Hydrology of the San Luis Valley, south-central Colorado

Open-File Report
Prepared in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board
By: , and 



An investigation of the water resources of the Colorado part of the San Luis Valley was begun in 1966 by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. (See index map, fig. 1). The purpose of the investigation is to provide information for planning and implementing improved water-development and management practices. The major water problems in the San Luis Valley include (1) waterlogging, (2) waste of water by nonbeneficial evapotranspiration, (3) deterioration of ground-water chemical quality, and (4) failure of Colorado to deliver water to New Mexico and Texas in accordance with the Rio Grande Compact. This report describes the hydrologic environment, extent of water-resource development, and some of the problems related to that development. Information presented is based on data collected from 1966 to 1968 and on previous studies. Subsequent reports are planned as the investigation progresses. The San Luis Valley extends about 100 miles from Poncha Pass near the northeast corner of Saguache County, Colo., to a point about 16 miles south of the Colorado-New Mexico State line. The total area is 3,125 square miles, of which about 3,000 are in Colorado. The valley is nearly flat except for the San Luis Hills and a few other small areas. The Colorado part of the San Luis Valley, which is described in this report, has an average altitude of about 7,700 feet. Bounding the valley on the west are the San Juan Mountains and on the east the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Most of the valley floor is bordered by alluvial fans deposited by streams originating in the mountains, the most extensive being the Rio Grande fan (see block diagram, fig. 2 in pocket). Most of the streamflow is derived from snowmelt from 4,700 square miles of watershed in the surrounding mountains. The northern half of the San Luis Valley is internally drained and is referred to as the closed basin. The lowest part of this area is known locally as the "sump." The remainder of the valley is drained by the Rio Grande and its tributaries. The climate of the San Luis Valley is arid, and a successful agricultural economy would not be possible without irrigation. It is characterized by cold winters, moderate summers, and much sunshine. The average annual precipitation on the valley floor ranges from 7 to 10 inches. More than half the precipitation occurs from July to September. Moisture deficiency in the valley is shown by the graph comparing pan evaporation and precipitation {fig. 3}. For the years 1961-67 average pan evaporation for the period April through September was 52.25 inches, but average precipitation for the period was only 5.02 inches. Average annual precipitation was 7.8 inches. Owing to the short growing season (90-120 days), crops a.re restricted mainly to barley, oats, potatoes, and other vegetables.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Unnumbered Series
Title Hydrology of the San Luis Valley, south-central Colorado
Series title Open-File Report
DOI 10.3133/70045464
Year Published 1969
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Denver, CO
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description ii, 22 p.; 3 Plates: 23.79 x 27.78 inches or smaller
Time Range Start 1966-01-01
Time Range End 1968-12-31
Country United States
State Colorado
County Alamosa;Conejos;Costilla;Custer;Huerfano;Rio Grande;Saguache
Other Geospatial San Luis Valley
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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