Dry Gulch? West Fork? Water rights issues discussed by SJWCD — The Pagosa Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

During a strategic planning session held on Monday, the San Juan Water Conservancy Dis- trict (SJWCD) board of directors brought a familiar reservoir project back into the public eye.

That reservoir, known as Dry Gulch or the San Juan River Head- waters Project, was seen by voters on the November 2017 ballot as Ballot Issue 5A.

The SJWCD’s request for that ballot was specifically an increase to 1 mill to help with land acquisi- tion for the Dry Gulch project.

However, local voters were against this ballot issue, with 75.44 percent of voters being against the measure (2,697 votes), while only 878 voters, or 24.56 percent, were in favor.

During the work session on Monday, the SJWCD board of di-rectors came together in hopes of getting together a framework for a strategic plan that will guide the board in the future.

At one point in the meeting, the board of directors, under the guidance of volunteer consultant Renee Lewis, discussed some potential goals to include in that strategic plan.

Not every SJWCD board member may agree that the board needs to proceed with building a reservoir, Lewis stated.

“But, you also have to keep in mind that you’re still contractually obligated with CWCB [Colorado Water Conservation Board] to be the lead manager of that project,” Lewis said.

Legally, SJWCD is still the manager of that project, and also, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is no longer involved in this deal, Lewis noted.

The only things asked of PAWSD is to not inhibit SJWCD from accomplishing its goal and to help the district with water rights in any way that it can, she added.

Those water rights, according to SJWCD Chairman John Porco, are an asset of the district and are “virtually, entirely, keyed” to the eventual construction of a reservoir.

“That, I think, has to be in the plan, that it’s not off the table,” Porco said.

If the reservoir is somehow not involved in the strategic plan, Porco cited that legal repercussions could be incurred by the district that were “significant.”

“If we were to simply discard those, I would think that con- stituents could, if they chose to, question our serving the fiduciary rights of the district,” Porco said, “because we have, in essence, given away a compensation. We have given away a major asset of the district.”

The SJWCD as a whole should think “long and hard” about not including the potential construc- tion of Dry Gulch in its strategic plan, Porco added.

SJWCD board member Al Pfister later questioned whether or not the water has to be specifically put in Dry Gulch, or be put in another res- ervoir for the same beneficial use.

At the time of the meeting, Porco did not know the answer to Pfister’s question and suggested contacting the board’s legal counsel.

“I agree that we should not just be giving our water rights away. That to me would be negligence on our part,” Pfister said.

The Dry Gulch project should not just be abandoned, Pfister noted, but there should also be an alternative for those water rights.

Per Porco’s estimation, in talks with former legal counsel, he was informed that those water rights were for a specific use.

Another issue under the surface

Later in the discussion, SJWCD board member Bill Hudson pointed out that the district has 24,000 acre feet (AF) of conditional water rights for a reservoir at West Fork.

The SJWCD has had these water rights since 1967, Hudson noted.

According to Hudson, the district needs to file a point of diversion (POD) change on those water rights before 2021.

In addition to the POD, the SJWCD has to define a location of storage for the water, Hudson added later.

“And we haven’t even started that process. This is a 24,000 acre-foot conditional right, and that seems like a very critical piece compared to Dry Gulch, which we’ve already gone through our due diligence on Dry Gulch in 2017,” Hudson said. “But, this is in two years. We’re going to lose 24,000 acre feet of water rights if we don’t fulfill this obligation.”

As part of the strategic planning he district’s current legal coun- sel on these issues.

“Should we talk about it eventually? Yes.” Pfister said.

Amidst more discussion about whether or not this topic should be discussed, SJWCD board member Doug Secrist noted that all of these things should be included in the strategic plan.

“We are not in a position here today to settle those and to decide what we’re going to do specifically because we still have a lot of re- search to do,” Secrist said.

The West Fork water rights are a big issue and due diligence should be exercised on it, but the SJWCD needs to find out how exactly to first proceed, Secrist added later.

“Every six years the water district has gone through due diligence, gotten that right reconfirmed as conditional. We still intend to build a reservoir at the West Fork, not at Dry Gulch, at the West Fork,” Hud- son said.

In order to shed some light on this topic for the district, Lewis, who had been involved in the his- tory, offered some background.

After the local drought of 2002, reservoir discussions took place, and West Fork was listed as one of the site locations, Lewis explained.

Lewis explained that, at the time, that’s why PAWSD and SJWCD went into this deal together and then PAWSD eventually deeded its share of 10,000 AF to SJWCD.

Due to this deeding of 10,000 AF, SJWCD has been paying for the due diligence on it.

“This location was obviously abandoned once the purchase of Running Iron Ranch went through,” Lewis said.

