Story & photos by Rio Grande Basin Roundtable
THE Rio Grande Basin Roundtable (RGBRT) began its water advocacy efforts in 2005 as a result of the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. This act created nine Roundtables across the state to represent the eight major river basins and the Denver metro area.
Like all the state’s roundtables, the RGBRT is run by local stakeholders and is focused on local community values and water issues. Funding for roundtable project implementation comes from through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. With these state funds, each Roundtable can financially support local projects that further the goals laid out in the Colorado Water Plan and the respective Basin Implementation Plan.
Since its inception in 2005, the RGBRT has helped fund more than 50 projects, including Irrigation Infrastructure, Reservoir Improvements, River and Watershed Restoration, Conservation Easements, Water Education, Water Management and Water Research Projects. These projects addressed a variety of uses in every corner of the San Luis Valley.
This didn’t stop in 2021. Despite the pandemic, work continued – allowing five amazing projects to be completed. These projects demonstrate the power that can be garnered when groups come together and create projects that benefit many users, including irrigation, water administration, recreation, the environment, municipal needs and education. The projects and their purposes are listed below.
Del Norte Riverfront Project
The Del Norte Riverfront Project was a community-led effort to improve public access, create recreation infrastructure, and enhance aquatic and riparian habitat along the Rio Grande in Del Norte. The overall purpose of the project was to create connectivity between the communities and visitors of the SLV and the river that sustains it. The new Riverfront Park includes a whitewater playwave, boat ramp, fish habitat structures, pedestrian river access, parking area, an ADA accessible picnic shelter, and interpretive signage. The project has provided a significant positive benefit to the community of Del Norte and the San Luis Valley by creating a welcoming, safe space for community members, boaters, and anglers, while also improving river health. The Del Norte Riverfront Project was made possible through collaboration between the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP), Town of Del Norte, Del Norte Trails Organization, Riverbend Engineering, Trout Unlimited, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), local businesses, and countless community members.
Rio Grande Cooperative Project
The Rio Grande Cooperative Project improved infrastructure and optimized management on the Rio Grande. Both Rio Grande and Beaver Creek Reservoirs were repaired to address seepage issues and improve outlet works. With upgraded infrastructure for the storage and release of water, stakeholders on these reservoirs came together to develop a management strategy that maximizes the benefits of timed reservoir releases, resulting in optimized flows that benefit aquatic habitat, irrigation supplies, augmentation demands, and Rio Grande Compact compliance. The project was a partnership between the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, CPW, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Conejos Meadows Resilient Habitat Project
The Conejos Meadows Resilient Habitat project, which was identified in the Conejos River Stream Management Plan (SMP), enhanced habitat on 9,200 linear feet of the Conejos River below Platoro Reservoir, greatly improving connectivity and habitat complexity. During low flow time periods such as winter months and during droughts, the improved instream habitat provides a low flow channel to maximize available habitat and water delivery conveyance. Additionally, the project added rocks and large wood to existing deep pool habitat features in the area, providing increased winter and refuge habitat for the high value recreational fishery. The project is a partnership between Trout Unlimited, the Conejos Water Conservancy District (CWCD), CPW, the Rio Grande National Forest, and Riverbend Engineering. The project complements the Winter Flow Program led by Trout Unlimited and the CWCD, which is an effort to increase stream flows on this section of the Conejos River during the non-irrigation season.
Conejos River Partnership Project
The Conejos River Partnership Project (CRPP) was born out of the Conejos River Stream Management Plan (SMP) and has brought together the CWCD, RGHRP, CPW, Division of Water Resources, Bureau of Land Management, private landowners, and water users to address irrigation infrastructure and riparian and aquatic habitat degradation on the Conejos River. This multi-phased project helps meet aquatic habitat needs on the Conejos River through the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure, enhancement of aquatic habitat, and restoration of riparian and wetland habitats. The CRPP includes six sites along the Conejos River between Mogote and the confluence with the Rio Grande. In 2021, construction was completed at the Sabine Ditch to replace the diversion structure and headgate, revegetate and stabilize upstream streambanks, and reconnect the river with its floodplain. Construction will continue in 2022 at additional project sites.
Alamosa River Water Delivery Improvement Project
The Alamosa River Water Delivery Improvement Project was a collaborative effort between the Terrace Irrigation Company and the Alamosa-La Jara Water Conservancy District. Many diversions along the Alamosa River are manually diverted with headgates that are out-of-date and deteriorated. This project resulted in the replacement of the headgate on the Main Canal, installation of automatic controllers on the Main and Creek Canal, and installation of satellite recording devices on 5 of the larger upstream diversion structures. As a result of this project, the Alamosa River will be administered more accurately for the benefit of all stakeholders involved, including the Alamosa River Keepers, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Division of Water Resources, the Town of Jasper, Expo Inc., and other water users along the river.
The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable continues to work on collaborative and innovative solutions that will keep the Rio Grande Basin water here and working for our communities. We want to thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board and their incredibly dedicated staff, along with other project funders that include Foundations, Agencies, Organizations and contractors who all work passionately to help us create a sustainable water future. We wish you all a Happy New Year and invite you to join us at our monthly RGBRT meetings.