by Bea Ferrigno

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable (RGRT) is holding public outreach sessions to receive input on the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan which will become part of  the State Water Plan. Input is being gathered from all areas of water-related interest such as municipal and industrial, recreational and environmental, water administration, education, and agriculture.  Meetings have been held in each of the San Luis Valley counties, including Saguache County at Center on March 31.  Because residents of the northern valley might not have been informed of that date, the Crestone-Baca Watershed Council suggested an additional meeting that will be held on April 16 at the Crestone Charter School.

The purpose of each Basin Implementation Plan is to address the gaps identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative of 2010. The plans are being prepared under the direction of the basin roundtables and will incorporate local input and planning efforts. They provide a mechanism for roundtable members and other stakeholders to work together to overcome potential constraints, effectively implement water projects to achieve water management objectives, and address anticipated water supply gaps.

As mentioned on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website, “Within the next few decades, even assuming aggressive conservation and the completion of dozens of water projects currently being considered, the state could face a shortfall that exceeds 500,000 acre feet annually. In a single year, we have experienced severe drought followed by severe flooding. This climactic variability in our water supply emphasizes the need to strategically plan for the future.” The Colorado Water Plan draws upon eight years of dialogue and consensus-building among water leaders from across the state.  Roundtables in each basin bring together leaders and the public to map out their needs and water future, to engage in facilitated discussions on water issues, and to develop locally-driven, collaborative solutions.

At present the draft of the Rio Grande Basin plan includes 14 goals, each with measurable outcomes.  Some of the goals being discussed in the plan’s steering committee and subcommittees address issues such as sustainability of the aquifers; watershed and ecosystem health; protection of the doctrine of prior appropriation and of vested water rights; compliance with interstate compacts; rehabilitation or development of infrastructure to supply long-term water needs;  sustaining the valley’s agricultural economy; projects with multiple benefits; promotion of adaptive, flexible, and responsive water management; and preservation and improvement of natural habitats, wetlands, and riparian areas. The plan, while still in development, is fairly extensive; it can be read at www.riograndewaterplan.com.

On April 16 Judy Lopez, educational liaison for the RGRT, will be in Crestone to discuss the basin plan with area residents.  She is the Program Director for the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, an educational non-profit located in Alamosa.  She has taught science and math at the junior high and high school levels and  has received several teaching awards, notably for her work with students on long-term field-based research projects and for water and conservation education.  She has long been active in the valley with various water organizations and as a representative of the watersheds and promoter of conservation. The meeting will be held at the Crestone Charter School beginning at 6 pm.