The SUN reported in May of 2014 that Running Iron Ranch was purchased to support the original 35,000 AF reservoir plan; however, that plan eventually got reduced to the 11,000 AF plan we know today.

“It’s always been understood, whether it’s ever been written down anywhere, that at least, to my knowledge, that that is not a viable reservoir location. At least as of when the Running Iron Ranch was purchased,” Lewis explained. “So, we’re still hanging on to that right. It was always my understanding that the intent was to move that right to potentially the Running Iron Ranch location.”

Later, Lewis explained that there is a legal doctrine titled the collec- tive system theory, which is still ac- cepted in water court in Colorado.
What this doctrine means is if the SJWCD is still filing diligence on its Dry Gulch water rights and the district is still making efforts toward that project, the water court will approve its collective system water rights, Lewis explained.

A conclusion?

After more brief discussion about the various water rights issue, Porco again suggested ta- bling the discussion in order to do more research and consult legal counsel.

However, Hudson responded by pointing out that the West Fork water rights are two times bigger than the Dry Gulch ones and something needs to be done on the West Fork rights in two years.

“What we’ve established is that these water rights are married together, and so that they both need to be addressed as we move forward with the strategic plan,” Secrist said.

Say hello to the Rockies Audubon blog

Dark-eyed Junca. Photo credit: Kristine Rubish via the Rockies Audubon blog

Click here to read the blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The 119th Christmas Bird Count in Pagosa Springs

On December 15th, 2018, 56 participants from the Pagosa Springs community came together to survey birds for the 119th Christmas Bird Count. They systematically walked, drove, and cross-country skied across the survey area in search of birds. Some folks even surveyed in the dark for the hoots of a Great Horned Owl! Most importantly, all volunteers recorded the species and numbers of each bird found.

Why does all this matter? These observations conducted worldwide, represent the largest community-led study on bird populations. By surveying birds at the same time every year, we can detect changes in species’ populations.

Here in Pagosa Springs we had some interesting findings. This year our team found 63 species; that’s three more species than last year. However, last year we tallied 5,314 total birds on count day, but this year we recorded only 3,466 total birds in comparison. Considering that the data were logged by the same number of observers, that’s a big drop in total birds.

Save the birds save the planet.

#Snowpack news: Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation Distirct operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 9, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Local lake levels have seen minimal increases since last week, per a press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Manager Justin Ramsey.

Hatcher Lake is sitting at 31 inches from full as of Feb. 4, com- pared to last week’s total of 34 inches.

Stevens Lake remains at last week’s total of 133 inches from full. Lake Pagosa has risen slightly, going from 24 inches from full to
23 inches from full.

Village Lake sits at 12 inches from full, compared to 14 inches from full last week.

Lake Forest is 4 inches from full, when last week it was 6 inches from full.

There is even a bit more lake water available for treatment and delivery this week, with 74.7 per- cent being available this week when last week there was only 73.8 percent available.

Total diversion flows have dipped to a total amount of 5 cubic feet per second (cfs), down from the 6 cfs total that had been consistent in previous weeks.

The Four Mile diversion still has a flow of 3 cfs; however, the West Fork Diversion flow has dropped from 3 cfs to 2 cfs.

Within the press release itself, Ramsey explains that the West Fork diversion flow dropped intentionally due to two things. The first reason is that production had been reduced at that diversion, leading to the gate at the West Fork diversion being closed, the press release explains.

In addition to reduced production, the press release indicates that in previous weeks, the estimate of the West Fork diversion flow being at 3 cfs may have been a little too high, so the 2 cfs marker is a little closer to accurate.

Once again, the press release notes that Four Mile flows are inconsistent due to fluctuating river flows and ice dams.

From Jan. 25 through Jan. 31 this year, water production totaled 10.23 million gallons.

Contributing to that total is the Snowball water treatment plant, which produced 3.06 million gallons, and the Hatcher water treatment plant, which produced 7.17 million gallons.

Last year, from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, water production totaled 9.22 million gallons.

Last week’s water production totals, which encompassed Jan. 18 through Jan. 24, totaled only 10.06 million gallons.

Snow water equivalency (SWE) totals are up from last week, with totals being recorded at 15.1 inches as of Feb. 4, up from last week’s total of 13.7.

The SWE median has also risen only slightly, going from 19.2 inches to 19.5 inches this week.

The median and averages are based on data from 1981 through 2010.

Those two increases have also increased the SWE percentage of median this week, with the SWE being 77.4 percent of median currently, compared to last week’s 71.4 percent of median.

Precipitation totals have risen from 18 inches to 19.4 inches an the average has also increased from 21.2 inches to 22.4.

