San Juan County, #NewMexico Commission declares #drought disaster — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

New Mexico Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

The drought situation in San Juan County may not be unprecedented when compared to the challenges of the last 10 years, but it’s plenty bad, county commissioners were told during their June 15 meeting in Aztec.

Commissioners heard from a variety of county employees, led by emergency manager Mike Mestas, about the severity of the situation and how much worse it could get if significant moisture doesn’t fall from the sky soon. Mestas was on hand to seek a disaster declaration from commissioners because of the drought, a measure that passed unanimously when Mestas and his associates had completed their presentation.

Mestas said the declaration will allow government organizations to seek funding from state and federal sources, if and when it becomes available, to help offset some of the issues that are expected to arise because of the drought. According to drought.gov, most of San Juan County is designated as being in exceptional drought, the worst category, while the rest of the county is either in exceptional drought or extreme drought, the second- and third-worst categories.

Mestas noted that two of San Juan County’s neighbors — Montezuma County in Colorado and McKinley County in New Mexico — also had made disaster declarations because of the drought. The state of New Mexico filed a drought declaration in December 2020, he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has declared a disaster declaration in 14 counties in the state, he said, with San Juan County being one of those. That designation will allow farmers, ranchers and some other residents who qualify for financial assistance to receive it, he said…

[Michelle] Truby-Tillen recalled the issues Animas Valley Water users experienced in 2016 when their system became largely inoperative and water filling stations had to be established for Crouch Mesa residents in Aztec and at McGee Park…

She explained that San Juan County is not just in a drought, it’s in what she termed a snow drought.

“We get our water from the mountains,” she said. “If there’s no rain here, yeah, it’s dry, we have problems. But as long as there’s snow in the mountains, we’re good to go. The big problem comes when there’s no snow. We’ve been in a snow drought this year comparable to several years ago when there was no snow at all on the mountains.”

In practical terms, the mountain snowpack in southwest Colorado was gone by April of this year, she said, and the ramifications of that are likely to be felt for quite some time.

#Bayfield adopts plan to manage #conservation during #drought — The #Durango Herald #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Vallecito Lake via Vallecito Chamber

From The Durango Herald (Shannon Mullane):

Town outlines increased fines for periods of extreme drought

Bayfield has adopted the town’s first official drought management plan, creating a system of conservation restrictions and fines that would take effect during drought periods.

The board of trustees unanimously approved the drought plan during a board meeting Tuesday. The plan defines drought conditions and designates the corresponding response. In the most extreme drought conditions, the response will include strict conservation measures and increased fines.

No residents commented on the plan during the meeting, but several called Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington to express concerns about the fines, she said.

“Residents are just like, ‘Are you serious about these fines?’ They’ve always been there, but we’ve never really enforced them,” Tarkington said. “We do mean business. If we get that concerned about our water situation, we will go there.”

The plan outlines three drought phases: sustainable conservation, serious drought and extreme drought based on local conditions and water use.

Under sustainable conservation, the town restricts when households can use irrigation water. The restrictions include fines of $50 for the first offense, and $100 or $500 for second and third offenses.

During serious drought, the town helps high water users decrease use, discourages water-intensive landscape changes and initiates public awareness efforts. The same fines apply.

During an extreme drought, like 2002, all outside irrigation is reduced and all daytime irrigation is prohibited. Fines jump to $100 for a first offense and $200 or $500 for second and third offenses…

During six of the last 20 years, Southwest Colorado has found itself in a serious or extreme drought, according to criteria outlined by the plan.

Seven times over the last 20 years, Bayfield’s water allotment from the Los Pinos River has been restricted or cut off to ensure entities with more senior water rights could get their full allotment.

The town has water stored in Vallecito Reservoir, but increasing its use of the standby supply would lead to increased water bills for users.

The drought plan is meant to help town officials manage drought years like this one without increasing the water bill for residents, said Katie Sickles, town manager, in a previous interview.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Montezuma County declares drought disaster — The #Cortez Journal #SanJuanRiver #DoloresRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Montezuma Valley

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

State and federal programs offer drought assistance, emergency loans

The order passed by the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners on June 1 says the purpose “is to activate the response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local and interjurisdictional disaster emergency plans, and to authorize the furnishing of aid and assistance under such plans.”

Recent winters in Southwest Colorado have seen below-average snowpack, and a lack of monsoonal rains has depleted soil moisture. The lack of precipitation has left reservoirs unfilled this year, a devastating impact for the agricultural economy…

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain with historical Montezuma County apple orchard in the foreground.

McPhee Reservoir irrigators will receive just 5% to 10% of their normal allocation this year, leaving thousands of acres fallow.

Montezuma County has only had one good snow season (2018-19) in the past four years and has had dry summers, said Peter Goble, drought specialist with the Colorado Climate Center, during a meeting with county officials…

The disaster status opens up emergency assistance programs from county, state and federal agencies. It also helps the Dolores Water Conservancy District receive drought assistance from the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the infrastructure of McPhee Reservoir and its canals.

In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 63 Colorado counties primary natural disaster areas because of the severe drought conditions.

Emergency loans are available for producers. The loans can be used to replace equipment or livestock, reorganize the farm operation and refinance certain debts.

Colorado State University Agriculture Extension provides education and connects farmers and ranchers with resources for drought management and assistance, said Greg Felsen, Montezuma County director and extension agent.

The forecast for a summer monsoon is not favorable for Southwest Colorado, according to the National Weather Service.

Dry conditions are predicted for June, July and August, according to the National Weather Service meteorologist Megan Stackhouse.

Mcphee Reservoir

The June 2021 Audubon Rockies newsletter is hot off the presses

Marsh Wren. Photo: Ramkumar Subramanian/Audubon Photography Awards

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Inspiration to Preservation in Pagosa Springs

Promoting community-driven wetland conservation with Pagosa Wetland Partners.

