Navajo Dam operations update January 3, 2023: Bumping down to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation Susan Novak Behery:

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs for Tuesday, January 3rd, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

EPA and Army Finalize Rule Establishing Definition of #WOTUS and Restoring Fundamental Water Protections

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:

Today [December 30, 2022], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) announced a final rule establishing a durable definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to reduce uncertainty from changing regulatory definitions, protect people’s health, and support economic opportunity. The final rule restores essential water protections that were in place prior to 2015 under the Clean Water Act for traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters. As a result, this action will strengthen fundamental protections for waters that are sources of drinking water while supporting agriculture, local economies, and downstream communities.

“When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 50 years ago, it recognized that protecting our waters is essential to ensuring healthy communities and a thriving economy,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Following extensive stakeholder engagement, and building on what we’ve learned from previous rules, EPA is working to deliver a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing greater certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.”

“This final rule recognizes the essential role of the nation’s water resources in communities across the nation,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael L. Connor. “The rule’s clear and supportable definition of waters of the United States will allow for more efficient and effective implementation and provide the clarity long desired by farmers, industry, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders.”

This rule establishes a durable definition of “waters of the United States” that is grounded in the authority provided by Congress in the Clean Water Act, the best available science, and extensive implementation experience stewarding the nation’s waters. The rule returns to a reasonable and familiar framework founded on the pre-2015 definition with updates to reflect existing Supreme Court decisions, the latest science, and the agencies’ technical expertise. It establishes limits that appropriately draw the boundary of waters subject to federal protection.

The final rule restores fundamental protections so that the nation will be closer to achieving Congress’ goal in the Clean Water Act that American waters be fishable and swimmable, and above all, protective of public health. It will also ensure that the nation’s waters support recreation, wildlife, and agricultural activity, which is fundamental to the American economy. The final rule will cover those waters that Congress fundamentally sought to protect in the Clean Water Act—traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters.

More information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and fact sheets, is available at EPA’s “Waters of the United States” website.

Accompanying the issuance of the final rule, the agencies are also releasing several resources to support clear and effective implementation in communities across America. Today, a summary of 10 regional roundtables was released that synthesizes key actions the agencies will take to enhance and improve implementation of “waters of the United States.” These actions were recommendations provided during the 10 regional roundtables where the agencies heard directly from communities on what is working well from an implementation perspective and where there are opportunities for improvement. The roundtables focused on the geographic similarities and differences across regions and provided site specific feedback about the way the scope of “waters of the United States” has been implemented by the agencies.

Today, the agencies are also taking action to improve federal coordination in the ongoing implementation of “waters of the United States.” First, EPA and Army are issuing a joint coordination memo to ensure the accuracy and consistency of jurisdictional determinations under this final rule. Second, the agencies are issuing a memo with U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide clarity on the agencies’ programs under the Clean Water Act and Food Security Act.

On June 9, 2021, EPA and the Department of the Army announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth. On Nov. 18, 2021, the agencies announced the signing of a proposed rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into “navigable waters” unless otherwise authorized under the Act. “Navigable waters” are defined in the Act as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” Thus, “waters of the United States” is a threshold term establishing the geographic scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The term “waters of the United States” is not defined by the Act but has been defined by the agencies in regulations since the 1970s and jointly implemented in the agencies’ respective programmatic activities

Clean drinking #water is a human right because humans with human rights can’t live without drinking water. That this even needs to be explained in a public policy sense is a measure of nothing good — @CharlesPPierce #ColoradoRiver #COriver

LadyDragonflyCC — Creative Commons, Flickr

Click the link to read the article on the Esquire website (Charles P. Pierce). Here’s an excerpt:

Meanwhile, in arctic Canada, the First Nations people who live around North Spirit Lake have been boiling their water for 20 years, and they’re still doing so despite having won a notable court case on the subject a year ago.

