#SanJuanRiver Basin SWE = 83% of normal (December 26, 2020) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Upper San Juan River Basin SWE December 26, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 13.1 inches of snow water equivalent as of 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 23.

The median snow water equivalent amount for that date was 13 inches.

While the amount of 13.1 inches of snow water equivalent is 101 per- cent of the Dec. 23 median for Wolf Creek summit, the entire basin, including the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins, were at 72 percent of the Dec. 23 median in terms of snowpack.

Last week’s reading showed that the Wolf Creek summit had 12.7 inches of snow water equivalent.

River report

As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a flow of 45.4 cfs and the average for Dec. 23 was 62 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Based on 85 years of water records, the San Juan River had the lowest flow total for Dec. 23 back in 1990, when the river had a flow of 24 cfs.

The highest flow total came in 2011, when the San Juan River had a flow of 130 cfs.

#TABOR complicates Lower South Platte Water Conservancy mill increase

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District boundary map.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Chuck Miller of Fort Morgan has been vocal in opposing action by the LSPWCD to raise its mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill for the 2020 budget year and retaining that level for 2021. Miller contends that the increase is a violation of the TABOR amendment to the Colorado Constitution. He and others have appealed to county commissioners in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties to refuse to certify the water district’s mill levy…

The group asserts that, although the water conservancy district freed itself from the restrictions of the TABOR amendment in 1996, it still promised not to raise taxes without a vote. The district board, however, takes the position that, when it was formed in 1964, it was statutorily authorized to levy up to 1 mill on real property within the district, and the 1996 “de-Brucing” question allows the district the right to levy up to 1 full mill; the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.

The mill levy must be certified in each of the four counties covered by the district. Only Sedgwick County, where Commissioner Chairman Donald Schneider also is a member of the LSPWCD board of directors, voted to certify the mill levy. Washington County Commissioner LeAnne Laybourn told the Journal-Advocate Thursday morning that, contrary to what was previously reported, the Washington County Commissioners pulled the water district’s mill levy from a group of levies they were to certify.

Miller said he has gotten conflicting answers to questions about who enforces the provisions of the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a 1992 amendment to the state constitution. TABOR restricts government spending and forbids raising taxes without voter approval.

Colorado Department of Local Affairs spokesperson Brett McPherson told the Journal-Advocate Wednesday that the state has no role in enforcing TABOR.

“TABOR contains the mill levy/tax rate restriction but is locally interpreted and enforced through the courts,” McPherson said. “TABOR is locally enforced by taxpayers, who elect board members and who can also bring a lawsuit against the taxing entity. There is no state agency role in enforcing TABOR.”

According to state statute, if a mill levy is not certified, the county can be instructed to extend the previous year’s mill levy which, in this case, is still 1 mill, since that was certified the previous year.

#ColoradoRiver management may change under @JoeBiden administration — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam, straddling the border between Nevada and Arizona, holds back the waters of the Colorado River in Lake Mead. In 2016, Lake Mead declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The week of Dec. 14, the seven states that are part of the Colorado River Compact began the first step for renegotiating guidelines that will decide how much water the three lower basin states and Mexico will get from Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada border, and from Mead’s source, the Colorado River.

The guidelines are interim, signed in April 2007, and are due to expire in 2026. Among the most significant, the guidelines provide long-term stable management of the river and also determine the circumstances under which the Interior secretary could reduce the annual amount of water available from Lake Mead to the Colorado River lower basin states. The guidelines also are a way for the basin states to avoid litigation, part of what prompted the 2007 interim guidelines.

The seven states that make up the Colorado River Compact, and which will negotiate those guidelines, are divided into upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) and lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). Mexico is also part of the lower basin water allotment, as well. About 40 million people across the seven states rely on the Colorado River for water.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 22, 2020 via the NRCS.

Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are dealing with extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What that means for the river heading into in the future, said John Fleck, a former journalist and author and now with the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, is water levels in Lake Mead could drop to 1,060 feet by 2022. That’s 15 feet below what triggers “the next tier of mandatory Lower Basin water use cuts under the river’s 2007 interim guidelines and the supplemental drought contingency plan” signed last year…

Last week, the seven states signed a joint letter to Trump administration Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman requesting technical support from the federal agency, as the states move forward with negotiations. The states are setting up a working group to look at modeling for the management and operations of Mead and Lake Powell, which is the water “bank” on the Colorado River for the upper basin states…

[Rebecca] Mitchell said she thinks “everything is on the table as we look toward the future.” What’s in the final report — or not — “doesn’t mean we can’t deal with bigger issues outside of the guidelines.”

That’s also where the Biden administration, and his Interior nominee, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, could make a difference. One of the signs from Biden toward the Colorado River is his appointment of Tanya Trujillo of New Mexico to the Department of the Interior’s transition team. Trujillo is vice chairwoman of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and lower basin project director for the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. A water lawyer, Trujillo has experience working in Interior on water issues.

“We’re hoping (the new administration) will foster negotiations that are rooted in science and create a framework that recognizes how climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the basin,” Kim Mitchell, a senior water policy adviser with Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, told BloombergLaw.com in November.

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)