The story of Pagosa Wetland Partners (PWP) begins with a verdant, 15-acre stretch of wetlands teeming with birds adjoining the San Juan River in the southwestern Colorado town of Pagosa Springs. Uniquely fed by geothermal hot springs, this wetland is an ecological and cultural treasure. It harbors rare species, provides a key winter refuge and nesting site for birds, and serves as a premier site for nature observation. It is considered a birding hotspot by residents and tourists alike, with more than 180 species identified to date.

However, this downtown wetland area faces diverse threats, some of which include limited protections in local county and town building codes, possible light and noise pollution, and harmful water runoff. The possibility of inadvertent disruption to the unique warm geothermal water inflows is a primary concern that we are collaborating with the town and local developers to ensure doesn’t occur.

PWP began at a November 2019 meeting of the local Weminuche Audubon Society, where local conservationist Bob Lecour alerted the chapter to the possibility of proposed development that would threaten the Riverwalk Conservation Area. In the months to follow, a group of concerned citizens, including future PWP leaders Randy McCormick and Barry Knott, assembled and delivered a presentation to the Pagosa Springs town council on the environmental and tourist value of these unique wetlands. This presentation began the critical step of building awareness within the town government and community about the importance of wetland conservation. The proposed development did not materialize, however. The organization recognized that more extensive and far-reaching work would be required to ensure lasting protection of the wetlands.

PWP has grown in the year since its formation. We have recruited new members and articulated our mission and objectives to conserve, protect, and enhance the wetlands.

Our work has been shaped by three strategies:

  • Building partnerships wherever possible with local businesses and town government
  • Educating stakeholders about the value of wetlands
  • Striving for clear policy successes
  • From its inception, PWP has positioned itself as a willing collaborator with all stakeholders, including town government, environmental groups, and local developers. We have framed our environmental protection work in terms of promoting responsible development and science-driven conservation. We are very careful to avoid simplistic antagonism towards development. This approach has been key in building fruitful partnerships with developers and town government. Although there have been times when PWP has taken a firm stand against a potentially damaging project, more broadly, our relationships have been congenial and have allowed us to gain support and financial backing for our initiatives.

    At the same time, our focus on rigorous science has allowed us to collaborate effectively with diverse conservation organizations, including a wetland water-monitoring partnership with River Watch of Colorado, utilizing Weminuche Audubon as a non-profit recipient for donations, and receiving ongoing guidance from Audubon Rockies staff. These partnerships have built our base of support, expanded our options for financial backing, and allowed us to connect with a diverse cross-section of the community, including many key decision-makers.

    Our education initiatives aim to expand community knowledge and engagement with the wetlands, thus creating political pressure to preserve the area. This education initiative, inspired by advice from Abby Burk of Audubon Rockies, started with a series of educational articles in the local newspaper, the Pagosa Sun, in December 2020. These articles aim to educate the community about the unique ecology and beauty of the area as well as its importance as a tourist destination. They include pieces on wetland ecology, profiles of specific wetland species, and coverage of human threats to wetlands. As COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, our education and outreach have expanded, including a successful booth at the recent local Earth Day event and the upcoming launch of our Riverwalk Naturalist Program, which will provide guided nature tours of the wetlands to visitors and residents. Our education efforts have been successful in building community interest in the wetlands and in framing them as a key natural resource in the minds of residents and policymakers.

    Great Blue Heron at the Pagosa Springs wetlands. Photo: Barry Knott

    Our efforts also include the appointment of PWP co-chair, Barry Knott, to the Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) revision steering committee. He is working, along with other committee members, to update and add more significant wetland protection provisions into the revised code, which will be finalized in 2021.

    PWP has also collaborated with the town to develop environmentally responsible approaches to proposed initiatives in the wetlands. These collaborations have included providing scientific and citizen input on the proposed placement of night lights along the wetlands pathway and the installation of a wind harp in the wetlands. In both cases, the information provided by PWP resulted in a reassessment of the environmental viability of the projects by the town and their collaborators. These collaborations are the most tangible markers of our growth as an organization. However, they would not be possible without the strong foundation of partnerships and public education that underlie them.

    In addition to its value as a community conservation success story, I hope this article will offer a blueprint for other organizations looking to promote conservation in their communities. The three main themes of PWP’s development (building partnerships, educating the public, and pursuing policy protections) are easily transferable to many environmental causes. In addition, many of the organizational strategies we have used, including delegating tasks to match members’ skills, being willing to connect with key decision-makers, and being highly flexible about securing resources and building partnerships, are also useful to a range of start-up conservation organizations. Our work to protect the wetlands continues with the LUDC revision process and the launch of our naturalist program coming in the near future. As our work continues, I hope it provides an inspiration for others to advance their conservation goals. If you want to learn more, you can contact Pagosa Wetland Partners at pagosawetlands@gmail.com.

    Worsening Western #Drought Conditions Weigh On Farmers’ Mental Health — KUNC

    Mancos and the Mesa Verde area from the La Plata Mountains.

    From KSJD (Lucas Brady Woods) via KUNC:

    Alfalfa growers ideally need 30 inches of irrigation water per acre, per season, for their crops. This season, some farmers in the county are only getting a fraction of an inch from their reservoirs. As a result, farmers have to adjust, by selling cattle, limiting acreage or shutting down completely. And some of the sacrifices they’re forced to make can be really hard on their mental health, Nolan said.

    “Sometimes you look in the mirror and you’re like, ‘Should I be doing this?’” [Mike] Nolan said. “‘Like, does this make any sense?’ That stuff just builds. And it’s in seasons like this, it can crack. And that’s the scary part.”

    Nolan is not the only one noticing the mental health effects that drought is having on farmers.

    According to data compiled by Celebrating Healthy Communities, a Colorado-based suicide-prevention group, farmers and ag workers are the second-highest at-risk population in Montezuma County, where Nolan farms. That means they’re more likely to die by suicide than almost any other occupational group.

    And the data show another concerning correlation.

