The Crestone Eagle • April, 2021

Water—once it’s gone, it’s gone

Rio Grande State of the Basin Symposium looks to influence the future of water

by Lisa Cyriacks

Craig Cotten, Division 3 Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources, started off the symposium on March 20 with a brief update on the current state of the Rio Grande Basin and some forecasts for 2021.

After the most recent snowstorms, snowpack in major drainages in Colorado now ranges from 105% in the Upper Rio Grande Basin to just 82% in the combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins. Statewide the snow water equivalent or the amount of water in the state’s snow, is at 92% of median.

Cotten was quick to caution everyone that while this is an optimistic note, stream flows in the basin remain below average. The immediate forecast for March through May 2021 is for above average temperatures and below average precipitation. Neither are the best news for water users.

Water scarcity, exportation threats and aquifer depletion were the topics of the day, as well as working toward sustainable practices to meet the challenges of an over-appropriated water system.

Water management has always been a challenge in this arid region. In the past communities across the San Luis Valley recognized these threats and worked together to protect the water.

Dan Birch of the Consensus Building Institute led an interactive 

session with attendees underlining the importance of the connections we make with each other. The San Luis Valley has a history of rallying to address water threats. Given the potential of another water export plan, the valley needs to rally together again.

Panelists: Representative Jeni Arndt, Colorado State House; George Whitten, San Juan Ranch, Saguache; James Henderson, 711 Ranch, La Jara; Kelsea MacIlroy, CSU; and Armando Valdez, Valdez Land & Livestock, Capulin. They shared viewpoints and discussed the challenges of water use in the valley. 

In addition to water scarcity, aquifer depletion, and exportation threats, panelists touched upon the uncertain future for agricultural water users and the economic component of water. Water rights are also property rights and an emphasis on self-determination was evident in panelists’ comments.

Panelists agreed that connections with each other are important. We need to help each other understand the problems we are facing and problem-solve together.

Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the Interior and Co-Founder of the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center at Adams State University, called to mind the history of the valley facing export threats and solutions found over the years to continue to protect the water through legislation and conservation. In introducing the keynote speaker he called on attendees to focus on their love of the Rio Grande, lifeblood of water in the valley, when facing the challenges ahead.

Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, tied together an overview of statewide initiatives in water and forest health, the importance of conservation for outdoor recreation, as well as agricultural communities. They seek to improve the situation for all water users here in the San Luis Valley.

The symposium built on a deep history of innovation and water sharing, leaders, new and established, working to shepherd the culture and communities of the valley into a sustainable relationship with water. Weaving together challenges like climate change, growing pressure to the water supply, and renewed water exports with love for land and water and the desire to care for it.

The San Luis Valley has a history of sustainable water practices, connecting culture and the communities of the Valley. Working together, sharing a sense of place, is the path forward to ensure our collective future.

Rio de la Vista, Director, Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center closed the symposium: “The conversation will continue.”

The Salazar Center works to engage and advance education and the conservation of land and water along with the rich historic and cultural attributes at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.Find them at