Currently precipitation totals are 86.6 percent of median, up from 84.9 percent of median.

Ramsey indicated in an interview with The SUN that he hopes that SWE data will break above 80 percent with snow in the forecast this week.

Teenagers Emerge as a Force in #Climate Protests Across Europe — The New York Times #ActOnClimate

Youth activists rally for climate justice in front of the US Capitol in Washington,DC. Across Australia last week, children skipped school as part of the School Strike 4 Climate protests . Image: Lorie Shaull,CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From The New York Times (Milan Schreuer, Elian Peltier and Christopher F. Schuetze):

Tens of thousands of children skipped school in Belgium on Thursday to join demonstrations for action against climate change, part of a broader environmental protest movement across Europe that has gathered force over the past several weeks.

In Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere, activists have come together on social media to gather in large numbers and without much apparent preparation, the protests taking a different shape in each country.

In Germany, students have protested on Fridays, communicating mainly through the messaging app WhatsApp; in Belgium, they organize on Facebook and have skipped school by the thousands on four consecutive Thursdays.

Last Sunday, climate protests in Brussels swelled to an estimated 100,000 people of all ages. That same day, an estimated 80,000 took part in cities across France — more than turned out for the “Yellow Vest” protests the day before.

Greta Thunberg via Twitter

The climate movement has no obvious leaders or structure, but a 16-year-old Swede, Greta Thunberg, has drawn worldwide attention and inspired many of the protesters. She has called for school strikes to raise awareness of global warming, scolded world political and economic leaders at this month’s gathering in Davos, Switzerland, and even has her own TED Talk.

Most older people do not feel the urgency young people do about global warming, said Axelle Kiambi, 17, who joined a demonstration in Brussels on Thursday with her sisters, Pauline, 16, and Elisa, 19.

“To us, it is so self-evident that we can’t keep on going in this direction,” said Axelle, raising her voice above the drumming, whistling and shouting of her fellow protesters.

“We come here with the right intentions, to protest in peace and to raise awareness about climate change, because we want to be on the right side of history,” Elisa Kiambi said. “It is time for the government to act.”

Work continues on the #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plans #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

Heron Lake, part of the San Juan-Chama Project, in northern New Mexico, looking east from the Rio Chama. In the far distance is Brazos Peak (left) and the Brazos Cliffs (right), while at the bottom is the north wall of the Rio Chama Gorge. By G. Thomas at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1598784

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Rebecca Moss):

It was snowing in Salt Lake City last week when water managers from seven Western states convened to address the pressing drought on the Colorado River.

The waterway winds 1,450 miles from Wyoming to Mexico, providing crucial water to more than 40 million people. New Mexico farmers rely on it to sustain alfalfa, corn, beans and numerous other crops.

Through the San Juan-Chama Project, a river diversion, the Colorado River Basin supplies drinking water to Albuquerque residents. Santa Fe, Taos, Española and other towns and villages in New Mexico also rely on the project’s water, which sends flows into the Rio Grande watershed.

But the massive waterway is experiencing its worst drought on record.

If conditions persist without fundamental changes to how states use flows from the Colorado River, the Southwest could see devastating consequences in the next five years, experts say. Reserves in Lake Powell and Lake Mead could continue to plummet, threatening hydropower, electricity and water supplies.

“If your choice is using less water or abandoning your city, it’s a no-brainer,” said John Fleck, director of the water resources program at the University of New Mexico. “You don’t see people abandoning their cities when they haven’t used all their conservation options.”

While none of these doom-and-gloom scenarios are in the near term for New Mexicans, water experts say, proper water use plans need to go into effect now to mitigate extreme drought conditions and ease the future strain on the Colorado River…

“This megadrought that we are in has continued to get worse,” said Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, bureau chief of the Colorado River Basin for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

While there have been interim guidelines for how to manage dropping water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell since 2007, states spent the last 2½ years developing drought contingency plans, with each working to establish concrete actions it can take to preserve water supplied by the Colorado River…

Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to give states a few more weeks to reach an agreement. If they are unable to agree on a drought plan to send to Congress within the next month, governors from the seven states will be asked to submit input on potential federal interventions into water planning for the lower-basin states.

Longworth and other water managers said states were not able to reach an agreement last week, with some new stopping blocks arising from California and Arizona; talks could continue into March.

Longworth’s office also will be working on a recommendation for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on how New Mexico would approach any federal intervention.

“Nobody questions the growing risk and urgent need for action along the Colorado River,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a news release. “… Action is needed now. In the absence of consensus plans from the Basin states, the federal government must take action to protect the river and all who depend on it — farmers and cities across seven states.”

If plans are approved and legislation signed, states will then embark on a process to determine just how they will be implemented.