    Researchers also compared the state of Colorado’s drought data for the past decade with the state’s suicide data for the same period. When drought conditions worsened, so did the suicide rate among farmers.

    JC Carrica, the CEO of Southeast Health based in La Junta, Colorado isn’t surprised by those findings. He specializes in behavioral health care in rural communities.

    “There’s seasonality,” Carrica said. “There’s peaks of anxiety, peaks of depression. It’s ever flowing, because it’s weather-related or market volatility.”

    He also says that drought can be especially devastating.

    “When you see the wind come through and shear off whatever little bit of grass you had from a quarter inch of rain a couple of days prior,” he said. “It’s kind of the carrot and the stick, and sometimes there’s just not enough carrot to keep people’s hopes high.”

    Many mental health issues in the agricultural community can be compounded by a lack of services. The answer, Carrica said, is to make more of an effort to get mental health care to farmers, on their level.

    Kate Greenberg is the Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of Colorado.

    “As we see financial stress increase, as we’ve seen, in the last decade or so,” Greenberg said. “We also see spikes in suicide rates among agricultural communities.”

    Greenberg says her department is working with local partners across the state to get more resources to rural areas. What works in a city might not translate to agricultural communities. So, she says, resources like online training manuals or public service announcements should be written with that in mind. Colorado also maintains a crisis hotline — a free and confidential mental health resource that’s available 24/7.

    But as climate change continues to heat up and dry out the West’s farmland, Greenberg said the stress that comes with water scarcity will remain a challenge in keeping agriculture viable, and those who do it mentally well.

    Back in the Mancos Valley, Mike Nolan said this year’s lack of water is changing his operation in a fundamental way.

    “The big one was laying off everybody, which was a real bummer,” he said. “Never had to do that. It was really hard to do.”

    But Nolan says off-and-on therapy has really helped.

    The river of lost flows: Is the #AnimasRiver drying up? A look back at the dwindling last century says yes — The #DurangoTelegraph #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    View of Denver and Rio Grande (Silverton Branch) Railroad tracks and the Animas River in San Juan County, Colorado; shows the Needle Mountains. Summer, 1911. Denver Public Library Special Collections

    From The Durango Telegraph (John van Becay):

    The American West is stricken by drought. That is not news. For the past 20 years, moisture levels have been abnormally low in the region. Shriveling crops, raging wild fires and diseased forests are just some of the fallout. Now scientists fear we may be on the verge of a megadrought – a long-lasting period of greatly reduced moisture. The last megadrought was in the 1500s and lasted some 50 years. Past megadroughts were naturally occurring. Their causes are complex and not completely understood. What scientists do understand is that the present drought has been worsened by anthropogenic (human caused) warming. That’s right, our old friend global warming has worsened our present drought by 30-50 percent. How bad could it get? The past 20 years contends with any 20-year period in the last 1,200 years for the severity of drought. That is some bad news.

    The San Juan Basin drainage has been especially hard hit. The Animas River shows decreased flow not for the past 20 years, but for the past 30 years, since the early 1990s. In fact, discounting the abnormally wet 1980s, the Animas River has been steadily losing flow since the beginning of record keeping in the 1890s. The history of a single river graphed on a chart is notoriously hard to plumb for trends. Too many years buck the norm presenting a confusing welter of peaks and troughs. But dive deep enough and the evidence is there. The Animas River is not doing well.

    Durango flood of 1911 river scene. Photo credit Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College.

    On Oct. 5, 1911, after days of heavy rain, the Animas River came roaring out of its banks. It peaked at 25,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) which was 11 feet deep measured at the station near the power plant. The water reached the top of the arches on the Main Avenue Bridge. The monster runoff of 1911 set the record –since records have been kept – for peak run off of the Animas. Jump ahead to 1927 – a freakish combination of late snow melt and an early monsoon rain June 27, 1927, lashed the river to its second-highest historical level: 20,000 cfs and 9.65 feet…

    Peak flow is flashy. It makes stunning photographs. It puts people on the river and pictures in the paper. But it’s a flighty thing, much like spring itself. Peak flow does not water crops or nurture cities. That measurement is annual discharge – which is measured in thousand acre feet, or k/a/f…from 1913-25, the average annual discharge was 750 k/a/f, that’s three-quarters of a million acre feet per year.

    Our second period of increased annual discharge is 1941-1950 when the average annual discharge was 665 k/a/f. In our third period, 1979-88, average annual discharge ticked upward to 700 k/a/f, a period that has not been matched for the last 80 years.

    For comparison, from 2010-19 the average annual flow of the Animas dropped to 496 k/a/f, a staggering 34 percent decline from the average flow a century ago. If scientists are correct – and we are entering another megadrought, aided and abetted by global warming – the future of the Animas appears grim.

    In the past Durango survived the loss of its smelter. A present controversy over the coal-fired train continues to tear at the town. What is Durango’s future with an Animas River reduced to the size and ferocity of an irrigation ditch? How does that impact Durango’s self-image? Where then will lie the soul of el Rio de las Animas Perdidas? Along a dry river bed?

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The May 2021 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the #Water Information Program

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New General Manager

    Steven W. Wolff. Photo credit: The Water Information Program

    Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the hiring of its newest General Manager, Steven W. Wolff.

    Board President Jenny Russell expressed the board’s enthusiasm in naming Wolff as General Manager for the Southwestern District. “Steve immediately stood out in an impressive pool of candidates for the GM position,” said Russell.

    Wolff is currently Administrator of the Interstate Streams Division within Wyoming’s State Engineer’s Office in Cheyenne. The Interstate Streams Division oversees Wyoming’s rights and responsibilities outlined in the seven interstate water compacts and three interstate water decrees the state is signatory to. Wolff is also responsible for the development of technical and policy recommendations on inter- and intra-state water issues. The Southwestern board was also pleased and impressed with Wolff’s work with river basin planning efforts of the Wyoming Water Development Commission for each of Wyoming’s seven major river basins. He will be winding down his representation of Wyoming over the next month.

