The practices of San Luis Valley farmers also have dramatic consequences for communities downstream ("Farming on the Fringe," HCN, 2/18/13). The Rio Grande Compact allows the dewatering of the main stem of the Rio Grande through Taos County, N.M. Frequently, because of the heavy irrigation demands of the San Luis Valley farmers, the river is drained virtually dry.
To pay Colorado's water debt to downstream users, a hole was dug through the Continental Divide in order to bring water from the San Juan-Colorado drainage into the Chama, which joins the Rio Grande in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo just north of Española. This perpetuates the dewatering of the river to the north of that confluence and severely damages the economy of Taos County, one of the poorest counties in the nation.
The dewatered section of the Rio Grande Gorge was declared one of the nation's first wild and scenic rivers by Congress in 1968. With adequate water, the section known as the Taos Box is a world-class whitewater run, but for much of the season, there is too little water in the river to run the Box. Some years, we are unable to run it at all. Meanwhile, the Rio Grande, in the form of bales of hay on tractor-trailer trucks, travels south by road parallel to the riverbed. Hay is one of the primary crops grown in the San Luis Valley, and a large percentage of it goes to feed cattle on dairy farms in southern New Mexico.
A reasonable amount of water crossing the state line could be put to beneficial use for recreation, wildlife and the preservation of the natural ecosystem. Tourism is a primary source of income in Taos County, and outdoor recreation makes up a large proportion of that. We have a world-class attraction, which, due to the practices of the San Luis Valley farmers, we cannot utilize. Rafting is a non-consumptive use. We can provide considerable economic benefit by simply riding on the water as it goes to downstream users.
Executive Director, New Mexico River Outfitter Association
President, Los Rios River Runners
El Prado, New Mexico