Courier staff writer

MONTE VISTA A panel of water experts discussed the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Subdistrict 1 management plan at the 2012 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair on Wednesday afternoon.

CSU Extension Community Energy Coordinator Jeanna Paluzzi asked the panel a variety of questions related to the management plan and specific assistance programs for water users.

The management plans purpose is to recharge the Valleys aquifer, and one way to fill it back up is to stop taking water out. The RGWCD Subdistrict 1 is offering a tiered district fallowing program to persuade water users to do just that.

Water users qualify for the program if they have a three-year average of 50 percent reduced pumped groundwater. Contract prices for the 2012 irrigation begin at $300 an irrigated acre for zero groundwater use, $200 an irrigated acre for up to six inches of groundwater use and $100 an irrigated acre for up to 10 inches. The program is not offering incentives for more than 10 inches.

The deadline for fallow acreage bids is Wed., Feb. 15, but the board could extend the deadline if interest grows.

RGWCD Manager Mike Mitchell said that the program is calling for a significant irrigation reduction.

Twenty-four inches is what is used on the common crops, Mitchell said. The whole focus of this is to see how much we can save.

He added that the management plan was looking to include lands on the perimeter of the subdistrict.

RGWCD Subdistrict 1 Office Manager Amber Pacheco explained to many listening ears the annual water assessment formula.

She said that water users should see assessment documents in their mailboxes this week that are due by March 15. The information includes well meter readings; surface meter readings; ditch and crop information; irrigation methods; land and water lease. The data will figure into water fees and the final management plan draft that the RGWCD Board of Directors will present at a public hearing before April 15. The hearing is prior to the board approving the draft for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

As a means to efficiently and effectively meet the states management plan requests, RGWCD Program Assistant Martha Archuleta stressed that water users record all meter readings, estimate water use and measure every drop of water used.

Now water is tied to dollars, Archuleta said. We need to keep it accurate.

If a water user finds the water assessment is incorrect, Pacheco said the user has a right to appeal.

She said the RGWCD would review fee calculations to begin the appeals process.

Our door is always open, Archuleta said. We have had four or five appeals approved through the board process.

Subdistrict facts:

On Dec. 19, 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed Chief District/Water Judge O. John Kuenholds approval of the San Luis Valleys first sub-district water management plan.

The plan as approved and decreed adequately addresses the replacement of well depletions that injure adjudicated senior surface water rights, along with restoring and maintaining sustainable aquifer levels in accordance with the applicable statutes.

The first sub-district encompasses about 3,000 irrigation wells on 174,000 irrigated acres in the area of the Valley known as the closed basin north of the Rio Grande.

The Supreme Courts decision also means the district can now spend money collected from groundwater irrigators within the sub-district boundaries. So far, money collected has gone into an escrow account.

In 2011, irrigators in the first sub-district paid administrative and CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) fees, and this year they will also pay a $45 per acre foot variable fee, based on their 2011 pumping.