    Wolff’s interstate experience will be invaluable to the Southwestern District in its involvement in complex interstate negotiations on the Colorado River, state and federal water policy advocacy, local water planning efforts, water education, and other critical, water-related matters.

    “I am honored to be offered this opportunity to contribute to the District’s leadership on West Slope water issues and look forward to becoming an active part of the Southwestern community. I thank the board for their confidence in me,” Wolff said. “We are undoubtedly entering a critical period in providing a reliable water supply for all uses, and no place is more significant than the Colorado River basin. Water management is challenging at a local, regional, and national scale. I look forward to working with the Southwestern District board and the many stakeholders to define and implement a vision for sustainable water resources in southwest Colorado,” added Wolff.

    Wolff currently serves as gubernatorial appointee representing Wyoming to the Western States Water Council, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. He also currently serves as chair of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s Engineering Committee and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s Management Committee.

    “We look forward to Steve’s long and productive leadership with the Southwestern District,” concluded Russell.

    The Southwestern Water Conservation District was created by the Colorado legislature 80 years ago to protect, conserve, and develop the water resources of the San Juan and Dolores River basins and to safeguard for all of Colorado the waters of the Colorado River basin to which the state is entitled.

    Navajo Dam operations update (May 17, 2021: Releases to drop to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan wildflowers.

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery Novak):

    In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs on Tuesday, May 18th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Blanco Basin agricultural irrigation needs survey underway — San Juan Conservation District #SanJuanRiver #COWaterPlan

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From the San Juan Conservation District via The Pagosa Springs Sun (Cynthia Purcell):

    The San Juan Conservation District has been focusing efforts on evaluating irrigation systems in the Upper San Juan River Basin and looking for opportunities to improve them.

    We have completed our inventory from the upper reaches of the San Juan River Basin down to the Blanco Basin watershed. We are now looking to assess the needs within both the Upper and Lower Blanco Basin.

    We have assembled a team of natural resource professionals to perform this agricultural in ventory. Sterling Moss, a retired Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist from southwest Colorado, will be leading the team.

    With technical assistance from NRCS, the team will be reaching out to ditch representatives, water right holders and agricultural water users to discuss voluntary participation in this process. They will be out in the watershed throughout the summer evaluating the ditches and are happy to perform a free on-site visit to evaluate private on- farm systems when they are in the area. According to the landowner’s identified goals and objectives, agriculture water system improvements will be developed, with cost estimates provided for the improvements. The ultimate goal is to find funding to help improve these irrigation systems.

    This is part of a larger project in cooperation with the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to understand local water supply needs and identify potential project areas in the Upper San Juan River Basin. This process is part of the Colorado Water Plan and is funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as local organizations and partners.

    The San Juan Conservation District is a special district of the state of Colorado and was established in 1947 to help farmers and ranchers with soil erosion as a result of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. Today, our mission is to promote the prudent use and adequate treatment of all land, water and related resources within its boundaries to sustain the use of these resources for future generations and to assist in restoration of these resources. We serve the residents of Archuleta County and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties up to the Continental Divide. We also work closely with our federal counterpart, the NRCS, and share an office with them.

    Private landowner information will be kept confidential and not released to the public.

    If you would like to have your irrigation water needs evaluated or have questions, please contact Cynthia Purcell, district manager, at (970) 731-3615 or cynthia.purcell@co.nacdnet.net.

    #PagosaSprings still in voluntary #drought stage — The Pagosa Springs Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    At the time of publishing The Pagosa Springs Sun website was down so I couldn’t get a deep link to the article.

    From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    The voluntary drought stage was first announced in a press release on April 12.

    Ramsey notes in his May 11 press release that the area has seen “higher than normal temperatures” this spring, which “will lead to a quicker than normal melting of the snowpack reducing our available water and could lead to water use restrictions.”

    There are no water use restrictions in place under the voluntary drought stage; however, PAWSD does encourage responsible water use…

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 684 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12.

    Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,150 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 3,920 cfs in 1941. The lowest recorded rate was 156 cfs, recorded in 2002.

    As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 536 cfs.

    Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,140 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate was 3,460 cfs in 1973. The lowest recorded rate was 92.7 cfs in 2002.

    Snow report

    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 20.8 inches of snow water equivalent as of 3 p.m. on May 12.

    That amount is 63 percent of the May 12 median for this site.

    The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 33.2 inches.

    Navajo Dam operations update (May 15, 2021): Releases to drop to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among reservoir levels and sedimentation that redirected the San Juan River over a 20-foot high sandstone ledge. Until recently, little was known about its effect on two endangered fishes. Between 2015-2017, more than 1,000 razorback sucker and dozens of Colorado pikeminnow were detected downstream of the waterfall. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery Novak):

    In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, May 15th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to increase to 500 cfs May 12, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast for increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Wednesday, May 12th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park. Located in San Juan County, southeastern Utah (U.S.). Credits Constructed from county topographic map DRG mosaic for San Juan County from USDA/NRCS – National Cartography & Geospatial Center using Global Mapper 12.0 and Adobe Illustrator. Latitude 33° 31′ 49.52″ N., Longitude 111° 37′ 48.02″ W. USDA/FSA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    Navajo Dam operations update: Temporary increase in releases to 600 cfs May 11, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast lull in flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a temporary increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, May 11th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Fly fishers on the San Juan River below the Navajo Dam.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District board meeting recap — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Joe Napolitan):

    During the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District board meeting on Tuesday, May 4, Town Public Works Director Martin Schmidt shared increasing concerns with the town’s wastewater pumping.

    “About a year ago, I came to the board with a report from an engineer from the company that sold us the pumps, Sulzer, and they were very confident in a replacement pump to be put into the lift stations because it would solve our net-pressure suction head issue,” Schmidt said. “It exacerbated issues down the line and acceler- ated some pump failures. That’s a big issue.”

