The Rio Grande watershed in Colorado covers 8,200 square miles. The Rio Grande Headwaters Project area includes the 200 miles of the Rio Grande Corridor in Colorado, including all of the tributaries of the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande enters the San Luis Valley, the largest intermountain basin in Colorado, at the town of South Fork. The San Luis Valley is bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, the San Juan Mountains to the west and south, and the Cochetopa Hills to the north.
The Rio Grande Headwaters Task Force was formed to prioritize the recommendations from the 2001 Study and undertake a number of collaborative projects. The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD) became the lead agency for the RGHRP. Funds were secured from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 319 fund, the SLVWCD, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), and other sources. These funds were used for an education and outreach program, riparian and stream bank stabilization, debris removal from the river channel, and a county development design standard for possible use in the Rio Grande County land use codes. Such a strategic approach was necessary to maintain momentum for the project.
From left to right: Heather Dutton (Board Member), Matt Hildner (Office Manager), Leah Weaver (Project Manager), and Emma Reesor (Executive Director) at the Summitville ghost town.
The RGHRP was formed as a response to a study completed in 2001 on the Rio Grande River. The 2001 Study was prompted by local stakeholders due to a realized deterioration of the historical functions of the Rio Grande, which included the provision of high quality water, healthy riparian areas, fish and wildlife habitat, and a functioning floodplain. The 2001 Study analyzed the condition of the riparian area and structures along a 91-mile reach of the Rio Grande and provided recommendations for improvement. The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District sponsored the 2001 Study and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) acted as the Study's funder, with a $250,000 grant. In 2004 the need was identified for a well-defined Rio Grande Watershed Restoration Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan). Completed in 2007, the Strategic Plan highlighted the importance of continued efforts to implement the recommendations from the 2001 Study. Since establishment, the RGHRP has accrued a successful record of performing projects on the Rio Grande through collaboration with landowners and local, state, and federal entities.