New Mexico released a draft of its plan in October.

It calls for reoperating three large reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. They are Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah and Wyoming, Navajo Lake in New Mexico, and Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado.

Drawing water from these reservoir would not violate legal agreements, Schmidt-Petersen said.

The plan also would create a voluntary exchange program for farmers throughout the upper-basin states. In exchange for a payment, farmers would agree not to use their land to grow crops, thereby conserving water use. In New Mexico, the exchange would target farmers in the San Juan Basin.

As part of a pilot program in 2018, farmers were paid between $150 and $219 per acre-foot conserved, Schmidt-Petersen said.

“We have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Fleck said. “On the one hand, climate change is reducing supply in the Colorado Basin, so there is cause for concern about that. On the other hand, communities have gotten really good at using less water when we have to.”

Putting the #COWaterPlan to work on the Western Slope — Sara Dunn #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From “Conservation Conversations” (Sara Dunn) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Colorado Water Plan marked its three-year anniversary in November of 2018. Developed in response to an executive order from Gov. Hickenlooper, Colorado’s Water Plan answers the questions of how to implement water supply planning solutions that meet Colorado’s future water needs while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Basin implementation plans were developed by each Basin Roundtable to implement the Colorado Water Plan objectives through identification of local water needs, priorities and projects.

To further define localized water needs and project challenges and solutions, stream management and integrated water management plans are being developed for prioritized rivers and streams. Stream management plans use hydrological, biological, chemical, geomorphological and other data to assess flows, water quality, aquatic and riparian health and other physical conditions of the stream. Integrated water management plans also consider the consumptive use requirements in the planning process.

The Colorado River was identified as one of the State’s highest priority rivers. Encompassing approximately 9,830 square miles, it is one of the State’s largest watersheds. The Colorado River supplies municipal, recreational, environmental and agricultural uses on both the West Slope and East Slope of Colorado.

Approximately 80 percent is utilized on the Western Slope while the remaining 20 percent is utilized on the Eastern Slope. Each year between 450,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water is diverted from the Colorado River system to the Eastern Slope. The Colorado River will play a central role in supporting Colorado’s growing population which is expected to be between 8.6 million and 10 million people by 2050.

The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan estimates that currently 584,000 acre feet of Colorado River Basin water is used to irrigate 268,000 acres and there is an existing annual average shortfall of 100,000 acre feet, sometimes referred to as the agricultural water gap.

Cattle and hay represent the highest percentage of agricultural production in the Colorado River Basin. Other crops include fruits, vegetables, wine grapes, grains and other specialty crops. Industrial hemp production is expected to have exponential growth and could represent a much higher percentage of agricultural production in the coming years.

The communities in the middle section of the Colorado River Basin from Glenwood Springs to DeBeque rely on tourism and the energy industry, in addition to agriculture, to sustain their economies. The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts, in collaboration with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council are developing an integrated water management plan for the middle section of the Colorado River.

The goals of the plan include protecting and restoring streams, rivers and riparian health; sustaining and promoting agriculture; securing safe drinking water for our growing population; encouraging conservation across all uses; working with local land use planning authorities to develop water-conscious land use strategies; and ensuring reliable and predictable administration pursuant to Colorado’s water laws and interstate compacts. The initial evaluation and planning process undertaken by the districts and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council will continue through 2020.

The conservation districts are focusing on the consumptive use components of the integrated water management plan which include agricultural uses, municipal and drinking water uses, and industrial use. The districts are gathering information on current consumptive use practices and demands and identifying where shortages exist on a localized level to recommend possible solutions to address these gaps and to identify projects that can benefit multiple water demands.

The conservation districts’ objectives in the planning process are to reduce agricultural water shortages, minimize potential for non-voluntary transfer of agriculture water rights to municipal use, develop incentives to support agricultural production and increase education among the agricultural community and general public about Colorado River Basin water issues.

Offering opportunities to safeguard the ability of agriculture to continue producing food and fiber in a healthy and sustainable landscape has been the mission of the Conservation Districts since they were established in 1937 by Congressional Act. This grassroots leadership evolved out of the Dust Bowl Era and the recognition that individuals working on a local level can provide more effective assistance in conserving our natural resources.

The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts coordinate technical, financial and educational resources to mitigate drought issues on private lands, improve riparian areas and wildlife habitat, and address water quality and quantity challenges. Please visit our website to learn how you can participate in the integrated water management planning process: http://www.bookcliffcd.org.

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How Denver Water crews decide where to put what they need to keep the water flowing.

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CU alum teaches next-gen civil engineers the wonder of dams – News on TAP

Denver Water project manager: “Engineering is about using science to create solutions for the benefit of mankind.”

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