Isn’t there already a watershed plan for the Lower Arkansas River Basin? If so, how is this plan any different?
First, yes. In 2008 a watershed plan was developed that starts in Pueblo and ends at the Kansas border (West to East), and includes all of the major tributaries like the Purgatoire and Huerfano. This 2008 plan was a great start to watershed planning in this area. The new watershed plan (2017 plan) will only focus on the Arkansas River below John Martin Reservoir, and include the tributaries of Big Sandy Creek, Rush Creek, and Two Buttes creek. This new 2017 plan will look more closely at the water quality concerns of this specific area and find solutions to these problems that work with local stakeholders. The previous plan did a great job of identifying issues, and ways to solve them, but the scale of the plan was just too big for many of the implementation projects. The new plan will scale down to find more appropriate ways of improving water quality by using better management practices that work with the local communities and economy.
How was the boundary of the watershed created?
The boundary of the watershed was determined through a detailed analysis of local terrain that determines which land contributes water to particular creeks or rivers in the area. Basically, the boundary for this watershed plan includes all of the lands that contribute water (or has the potential to deliver water) to the main-stem of the Arkansas River from near the town of Las Animas to the state line with Kansas.
Are there any watershed plans for point source dischargers?
There is not currently a watershed plan that targets point source dischargers, however the data that is collected from point source users will be used in helping to develop this plan. Point source discharges are under the regulation of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, therefore a watershed plan addressing them specifically is not necessary.
How do water quality projects help recharge the aquifer to keep well users viable?
At this moment in time the water quality projects do not recharge the aquifer, though this is one of the objectives that Lower Ark is working on as the projects progress. The projects will not be used to take well users out of production; they are used to help improve the water quality and set up viable methods of farming through the watershed plan.
Can projects set precedence for regulation?
Regulation is not a part of the projects being implemented and currently the data is used as measure of how the best management practices affect water quality. The information gathered from these projects will be used to help outline problems and different solutions that can be used to help mitigate the issues. These solutions can be added to the watershed plan for future users to help improve the system.
How do the projects, and this plan, keep farming viable in the valley?
This plan helps farming meet the needs of water quality. It will also outline funding sources that can be targeted to help with the cost of best management practices implementation. This combination will help farmers keep farming while voluntarily helping improve the quality of river, without regulatory actions or high overhead costs (which may be covered though other funding sources).
Will there be a second phase for a watershed plan between Pueblo Reservoir and John Martin Reservoir?
The current objective is to follow the results of this work and extend the successes above John Martin Reservoir as funding becomes available. Stakeholder feedback is needed and subsequent watershed plans will be based on your input and evaluation of project successes.
What is a HUC?
HUC is an acronym for Hydrologic Unit Code. Each river or stream has a Hydrologic Unit Code, from the entire Missouri River system (HUC 10) to a small tributary like Two Buttes Creek (HUC 11020013). HUC's are unique numbers assigned to each watershed, with large HUC's having fewer digits and smaller HUC's having more (see example above).
What is the connection with projects and the plan?
The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC), which includes diverse partners, is working to put together projects that can help determine the water quality impacts that best management practices (BPM’s) have on the Arkansas River. These projects will begin taking place in 2017 and last until results can be shown. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is providing on the ground support and monitoring on projects that include: conversion of traditional irrigation to drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation; the use of cover crops to help with soil health and water retention; lining of canal laterals, and the lining of sprinkler ponds. These projects have a common denominator, which is groundwater. The theory behind this is that the groundwater is influenced by the underlaying shale, which releases nutrients into the water and return back to the river showing elevated levels. The hypothesis is that by reducing the amount of groundwater that is returned to river the water quality with improve. With time, these projects will show if that theory is correct or not.
These projects will prove to have issues that will be addressed as they arise. One of the first concerns that is being evaluated is the recharging of the aquifer. As many of the furrow irrigation projects get converted to sprinkler and drip systems, the recharging of the aquifer may be impacted. This will be addressed as the projects progress. The main goal is to will look for what keeps farming and the Arkansas Valley viable while meeting the needs of water quality and water quantity.
All this work will be directly related to the watershed plan to show how to effectively identify, install, and utilize best management practices in the Arkansas River Valley without compromising the farming and rural communities. This work can be directly used in the plan to show how funding sources can help supplement the implementation of water quality work in the valley and outline how to access those funding sources. As work progress on the projects more information will become present on what are good projects and which projects don’t work for the rural communities of the Arkansas River Valley. Stakeholder input, especially producer knowledge, is vital to this process.