#Snowpack news (November 29, 2020): #SanJuanRiver Basin = 121% of median

San Juan River Basin snowpack graph November 29, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Snow report

The Pagosa Springs area experienced multiple winter storms over the past week and is forecasted for more snowfall starting Thursday through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 10.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Nov. 24.

That amount is 145 percent of the Nov. 24 median for the site.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 103 percent of the Nov. 24 median in terms of snow pack.

[River Report]

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flow- ing at a rate of 113 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday Nov. 24.

Based on 84 years of water records, the average flow rate for this date is 84 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 321 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 29 cfs, recorded in 1968.

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map November 29, 2020 via the NRCS.

Dry Gulch loan deactivated — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

Dry Gulch Reservoir site. Credit The Pagosa Daily Post

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

During a meeting on Nov. 16, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors approved the deactivation of a loan the district currently has with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

According to SJWCD President Al Pfister, the reasoning behind the decision is the state budget situation.

“The state was asking us whether we wanted to deactivate our existing loan of $1.9 plus million that we had applied for and had been approved contingent upon us getting a mill levy approved to pay for that,” Pfister explained during the meeting. “It’s been three years since that was initially approved and, I’ll say, standard procedure is to, basically, after three years of actions have been taken, they deactivate those loans.”

Pfister noted that he told CWCB that the district was fine with deactivating its loan at this time but, by doing this, it would not preclude the district from applying in the future.

“I just want to clearly emphasize that this does not in any way mean that we are not going to pursue a reservoir project in the future,” SJWCD board member John Porco added.

In conversations with CWCB representatives, Pfister explained that the CWCB indicated that CWCB would not take this decision to mean that SJWCD was not pursuing its San Juan River Headwaters Project…

The motion to approve the CWCB loan deactivation was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board.

In a follow-up interview on [November 23, 2020], Pfister explained that the loan that was deactivated was to enable the SJWCD to purchase additional lands that were needed to complete the district having ownership of the pool basin for the San Juan River Headwaters Project.

Additionally, the loan was for environmental work for the land exchange, Pfister added.

@CWCB_DNR approves second phase of investigation into demand-management program — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water from the Colorado River irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell.Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The state of Colorado will embark on the second phase of studying a potential water-savings plan, this time by developing a draft framework to test how the structure and design of such a program could work.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved at its regular meeting Nov. 18 a Step II Work Plan for its investigation into the feasibility of a demand-management program.

“People in my basin, including myself, are very excited to get down the road of this next phase,” said CWCB board member Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa, White and Green river basins. “I think it will bring us a lot of certainty with where we end up on this really heavy issue.”

Since June 2019, eight workgroups composed of water experts from different sectors around the state have been hashing out the potential benefits, downsides and challenges of a voluntary and temporary program that would pay water users to cut back in order to leave more water in the Colorado River. The workgroups tackled eight subject areas: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts. A ninth workgroup, led by the Interbasin Compact Committee, focused solely on equity.

Their work is now done. The results of a year’s worth of meetings, in-depth discussions and workshops resulted in a 200-page report, released in July.

A project management team, made up of state officials from the CWCB, the Division of Water Resources and the attorney general’s office, will now take the input from the workgroups and use it to begin Step II. The overarching goals of this phase are to figure out if demand management would be achievable, worthwhile and advisable for Colorado.

“Ultimately, again, the question is: Is demand management a feasible tool to protect Colorado water users against the risks and impacts of a potential curtailment, and can we create some additional benefits as well?” said Amy Ostdiek, CWCB deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information.

At the heart of a potential demand-management program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations. If Colorado does not meet its obligation to deliver water to the lower basin, it could face mandatory cutbacks, known as curtailment.

Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river, in order to fill a 500,000 acre-foot pool set aside in Lake Powell as a modest insurance policy. But developing a program raises many thorny questions such as how to create a program that is equitable and doesn’t result in negative economic impacts to agricultural communities.

In Step II, the project management team, with the help of consultants SGM, CDR Associates and WestWater Engineering, will develop a draft “strawman” framework of a demand-management program. Step II does not include a large-scale pilot program, but it leaves the door open to develop one in the future, potentially in collaboration with other upper-basin states. Ostdiek said the project management team should have the initial draft framework ready for the board to look at early next year.

CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell reminded board members that demand management is just one tool — but an important one — that the state is looking at to deal with looming water shortages.

“When we look at the challenge of a changing climate or a changing hydrology and the frequency and drought and the intensity of drought, it would be irresponsible of us not to look at every tool available,” she said. “I think this is the next, right, appropriate step.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Nov. 27 edition of The Aspen Times.