    In his agenda brief, Schmidt states that after the board approved pur- chasing a different pump that was recommended by the supplier, the newer pump exacerbated issues with other parts of the pumping train and inadvertently increased the speed of the pump failures at the lift stations.

    “What we need is a system that will pump sewage and not destroy pumps at the rate they’re destroying them,” Schmidt said.
    Schmidt explained that pumps should be lasting between 15 and 20 years with minor maintenance. Currently, some of them are lasting not even six months.

    “Staff has been working on a solution for this from the very moment we realized the problem has been occurring,” he said. “We worked with them throughout the fall and into the winter and around Christmastime, we realized Sulzer wasn’t coming forward with any reasonable solutions.”

    […]

    During a phone call the follow- ing day, Phillips explained several options for the emergency backups she referred to during the meeting.

    “We do have an overflow vault that is located under the ground next to Pump Station 1, and that is for taking any kind of overflow that the pumps would not be able to handle,” she said. “That would get us maybe about 12 hours of time and if we needed to do more than that, we’ve identified a supplier of a bypass pump that we would utilize.”

    Phillips explained that there are two pump stations with four pumps each in service at any given time. Typically 150,000 to 250,000 gallons per day of wastewater are being pumped. Both pump stations are suffering from issues.

    “We also could utilize the existing old sewer lagoons that are down there, one of which is par- tially lined,” she said. “We could get several days of overflow by utilizing those old lagoons, and in the meantime would be requesting emergency assistance from Sulzer and other suppliers to ship us on an emergency basis additional pumps.”

    “We are waiting on [the engineer’s] report. I anticipated it this afternoon; it will probably be here tomorrow,” said Schmidt during the meeting.

    Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest — #NewMexico in Depth #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Survey work begins in 2018 for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

    From New Mexico in Depth (Elizabeth Miller):

    Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use…

    The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024. The project is also connecting nearby Navajo communities, where many residents lack running water, an issue the Navajo Nation says is long past due and in need of a fix. But now a potential four-year delay could force a growing number of people to rely on these strained groundwater sources. A plan to keep taps from running dry will come with a price tag.

    The situation highlights how precarious water has become for this city of almost 22,000 in western New Mexico and offers a peek inside the complicated mix of relationships, creativity and familiarity with multiple government agencies that’s required to manage water in the 21st century.

    Gallup sits in the high desert along the red sandstone mesas of the Colorado Plateau. For much of its history, it has functioned as an industrial town and a bustling commercial center. Named in 1881 after railroad paymaster David L. Gallup, freight trains and Amtrak still rumble through, in addition to a steady flow of semi-truck traffic around the exits for Interstate-40. Surrounded by the Navajo Nation, on the first weekend of the month the town swells by 100,000 as people stream in for supplies. Those with no running water at home fill water containers. People do laundry, wash cars, go out to eat.

    For decades, the Navajo Nation bordertown has relied on groundwater stored in sandstone layers deep underground. With no nearby rivers, wells tapping that water have been the city’s only option. But because annual rain and snowfall don’t replenish the water, levels have dropped over recent decades. In the 1990s, the city projected shortages by as early as 2010.

    “Not only was Gallup running out of water, everybody was running out,” said Marc DePauli, owner of DePauli Engineering and Surveying, which the city has hired to work on the water systems. About 20 smaller surrounding water systems had “straws in the same bucket,” all leaning on dwindling reserves.

    Help is coming in the form of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the result of a historic agreement that settled Navajo Nation claims to water in this arid region of the Southwest after decades of discussions.

    Consisting of two major pipelines that run through Navajo communities in western New Mexico, the project will bring water from the San Juan River to within reach of some of the one in three homes without it on the Navajo Nation. One of the pipelines, the Cutter Lateral that branches to northwest New Mexico, is complete. The other, the San Juan Lateral, will move 37,700 acre feet of water each year for 200 miles along the western edge of the state, up to 7,500 acre-feet of which will come as far south as Gallup. In the future, the city will rely largely on water from the San Juan…

    The water was supposed to flow by 2024, but a new design proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation will now likely push that date back by three to four years, putting Gallup in a tight spot, monetarily and water-wise. The construction delay coupled with the city shouldering more demand will require new wells to supply everyone until water from the San Juan arrives.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases = 400 cfs May 8, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, May 8th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    A boater, John Dufficy, makes his way down the lower end of the San Juan River toward the take-out, in 2014. Photo Credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases = 500 cfs (May 7, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, May 7th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to drop to 600 cfs May 1, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridifcation

    A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Saturday, May 1st, starting at 0400 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.

    #AnimasRiver projected to stay low over coming months — The #Durango Herald #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald ( Shannon Mullane):

    Snowpack has already peaked, and remains below average

    Snowmelt season is in full swing, but one may not know that by looking at the Animas River, which this week more closely resembles a slow trickle through Durango than a roaring, muddy torrent more common for this time of year.

    The river’s flow Monday was about 328 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By comparison, the average flow for April 26, based on 109 years of data, is 1,180 cfs. For reference, 1 cfs equals about 7.5 gallons flowing by a particular point in one second.

    The Animas River’s peak runoff is still to come, but on average, the river’s flow is expected to be lower than usual through July, according to the National Weather Service. In fact, the river is expected to see about 45% of the volume it normally sees between April and July, said Aldis Strautins, National Weather Service hydrologist…

    There are multiple reasons why the river is lower than average and projected to stay that way, Strautins said.

    First, the region is in drought. Almost all of La Plata County was categorized as “extreme” or “exceptional” drought as of April 22, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Those are the most severe of five drought rankings.

    Below-average precipitation and a poor monsoon season contributed to a dry summer and fall for Southwest Colorado, Strautins said.

    Dry conditions led to low soil moistures. What precipitation the region did receive was immediately absorbed into the soil instead of running off.

