Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund
has $30 million t
o help bring sustainability
to the Rio Grande Basin

THE $30 million Colorado set aside to permanently reduce groundwater withdrawals in the Rio Grande Basin is officially up for grabs to San Luis Valley irrigators.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District announced that it will begin accepting applications to the state Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund beginning at 8 a.m., Thursday, June 29. The application period will be open until 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29.

The state fund was established under legislation crafted and co-sponsored by Cleave Simpson, the state senator representing the San Luis Valley and general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

“Successful applicants will be able to show a verifiable reduction in groundwater withdrawals from irrigation wells located within response areas which are subject to aquifer sustainability requirements as outlined in the State’s Rules and Regulations for Groundwater Withdrawals in Colorado Water Division No. 3,”  Rio Grande Water Conservation District said in its announcement.

Why it’s important

Valley farmers have made some, but not enough, progress to recover and stabilize the Rio Grande Basin, in particular the unconfined aquifer through Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. The Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund was created to accelerate the progress in retiring irrigated acreage by paying farmers to permanently retire groundwater wells currently in use for irrigation.

The hope is to permanently retire 40 to 50 productive irrigated circles in the San Luis Valley through the state fund. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District is hoping to save 11,000-15,000 acre-feet of water every year from now on. 

Extensive groundwater pumping for irrigation is threatening aquifer sustainability, senior water rights and compliance with the Rio Grande Compact between the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, according to state water managers.

How the fund works

The board of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District worked over a period of months to establish guidelines for the application process. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District will pay $3,000 per acre-foot to permanently retire water pumped through groundwater wells. The rules to access the money also requires farmers who tap into the money to commit to a groundcover revegetation plan to keep down the dust as fields dry.Applications will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. The money gets distributed once an application gains approval from both the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and Colorado Division of Water Resources. If irrigators in either the Rio Grande Basin or Republican River Basin don’t use all of the money, it will be returned to the state. There are no local water managers in either basin who think that will be the case.