Letter: Protecting the Conejos water system

Dear Editor,

So, who owns the water in the Conejos Water Conservancy District (CWCD) in the south end of the San Luis Valley?

One must start with the 1938 Rio Grande Compact after 10 years of study by the three states (Texas, New Mexico and Colorado), and the U.S. government had written and signed in 1938.

Mr. Hinderlider, Colorado state engineer, wrote the Compact was very necessary as all of the river was owned by water rights or passing by the state line to pay Colorado’s obligation, and there was no extra.

In 1938, the Conejos had about 190 adjudications and there were 175 irrigation wells in the Valley (66 in 1938). The Compact, In Article 3, designated two rivers would pay the Compact. The upper Rio Grande and the Conejos, with the Conejos given a much higher percentage to pay.

According to Article 3, the two rivers’ quantities required, were based on what was called the “Tabulation of Relationship” between the two in 1938.

Since 1938, has anything changed in the 80-year relationship? Yes.

Hundreds of irrigation wells “mining” absolutely tributary water to the Conejos River only. In 10 years up to 1949, 744 irrigation wells began mining the unconfirmed and confined aquifers south of Monte Vista and Alamosa that were directly tributary to the Manassa Fault (the fault running down the west side of the volcanic San Luis Hills).

This formation found only in the Conejos Water Conservancy District. This fault beginning southeast of Manassa and extending 20 miles north to McIntire Springs just west of Las Sauces. The fault consisted of many, many artesian springs.

McIntire Springs measured in 1904 at 21.2 c.f.s. by Mr. Sibenthal of the U.S. Geologic Survey Team. McIntire is an excellent example of the effects of the mining wells, as the number of wells grew, McIntire production decreased.

In 1938, McIntire measured 21.0 c.f.s vs. 175 valley wells, and in 1950, 18.5 c.f.s vs. 744 wells. In 1970, 12.5 c.f.s vs. 2,840 wells in winter, and lesss than 6 c.f.s during irrigation season.

Close to the south end of the fault is Sego Springs, near Dripping Rock. Sego Springs ran a big irrigation ditch full in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but by the 1970s not very much, going dry in the summer, and 25 miles of excellent trout fishing was lost, as the lower river went dry.

The irrigation wells began mining in 1939 and were unmanaged, unappropriated, unadjudicated and unlawfully taking Senior Surface water from the Conejos, and which was only tributary to the Conejos System.

This injury amounting to over 40,000 ac. ft. per year by 1970. The Conejos was a losing river (no more than a 30 percent return flow) but losing water in the stream bed top to bottom.

The beautiful Conejos system settled by Hispanic pioneers in 1854 and then in 1855, appropriated and adjudicated before any ditch in the upper Rio Grande was adjudicated. Yet the little Conejos is still supplying nearly half of the Compact obligation and 190 Senior Surface Rights still being injured.

So, it looks like the Senior Surface Rights don’t own the water they owned in 1938. How can the Constitution be changed without a vote by all of the state?