#Snowpack/#Runoff news: Snowmelt is occurring in some #RioGrande tribs in #NewMexico

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 15, 2019 via the NRCS,

From the Associated Press via CBS Denver:

Forecasters say northern Colorado will warm up slowly after this week’s snowstorm, minimizing the danger of flooding this week. National Weather Service hydrologist Triste Huse said Thursday that daytime temperatures will reach only into the 40s for the next few days and dip below freezing at night.

Huse says deep winter snows in the Colorado mountains could worsen the flood danger in May, however.

The water content in the mountain snow on [April 11, 2019] ranged from more than 110 percent of normal in the northern part of the state to more than 150 percent in the southwest.

Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster):

In Colorado rafting country, anticipation is building with the water.

“It’s going to be a great season, no doubt about that,” says Brandon Slate, president of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, whose members at this time last year faced a much different outlook.

With parched mountains amid drought, 2018’s preseason story lines focused on the Upper Arkansas Voluntary Flow Management Program. Regulators delivered by releasing enough from reservoirs to keep boats afloat through the summer — “a lifesaver,” says Salida-based Bill Dvorak, with 40-plus years in the rafting business…

At the start of April, river rats were eyeing charts that showed the state’s snowpack well above 100 percent of normal — a bounty set to melt and swell rivers to epic proportions.

Longtime outfitters are thinking back to 1995, the last time the forecast looked this promising. That year, Dvorak recalls the Arkansas raging 6,700 cubic feet per second (700 is “optimal” under the voluntary flow management program).

“It’ll get up to 4,000 I’m sure this year,” he says. “Maybe up to 5,000, 6,000.”

But what excites Dvorak most is the potential of a lesser-known river outside his home territory…

In circles like his, the Dolores is regarded as legendary. Stretching through remote forests, canyons and deserts in the state’s southwest corner, it stacks up with America’s best, Dvorak says, the Grand Canyon and Middle Fork of the Salmon among them.

But whitewater buffs’ chances on the stretch have been few and far between. Since the late ‘80s, the McPhee Dam has trapped the water that once kept the Dolores running strong…

Utah’s Cataract Canyon is expected to reclaim its Class 4 and Class 5 reputation. The Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument’s storied land should be back to consistently raftable levels.

From The Sante Fe New Mexican (Robert Nott):

The Rio Grande was running fast and wide around a bend near the Buckman Direct Diversion near Diablo Canyon one recent April day — a healthy sign that the snowpacked mountains of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico are already providing a welcome, healthy spring runoff…

Water experts and conservationists agree. Following a particularly dry 2017-18 winter season, the spring 2019 runoff into the region’s rivers, streams and arroyos is looking downright wonderful, offering at least a brief respite from continuing drought conditions…

The 216 million-gallon Nichols Reservoir is full, said Alan Hook, a water analyst for the city. The larger McClure Reservoir — with a capacity of 1.06 billion gallons — is 61 percent full, with about 648 million gallons of water in it, he said.

The runoff also will help recharge city wells, Hook said.

Farmers and ranchers around the state stand to benefit as well. Elephant Butte Irrigation District officials said last week that farmers can expect to get their share of irrigation water as soon as early June, with an allotment of 6 inches per acre. That allocation could increase, depending on how much snowmelt ends up in the Rio Grande.

From a recreational standpoint, more water in the state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs could lead to more fishing, boating and rafting throughout the spring and summer…

Still, she said, the actual flows into New Mexico are uncertain. Under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, Colorado is required to deliver a certain amount downriver every year, but that volume is largely dependent on how much water southern Colorado farmers use to irrigate their fields…

While much of the flows into the Rio Grande come from headwaters in the San Juan Mountains, Steve Harris, executive director of Taos-based Rio Grande Restoration, said about a quarter of the water comes from runoff from Northern New Mexico mountains.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service issued a report April 1 that said with year-to-date precipitation totals “coming in with impressive triple digit numbers as high as 139 percent, the spring runoffs are looking favorable” in New Mexico.

The report also said major reservoirs in the state are “storing well below average amounts of water. … They have been depleted and await runoff this spring for a recharge.”


For the first time since January 2018, New Mexico has no areas considered to be in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From The Conejos County Citizen (Sylvia Lobato):

According to SNOTEL readings as of mid-February, Colorado’s statewide snowpack sat at 108 percent of normal and the Rio Grande Basin also was above the norm…

Snowpack is higher in the northern and eastern basins and lower in the southwestern basins.

