in the water at 4/10ths of a part per million as required by the state. The dose is added when the water pump is turned on to draw water from the creek of the aquifer.
“It’s minimal and you don’t notice it,” says Johnson. “I know this because when people think they can taste it, we usually haven’t added it.”
On water restrictions, Johnson added, “We hope people would use good sense. But the District only has three employees to handle the plant operation and maintenance. Policing water restrictions on top of everything else, it’s just too much.”
The District is the size of the city of Alamosa. So while Alamosa has all its infrastructure concentrated in and around 12 x 12 paved city blocks, the District has 500 homes spread out over mainly gravel roads.
Now 2,000 or so manhole covers are being replaced. “Without pointing fingers at anyone,” said Johnson, “when blading or grading takes place, the manhole covers are generally moved, exposing the 5’ deep concrete structure. Dirt and rocks go down the opening to block the sewer pipes; sewerage backs up; and you can get effluent flowing down the street.
The district proposes to place sunken manholes so that blading will miss them. The manhole structure is created with portions that can be removed, so the cover will always be just below the road surface with a minimum of maintenance.
“It’s better than having to go down and clear the blocked sewer lines,” said Johnson, “which is what we have to do now. It stinks, and you’d be surprised what people put down into the system.”
No doubt we would. No doubt we would.