“For years, and in some cases decades, Canada has failed to provide safe drinking water to many of its Indigenous communities, including North Spirit Lake, a remote reserve in northwestern Ontario that has been under a boil water advisory nearly continuously since 2001. Decaying infrastructure at water plants and a lack of trained operators has, on many reserves, rendered the treated water undrinkable. Since 1995, more than 250 First Nations have been affected, according to court records. As a result, Indigenous people have fallen ill from gastrointestinal infections, respiratory illnesses and severe rashes, with some ending up hospitalized. Boiling water has become a daily inconvenience, and entire communities, already struggling with chronic financial hardship, must rely on shipments of expensive bottled water.”

So the Native people went to court, and won, and nothing much has changed.

“Last year, Canada’s federal court approved a settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by three Indigenous communities accusing the government of breaching its legal obligations to First Nations by failing to guarantee access to sanitary drinking water…In the year since the settlement, Canada has spent more than the agreement requires and several First Nations have received new infrastructure, which “represents important progress,” Michael Rosenberg, a lawyer for the First Nations, said in an email. But the government is still a long way from solving the problem. “We’re at a point where the lack of drinkable water on First Nations stands as a really sharp symbol of the failures of the Canadian state,” said Adele Perry, a history professor and director of the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba.”

Just as was the case with the horrors of the residential schools, Canada’s crisis supplying water to its Native peoples presages a similar one in this country, something that the administration is trying to mitigate in advance. But there are complications here that don’t exist around North Spirit Lake. For example, 29 federally recognized tribes depend on the beleaguered Colorado River for their water. Those tribes own the rights to around 20 percent of the water in the Colorado River basin. And this complication has complications.

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

Snow falls in region, more in the forecast — The #PagosaSprings Sun #snowpack

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

According to the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) website, sites in Archuleta County received between 2 and 5.5 inches of snowfall over Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. A Dec. 28 report from Wolf Creek Ski Area indicated that, as of about 6 a.m.,Wolf Creek had received 4 inches of snow in the previous 24 hours, bringing the midway snow depth to 43 inches and the year- to-date snowfall total to 95 inches. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Na- tional Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 10.9 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Wednes- day, Dec. 28. The Wolf Creek summit was at 78 percent of the Dec. 28 snowpack median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Ani- mas and San Juan River basins were at 78 percent of the Dec. 28 median in terms of snowpack.

Pagosa Area #Water & Sanitation District approves budget and $38 million in loans, discusses rate increases — The #PagosaSprings Sun

The water treatment process

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its 2023 budget and a loan agreement for $38,444,000 for the expansion of the Snowball water treatment plant. The board also discussed rate increases and potential additional fees to fund the plant’s construction…

The group then circled back to discuss the rate increases further, with [Justin] Ramsey indicating that the staff recommendation is to implement the 6 percent water rate increase in 2023, as recommended by the 2018 study, move up the 2.5 percent wastewater rate increase in the 2018 study up a year to 2023 and hold off on any other rate increases for the Snowball plant until the new rate study is finalized.

San Juan Water Conservancy District discusses budget and public access along the #SanJuanRiver — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Derek Kutzer). Here’s an excerpt:

On Thursday, Dec. 14, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) held a meeting where it conducted a public hearing and discussed its 2023 budget and discussed the possibility of a public take-out point along the San Juan River, among other items.

Engineering/Studies/Surveys appeared as the largest line-item expenditure in the proposed 2023 budget, amounting to $45,000. And since the board did not entertain reducing this item, it will “pull $20,000 out of sasvings” to pay for it and also maintain a zero deficit, explained Tedder.

Public access to the San Juan River

At the same meeting, the board heard about efforts to have public access to the river on land owned by the SJWCD and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD). [Al] Pfister, and possibly a representative from PAWSD, will be sitting down with representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW ), mainly to discuss fishery issues and potential funding, according to Pfister.

“This is basically being done under the watershed enhancement project,” Pfister said.

San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best