Climate forecasts through the runoff season suggest that these numbers could climb higher as forecasts indicate a wet spring statewide.

Statewide snowpack basin-filled map April 15,2019 via the NRCS.

New Reservoirs, Dams Planned for Colorado Front Range — Engineering News Record

From the Engineering News Record (Thomas F. Armistead):

“In the water-scarce West, there is little to no new water,” says Laura Belanger, water resources and environmental engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “What we’re seeing is a shift to a suite of solutions that make the most of our region’s water resources. So the first line is and always should be conservation, because that’s the most cost-effective thing utilities can do, and it’s also fast.”


In Colorado’s Front Range, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is accepting qualification statements for construction of Colorado’s tallest new dam in a half-century, with selection of a contractor and notice to proceed by December, says Joe Donnelly, spokesman. The main dam will be a rockfill structure with a hydraulic asphalt core, 360 ft tall and 3,500 ft long at the crest. The dam will impound the 90,000 acre-ft Chimney Hollow Reservoir for the Windy Gap Firming Project. A contract for design was awarded to Stantec in 2016.

The reservoir would store water for 12 municipalities and other water suppliers. The project has support from both public authorities and some environmental advocates. But six environmental groups are contesting the project in federal court because it will divert 30,000 acre-ft annually from the Colorado River, taxing the already challenged flow of that body.

Denver Water is proceeding with the expansion of Gross Reservoir, built in the 1950s with a 1,050-ft-long, 340-ft-tall concrete gravity arch dam impounding 42,000 acre-ft of water. Following 14 years of planning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a 404 permit in July 2017, allowing Denver Water to raise the reservoir’s dam 131 ft and expand the reservoir’s capacity to 77,000 acre-ft.

The utility is expanding the reservoir to address a known imbalance in the city’s water system, said Jeff Martin, program manager for the project, in a video on the project’s website. The North System, where Gross Reservoir is located, stores about 30% of the water, and the South System the rest. The imbalance results from differential snowpack runoff on the system’s north and south sides. “This will provide extra insurance and extra reservoir capacity to make sure that we can weather those times when we do have issues in our system,” Martin said…

Some existing storage facilities are being expanded or are having their water reallocated, and regional water sharing also is beginning to grow, Belanger says. She cites the Chatfield Reservoir, built in 1965 on the South Platte River south of Denver for flood control, as an example. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that up to 20,600 acre-ft of the water can be reallocated to drinking water and industrial supply, agriculture, environmental restoration and other purposes without compromising its flood-control function. Environmental mitigation and modifications are expected to cost about $134 million.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passes through #Congress #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president.

The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

Once the bill is signed, and the Drought Contingency Plan enacted, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said it will have long-term benefits for water users in New Mexico, including tribes and farmers, cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and ecosystems and wildlife…

Over the past years, the [Upper and Lower] basins worked on developing their own drought plans and then came together in a final agreement aimed at ensuring people still receive water, even as flows decline, and making sure Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower and deliver electricity. It’s also meant to make sure water levels don’t drop too low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Combined storage in the two reservoirs last year reached its lowest level since Lake Powell began filling in the 1960s. As of April 10, Lake Powell’s level was at 3,569 feet, roughly 37 percent full.

In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. Models showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 percent to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.

This winter’s snowpack is anticipated to stave off an emergency.Current forecasts estimate Lake Powell will be at about 3,592 feet, with about 12.89 million acre feet of stored water (and 55 percent full), at the end of this water year.

NM has learned lessons from drought

Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allowed 11.25 percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet.

New Mexico’s share of the Colorado River water is relatively small. On average, New Mexico uses about 410,000 acre feet of water from the basin. Arizona and California, meanwhile, each use millions of acre feet annually.

In New Mexico, cities like Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield rely on water from the San Juan and its tributary, the Animas River, as do local ranchers and farmers. The San Juan supplies water to cities to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District via the San Juan-Chama Project. And during last year’s low flows on the Rio Grande, it was water from the San Juan-Chama Project that kept the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque. Both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. The Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico has rights to Colorado River water, as well.

Rolf Schmidt Peterson, Colorado River Basin Manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, explained that as opposed to the Lower Basin states—which are already using all the water they have rights to, and more—New Mexico and other Upper Basin states were in a better position to come up with their drought contingency plan.

The Lower Basin will have to pull back on uses, whereas the Upper Basin can plan ahead on how to avoid water shortages.