Efforts begin to establish radar authority

ALAMOSA — With interest growing in placing a permanent radar installation in the San Luis Valley, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday authorized General Manager Cleave Simpson and attorney David Robbins to begin the process of creating an independent authority to oversee and manage the radar project.

The water district board discussed that rather than one entity such as the district taking this on, it would be better to create a separate authority with its own board to manage it. Simpson and Robbins will draft something up that could be presented to other groups and governmental entities that are interested in being a part of this.

The possibility of a permanent radar installation at the SLV Regional Airport in Alamosa has drawn interest from a wide range of parties from water groups and Valley county officials to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT.)

Simpson said the Conejos Water Conservancy District and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT) have been the force behind temporary radar installations during the last three winters. The Conejos district’s interest revolved around better stream flow forecasting for compact compliance on the Conejos River, Simpson explained.

In addition to that purpose, “the stakeholders that can benefit become numerous with different outcomes,” Simpson said.

Various other water districts as well as the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association members have shown interest in the project, Simpson added. He said there are even entities in New Mexico who are interested in this project because the radar’s range would reach into New Mexico.

“It’s a unique opportunity for multi state agency cooperation,” Simpson said.

He said the range of the radar would be a 200-kilometer (about 124 miles) radius around the Alamosa airport, reaching north beyond Villa Grove, south past the state line and into the Sangre de Cristos. He said there would be a small section at the Rio Grande headwaters that it would not reach.

The radar would cost about $800,000, he said. So far, RWEACT has committed $100,000 towards this, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board has indicated it could provide $300,000-350,000 for the radar purchase, Simpson told his board of directors during their regular quarterly meeting on Tuesday in Alamosa.

He added that CDOT is considering applying for capital development funds for the balance of the radar purchase. He said folks at CDOT are excited because most of their project requests are millions of dollars, which makes it more difficult to get them funded, and this one is in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars.

The Federal Aviation Administration may also have money available to assist with the purchase, Simpson said.

“It looks like the acquisition of the radar will happen,” Simpson said.

He told the RGWCD board the radar could be purchased as early as the first quarter or first half of next year.

Simpson said the next challenge would be determining who would monitor and operate the radar, and how that would work. He presented a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to the board, which the board agreed to sign, that does not bind the district but shows it is interested in being part of the discussions going forward.

The SLV County Commissioners Association during its meeting on Monday also signed the memorandum of understanding, which will be presented to each individual county for endorsement as well. In addition to the six Valley counties, Hinsdale County was included in the MOU.

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey said one of her county commissioners questioned whether the Leach Airport in Center might be a better location for the radar. Simpson said it depends on the purposes for the radar, and for stream flow forecasting “I think we want to reach as far into the Conejos basin as possible.”

RGWCD Board Member Lewis Entz added that the airport in Alamosa was more attuned to handling something like this than a smaller airport.

Making a motion to sign the MOU, Entz said, “I think we should get involved in it.”

Seconding the motion, RGWCD Board Member Lawrence Gallegos said it was important to have the information the radar could provide for the southern part of the Valley.

The board also unanimously authorized Robbins and Simpson to begin the process of developing an intergovernmental authority for the radar.