March 6, 2023 – Tasked with restoring the aquifer in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District has decided to pay people who permanently retire their groundwater wells $3,000 an acre-foot.
Last summer, Colorado Public Radio reported that the underground water aquifer in the San Luis Valley was drying up from a combination of overuse and a decades-long drought driven by climate change. Some farms had already stopped producing food. The state was threatening to shut off hundreds of wells, which would have a devastating effect on the valley’s agriculture-driven economy. The situation drove legislators to enact SB22-028, the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, which allocated $30 million to permanently retire more groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley.
Payments to farmers agreeing to retire their groundwater wells will come from money allocated by the state. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s goal is to permanently retire 40 to 50 productive irrigated circles in the San Luis Valley through the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund to save 11,000-15,000 acre-feet of water every year from now on. According to Alamosa Citizen, the District board was concerned that too many “little wells” and not enough full irrigated circles would use up the money. Nonetheless, farms of all sizes are invited to apply for funds.
Successful applicants will need to commit to regenerating their fields with native vegetation to cut down on dust.
The Colorado Division of Water Resources needs to approve the District’s plan (final draft).
A view of the San Luis Creek watershed in the northern San Luis Valley in Saguache County, Colorado at Alder, Colorado. The creek, choked by heavy vegetation, flows from left to right in the picture where the green trees are. The mountains in the background are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Photo taken July 2020 by Jeffrey Beall. Via Wikimedia Commons.