    As of Tuesday, the snowpack was at 57% of the basin’s average. It also peaked earlier than usual, March 28 instead of April 6, according to provisional Snotel data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    The snowpack started melting after a warm spell in early April, then the melt slowed because of winter storms and some cloudy, cool days.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Release = 700 CFS April 24, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #SanJuanRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River. Photo credit: USFWS

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 24th, starting at 0400 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.

    April 20th, 2021 Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting slides and meeting minutes #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    Thank you for all who attended the April 20th, 2021 Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting. Please see the links below for the meeting summary and slides. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. The next meeting is scheduled for August 24th, 2021 at 1:00 PM.

    Meeting Minutes
    Meeting Slides

    Navajo Dam operations update (April 21, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Wednesday, April 21st, starting at 12:00 PM. 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.

    The Pagosa Area #Water and Sanitation District implements voluntary #drought restrictions — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 13, 2021.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney and Randi Pierce):

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is asking water users to practice responsible water use, with the district currently in a voluntary drought stage in compliance with its 2020 Drought Management Plan.

    According to a press release from PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey, “The primary driver of this drought stage is the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM),” which indicates that “our area is in a Severe to Extreme Drought.”

    Ramsey’s press release notes that Hatcher Lake is lower than the median volume for this time of year, “however the lake is currently filling.”

    “The flow of water in the San Juan is currently above the median flow for this time of year,” the press release further notes.

    Ramsey also noted in his press release that so far this spring Pagosa Country has seen higher-than-normal temperatures.

    He explained that the higher-than-normal temperatures combined with “a reduction in late spring precipitation will lead to a quicker-than-normal melting of the snowpack,” which will reduce the volume of available water and “could lead to water use restrictions.”

    According to the press release, there are no mandatory water use restrictions, “however PAWSD does encourage responsible water use.”

    […]

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 606 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Pagosa Springs as of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13.

    Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 514 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1985 at 1,930 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 120 cfs, recorded in 1977.

    As of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 492 cfs. Based on 58 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 784 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 2,600 cfs in 1985. The lowest recorded rate was 128 cfs in 1977.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 18, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Snow report

    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 33.8 inches of snow water equivalent as of 10 p.m. on April 13.

    That amount is 79 percent of the April 13 median for this site.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins were at 61 percent of the April 13 median in terms of snowpack.

    ‘We’re making progress’ — Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project moves ahead on Navajo Nation — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation construction inspector Kenny Redhouse carefully watched crewmembers install a section of pipe in an area south of Newcomb on April 15 as construction continued on a pipeline that will eventually deliver San Juan River water to Gallup and communities on the Navajo Nation.

    The water will replace dwindling groundwater supplies and meet future demand…

    Project broke ground in 2012

    It was in June 2012 when then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and others broke ground for construction of the first phase of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

    Almost a decade later, construction proceeds on the San Juan Lateral, the largest of two segments that comprise the project. This lateral will eventually pump water from the San Juan River near Waterflow then deliver it south to Gallup and to Navajo Nation chapters along the pipeline and that surrounds the city.

    As the lateral approaches Gallup, it branches east toward Crownpoint while another branch will serve Window Rock, Arizona, and areas along New Mexico Highway 264.

    The bureau marked in October the completion of the Cutter Lateral, which will deliver water to several chapters on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation and to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

    Bart Deming, the project’s deputy construction engineer, said construction of the San Juan Lateral is about 50% complete…

    Seven more years of work

    The total cost of the project is about $1.5 billion, and the entire project will be operational in 2028, he said.

    It is not difficult to notice construction activities alongside U.S. Highway 491 in Newcomb and Sheep Springs.

    Rick Reese, field engineering division manager for the bureau’s Four Corners office, said sections of pipe near Burnham Junction, in Naschitti and portions of Newcomb have been installed within the last year and a half…

    The area of focus now is south of Newcomb into Sheep Springs.

    Completion on this portion of the lateral is on track to end in early 2022, Reese said…

    The bureau awarded in September 2020 a nearly $46 million contract to Archer Western Construction LCC of Phoenix to build the pumping plant and a second one in Twin Lakes.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The San Juan Water Conservancy District approves report outlining options for West Fork water rights — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    A report given to the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) on March 29 was approved by the board, leading to future considerations to be considered for the district’s West Fork reservoir and canal water rights.

    The report, crafted by Wilson Water Group (WWG), reviewed the district’s water rights portfolio and other storage studies to “understand opportunities and limitations” based on original decrees, previous diligence efforts and other storage locations.

    WWG was hired by the SJWCD via a board decision at a Sept. 21, 2020, meeting for a cost of $19,050.

    According to the report, not only were studies done for alternative uses for the West Fork reservoir and canal water rights of the district, but analyses were done to estimate water available to the San Juan River Headwaters Project reservoir water rights and to a junior storage right.

    Currently, the district has a West Fork canal water right that is specifically 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) of conditional water that includes decreed uses of irrigation, industrial and municipal.

    The report notes that this right will be abandoned by the water court if not used or perfected at the time the San Juan River Headwaters Project facilities are constructed.

    The SJWCD also has a water right associated with the second enlargement of the Dutton Ditch, the report describes.

    This water right is 20 cfs that in- cludes decreed uses of irrigation, municipal and domestic.

    This right will also be abandoned by the water court if not used or perfected at the time the San Juan River Headwaters Project facilities are constructed, the report notes.

    “A significant physical limitation to development of the Dutton Ditch Second Enlargement water right is the location; there is not reliable wa- ter supply available on these smaller tributaries except during the runoff period primarily in May and June,” the report reads.
    Additionally, the district has a 50 cfs conditional water right at the San Juan River Headwaters Project pumping station, the report indicates.

    “This right cannot be diverted if the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs streamflow gage shows flow less than 100 cfs from March 1 to August 31 or less than 60 cfs from September 1 to February 29,” the report states. “Besides the potential cost versus benefit imbalance of pumping water for potential storage at this location, the water available in many years can be significantly limited by the stipulated flow requirements at the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs streamflow gage.”

