The San Luis Valley is about 200 miles southwest of Denver, Colorado. At around 7,500 feet in elevation, it is bounded on the west by the San Juan Mountains and the east by the Sangre de Cristos.
The Valley receives only 7.5 inches of precipitation annually at the Valley floor, which is up to half as much as the Front Range receives. Snow runoff is the source of our drinking water, water for agriculture and for businesses.
The water which flows into streams, creeks and wetlands provides critical habitat for wildlife and is part of many of the area’s natural wonders, including the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, three extraordinary national wildlife refuges, the Rio Grande Natural Area, the Rio Grande National Forest and many other public lands. The Valley’s water sustains wildlife for viewing, hunting, fishing and many other forms of recreation. In short, water is the lifeblood of the Valley.
Our Water is Connected
Streams and rivers flow from and through the Valley. This area is the headwaters of the Rio Grande river. The Rio Grande follows a course through the southern valley from Del Norte southeastward via Alamosa to New Mexico. South of Alamosa it is joined by several streams from the west including the Alamosa and Conejos rivers.
As the mountain snow melts, it seeps into the ground and is joined by water flowing from streams into the rivers. The surface and groundwater feeds two major bodies of underground water — a deep (confined) aquifer and a shallow (unconfined) aquifer. They have been referred to as underground bathtubs.
Clay layers separate the two aquifers. Rio Grande river water, leakage from irrigation canals and water from crop irrigation travel into the shallow aquifer.
How We Get Our Water
The Valley’s water is connected. Therefore, removing water from both aquifers can reduce river and stream flows. Pumping water out of the deep aquifer can also affect water levels in the shallow aquifer. This could negatively impact the environment, including streams, rivers, fish and wildlife.