Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for October 28, 2019.
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land — Luna Leopold
From& The Albuquerque Journal (T.S. Last):
…the one on Jicarita Peak, where water is being diverted from the Rio Grande over a mountain ridgeline eastward to the Rio Canadian watershed, is quite unique, with undercurrents of Indian lore, Spanish land grants and even ripples of the old Santa Fe Ring.
Robert Templeton is former chair of the Embudo Valley Regional Acequia Association and a parciante, or member, of one of the ditches that flows to his field in Dixon where he grows corn and vegetables. He has been studying the diversions for several years and has shared some of what he’s learned with Picuris Pueblo.
“In the history of the diversions, more than a half million acre-feet of water has gone over the divide,” he said, adding that’s a conservative estimate. “If you take that and divide it by the annual flow at the Picuris gauge, the amount is equal to 22 years of the annual flow.”
Templeton knows much of the history of the diversions, the first of which dates back to somewhere between 1819 and 1835. “That’s the one at Alamitos Creek,” he said. “A half-mile ditch takes all the water from Alamitos Creek and puts it in the ditch, and over the divide and to Cleveland (N.M.).”
The second diversion, the Acequia de la Presa, was built about 1865, he said. It directs water from the Rio de la Presa in La Junta Canyon and sends it to Chacón, also on the east side of the mountains.
The third diversion, located at 10,800 feet, takes water from two creeks and directs it to Angostura Creek where, after about 3.5 miles, it is channeled over the divide in waterfall fashion.
It’s that diversion, the Acequia de la Sierra de Holman, completed about 1882, that led Picuris Pueblo to file a lawsuit that members of the infamous Santa Fe Ring, a group of powerful lawyers and speculators, was able quash during New Mexico’s territorial days.
According to an article by Malcolm Ebright that was published in the New Mexico Historical Review in 2017, Thomas B. Catron and Stephen Elkins were among the people who started buying interest in the Mora Land Grant about 1866, “and, soon, residents of the Mora Grant realized that speculators were buying the grant common lands from under them,” Ebright wrote.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Picuris Pueblo in 1882, after the third of the diversions was built, due largely to efforts of Juan Bautisa Guerín, Mora’s parish priest. By then, Catron owned the northern portion of the Mora Grant.
“Picuris Pueblo was up against the Mora parish priest and the most powerful member of the Santa Fe Ring,” Ebright wrote. “This might explain why it was almost impossible to move the lawsuit forward after it was filed.”
Any chance of the matter being resolved early on died when an attorney representing the pueblo failed to show up for a court hearing, despite being given several days to do so. Catron was then successful in having the case dismissed on an oral motion. “Thus, Catron was able to dispose of the case without filing any documents to the benefit of the Mora irrigators, while at the same time attempting to partition and sell the common lands of the Mora Land Grant,” according to Ebright.
By that time, thousands of Spanish and Anglo settlers had moved into the area, increasing the demand for water. The pueblo, which then and now is made up of just a few hundred tribal members, was outnumbered and carried little clout.
From The Catalyst (Emily Kressley):
Think about a restless night of sleep, where you toss and turn and wake up in a sweat. Not only are you uncomfortable, you’re also dehydrated — you reach for a big glass of water. And now think back to a big night out, where maybe you had one too many and you really need that glass of water, or several, to assuage that headache. In a similar fashion, our Earth is also overheating, wrapped in a blanket that traps warmth. Unfortunately for the Southwest, when it “sweats,” or evapotranspiration occurs, there is no glass of water by its bedside table. And when it’s really dehydrated, just one good winter isn’t going to solve the drought.
A 2017 study by Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck called “The Twenty-First Century Colorado River Hot Drought and Implications for the Future” published some terrifying news about the impacts of warming within the last century. Within your lifetime, you’ve experienced this warming in some capacity. If you’re based here in Colorado, you or your family likely remember what drought looked like in 2002 or 2012. The basis of the study is that the flow of the Colorado River was 19.3% below average 2000 to 2014, as compared to the 1906 to 1999 average, making it “the worst 15 year drought on record.”
It’s not a coincidence that news headlines have consistently ranked recent droughts at the top of the list. About one third of this flow loss comes from the unprecedented temperature rise: 0.9 degrees Celsius above the 1900s average. Yes, temperatures have risen before, but never so much, so fast. And there has never been a roaring civilization quite like our current society based in what should be a desert. “Previous comparable droughts were caused by a lack of precipitation, not high temperatures,” according to Udall and Overpeck.
The region’s hydrology is a mixed bag of modeling — we can’t be positive about what’s going to happen. But we are positive that warmer temperatures lead to a decline in stream flow. This decline can be linked to droughts that have lasted decades, rather than a single year. Coloradans, especially those who work in agricultural or ranching occupations, are familiar with drought and what it’s like to operate under a water deficit. But mega-droughts? This amount of uncertainty? Droughts that were previously classified as moderate are predicted to become more severe. That’s when your sleep gets restless.
Because the Earth is wrapped in a thick down comforter, rising temperatures and water scarcity are not isolated phenomena; they affect the entire system. When temperatures warm, the snowpack is diminished. Even if precipitation levels remained the same, the change to rain from snow removes the storage mechanism nature had in place. With rainfall occurring more frequently and earlier on in the year, the growing season starts prematurely, sucking up greater amounts of moisture from the soil. As a result, runoff is reduced and does not replenish already depleted reservoir levels. Increased temperatures also cause more water to evaporate from the soil, creating longer fire seasons. With diminished snowpack and reduced runoff, the hottest months of the summer become even drier, intensifying drought effects.
The study predicts that as warming continues to increase at its current rate, there will be a 20–30% flow loss by mid-century, and a 35–55% loss by the end of the century. And while the Colorado River reservoir system can store four times the annual flow of the river, longer droughts and higher demands in these periods will deplete that quickly, according to Udall and Overpeck. To put this into perspective, 40 million people rely on the river in seven different states for their survival. If we were to cut the water supply in half and only serve 20 million people, 3.5 times the population of the entire state of Colorado would be left dry, according to Bureau of Reclamation. That’s almost 263 packed Denver Broncos stadiums, accordig to Empower Field at Mile High. And as we’ve seen in 2019, one good year is not going to solve the issue — much of the state is now back in a drought. If water levels drop too low in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, imperative storage reservoirs, the hydropower turbines will no longer be effective. Energy prices will skyrocket, as will the risk of a compact call, which is a restriction on water consumption in the Upper Basin until the lower basin water allocations are delivered.
We know that temperatures are rising, water levels are decreasing, and risk and uncertainty are mounting. While the future looks grim, there is still time to avoid the worst by ringing the alarm and staying politically active. Talk about how climate change is personally affecting us now with friends and family, stay up to date on the news, put pressure on your state’s representatives. Drought contingency negotiations have already been in the works, with the 2007 interim guidelines slated for revision in 2026. We’ve seen drought before, and we’ll see it again. Climate change is water change, and while it’s a phenomenon bigger than any of us, we are not powerless in combatting it.
Emily, class of 2020, is an environmental policy major originally from Essex, Conn. While she is drawn to Colorado for its mountains and skiing, she has found strong communities within the CC Cutthroat rugby team, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and, of course, The Catalyst staff.