    The SJWCD also has 1.1 cfs of absolute water rights associated with shares in the Park Ditch Company at the Park Ditch, the report notes.

    This water right notes that the Park Ditch must be the location to divert water to store in the San Juan River Headwaters project, among other stipulations.

    According to the report, the district has storage water rights at the West Fork reservoir, which is about 24,000 acre feet in conditional water rights.

    “The stipulation subordinating the West Fork Reservoir storage rights to upstream water rights senior to a December 31, 2013 is significant; as it essentially changes the water right appropriation date to January 1, 2014 as to any water rights located upstream,” the report reads. “The requirement to move the water right downstream of Boot- jack Ranch to a likely off-channel reservoir site is not as limiting, because permitting an on-channel reservoir at any location on the San Juan River would be a significant challenge. The uses under the storage right may be limiting, as it does not include the authorization to release water to the San Juan River to meeting environmental or recre- ational needs.”

    The SJWCD also has 6,300 acre- feet of conditional storage rights at the San Juan River Headwaters proj- ect site and another 4,700 acre-feet on first fill and 11,000 acre-feet on refill of conditional storage rights.

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases bumped to 500 CFS April 9, 2021 #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 decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, April 9th, starting 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.

    Virtual Public Meeting: Conditions on the upper San Juan, Navajo, and Blanco Rivers, Hosted by: The Upper #SanJuanRiver Watershed Enhancement Partnership, March 31, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    From The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Springs Sun

    A Pagosa Springs-based collaborative group, called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), has been working since 2018 to identify concerns and opportunities to address the needs of the diverse water users of the Upper San Juan River Basin.

    The WEP strives to be a community-driven effort that supports values and needs unique to our basin while assisting the broader state and regional goals of the Colorado State Water Plan and Southwest Basin Implementation Plan. The state calls these local planning efforts of multiple water uses either Stream Management Plans (SMP) or Integrated Water Management Plans (IWMP).

    The WEP’s three-phased IWMP process is designed to ensure there is ample time to gather public feed- back, conduct analysis and create a plan with local priorities, which is why we encourage all community members to attend our upcoming virtual public meeting. We are excited to share our updates from our work and hear your ideas on how this information can be used to support local water users.

    In Phase I, the WEP organized a steering committee comprised of representatives of the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water users of our community to begin outlining water-related needs and issues. Through multiple public meetings, the steering committee gathered input on the geographic scope/focus, concerns and potential project opportunities to help guide what information was known, what gaps existed, new data to collect, and what analysis and modeling the community wanted in Phase II.

    In 2020, as part of Phase II, the WEP has partnered with experts Lotic Hydrological and San Juan Conservation District/NRCS to analyze components identified as priorities during public meetings, such as current and future river flows, riparian habitat, forest health/wildfire risk influences on water resources, and agricultural infrastructure conditions and needs. Based on public feedback and the capacity of models and our partners, the WEP’s work has mainly focused on the upper San Juan watershed, but we continue to include steering committee members and project components from the Rio Blanco and Navajo watersheds.

    Results from Phase II’s data analysis, field assessments and model outputs now need to be reviewed and approved by you, the community. Our upcoming public meeting on Wednesday, March 31, held via Zoom
    from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will present the preliminary results of these assessments and models, gather feedback to ensure it aligns with local experience and knowledge, or identify where additional data and analysis may be needed. WEP steering committee members Joe Crabb and Justin Ramsey will also present on local water systems and drought preparations.

    Learn how to access the March 31 public meeting and find additional information about the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp.

    To learn more about other Colorado watershed groups conducting a SMP/IWMP process, visit www. coloradosmp.org. If you have questions, please contact Al Pfister at westernwildscapes@gmail.com or Mandy Eskelson at mandy@mountainstudies.org. We hope to “see” you on March 31.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The Pagosa Areas Water & Sanitation District approves new #drought management plan, aims to curb water use with a different approach — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    The springs for which Pagosa Springs was named, photographed in 1874. By Timothy H. O. Sullivan – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17428006

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sani- tation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its drought management plan at its regular meeting on March 11, with things mostly staying the same from last year’s plan, except for changes made to drought triggers.

    In an interview on Monday, PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey explained the reason behind the changes in drought triggers.

    “Historically, it’s been a cumulative amount of water: how much water is in the lakes, how much water is in the river, altogether,” he said. “Now, we’re going to break that up. If the lake gets too low, we’re going to go into drought management regardless of what the river is doing, or vice versa.”

    Drought management stages could also be triggered by snow water equivalency (SWE) data and whether or not a call is made on Fourmile Creek, he added later.

    “We did it the exact same way, we just broke it up so it’s not a cumulative amount of water, it’s individual pieces of water that could put us into a drought stage,” he said.

    According to the plan, there are four stages of drought, which in- cludes a voluntary period of water
    reduction.

    The voluntary stage, according to the plan, is intended to give the community advanced notice about developing drought conditions and aims to start the process of water conservation, according to the plan.

    Level-one drought management, or a low category of drought, could be triggered by a variety of methods, whether it be SWE, a call date on Fourmile, the reservoir level in Hatcher Lake, drought stages or the San Juan River flow, Ramsey noted.

    Level one is categorized as being a stage that aims to build upon the voluntary efforts while also incorporating basic mandatory water-use restrictions that look to curb excessive outdoor irrigation. This stage would also include an “increase community outreach and awareness campaign,” according to the plan.

    The plan further notes that there would no surcharges or modifications to rate structures, but penalties for noncompliance could be issued.

    “For all of them, anything could go on depending on how early it happens,” Ramsey said of the four stages of drought triggers. “Any of these triggers could put you into a drought stage one through four. It just depends on what happens.”

    Level two, or moderate level of drought, is described as an “advance notice” of severe drought conditions.

    This stage of drought features amplified mandatory water-use restrictions, more aggressive com- munity outreach and a modified water-use rate structure for residential users.

    Level three, or serious level of drought, is defined by the plan as drought conditions that threaten water availability.

    “Mandatory water use restrictions are further amplified to curb water consumption and extend the usability of current water supplies,” the plan reads. “A drought surcharge will be implemented on both residential and commercial customers and the water use rate structure will be implemented for commercial customers and be further modified for residential customers.”

    The final stage, level four, or severe drought, indicates “dangerously low” water supply levels, according to the plan.

    This stage would feature drought surcharges and the water-use rate structure being further modified, according to the plan.

    Ramsey explained that sur- charges will not be triggered until level three. There will be a charge for heavier water use at level two, but no surcharge will be incurred. The surcharge for drought stage three is $17.23 per equivalent unit (EU) and for drought stage four it’s $21.53 per EU, he noted.

    Water released from Lake Nighthorse will help San Juan Water Commission gather data — The #Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    A small crowd gathered to watch as Jim Dunlap pressed a control button. Moments later, the people inside the small building could hear the sound of water from Lake Nighthorse rushing through a pipe and out of the dam.

    It was a simple move, but one that had been decades in the making for Dunlap. It was the first time water from the reservoir had been released into the Animas River at the request of the San Juan Water Commission.

    While the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association has released water from the dam as part of maintenance operations and to ensure everything is properly functioning, this was the first time it had been released based on an official request.

    Lake Nighthorse stores water for municipal use for the San Juan Water Commission as well as other water users, including Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Tribe. Filling of the reservoir began in 2009, and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2018…

    Drought management plans for the San Juan County Commission include using water stored in Lake Nighthorse, but little is known about what would happen to the water once it is released.

    The commission hopes one day there will be a pipeline to transport the water from Colorado to New Mexico, but, until then, the water must be released into the Animas River. The March 15 release will help gather data that can be used in the future to predict how much water could be lost from the time it is released from Lake Nighthorse to the time it reaches pump stations for water users downstream.

    A decision about #LakeNighthorse #water release could come later this week — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission continues to monitor conditions around the Animas River, including flow and snowpack, to decide if it will request a release from Lake Nighthorse this month.

    San Juan Water Commission Director Aaron Chavez said the decision will likely be made later this week…

    The City of Farmington initially requested a possible release from the reservoir as a way to test the water delivery from Lake Nighthorse to entities in San Juan County. The City of Aztec has expressed interest in also taking some of the water released if it does occur…

    The release depends on the water levels in the river remaining low because the test release will be a way to gather data for a drought scenario…

    A test release could help provide data about water loss as the water would flow down the Animas River channel. Because the irrigation ditches are closed for the winter, it would also provide data about water flow and downstream recovery in the river without any of that water being diverted for agriculture.

    On the morning of March 8, the Animas River was flowing at 138 cubic feet per second in the Cedar Hill area near the state line, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. A stream gauge in Farmington was registering 175 cubic feet per second. These readings are about half of what would typically be seen on the Animas River in a normal year.

    #SanJuanRiver headwaters #snowpack (March 6, 2021) = 92% of median #runoff #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    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 25.5 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on March 3.

    That amount is 101 percent of the March 3 median for this site.

    The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 25.8 inches.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 79 percent of the March 3 median in terms of snowpack. This is a 6 percent decrease in snowpack for the region compared to last week’s report.

    River Report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 59.2 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 3.

    Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 87 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1986 at 359 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 29.3 cfs, recorded in 2002.

    An instantaneous reading was unavailable for the USGS station for the Piedra River near Arboles.

    It is noted on the USGS website for this station that the reading of the river flow rate is affected by ice at the station.

    Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for March 3 is 152 cfs.
    The highest recorded rate was 573 cfs in 1995. The lowest recorded rate was 26.5 cfs in 2003.

    San Juan Water Conservancy District approves strategic plan — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    The San Juan Water Conser- vancy District (SJWCD) approved its strategic plan for 2021 at a meeting on Feb. 15.

    The strategic plan, which had been in development since 2018, is to be used to help the district identify water resource issues in the Upper San Juan River Basin within the district’s geographical scope, according to the plan.

    Additionally, the plan outlines that its purpose is to help the district evaluate its options for addressing water resource issues and outlining which options could be acted upon.

    Other objectives include the SJWCD Board of Directors developing long-term goals and direction for the district and relaying that information to the public, the plan notes.

    Mission and value statements

    Included within the plan is the SJWCD’s mission statement, which reads “To be an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

    […]

    These statements note that the SJWCD board is “committed to ensuring that various current and future water supply needs are met through whatever conservation and water management strategies and methodologies are available.”

    Another value statement reads, “The Board opposes any new transfers of water from the Upper San Juan River and its tributaries upstream of Navajo Reservoir to basins outside of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

    The opposition toward this comes from the SJWCD believing that transfers would interfere with existing beneficial uses of water, damage to economic stability and reduced environmental quality, the plan indicates.

    Other value statements include that the SJWCD board is commit- ted to managing water rights it holds, supporting wise land-use policies and processes, and man- aging and funding effective monitoring, protection and restoration programs.

    One value statement notes that the SJWCD board believes that the district must participate in statewide processes, like the Colorado Water Plan, to address various issues such as climate change, drought and water shortages.

    Wolf Creek #snowpack above average — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Upper San Juan River snowpack February 28, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    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 25.7 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on Feb. 24.

    That amount is 109 percent of the Feb. 10 median for the site.

    The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 23.5 inches.

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph February 26, 2021 via the NRCS.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 85 percent of the Feb. 24 median in terms of snowpack…

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 49.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

    Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 73 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1995 at 269 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 28 cfs recorded in 1961.

    The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District plans for early season #drought mitigation — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

    West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mouseamy):

    At its meeting on Feb. 11, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors nailed down its drought management system.

    PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey went over the trigger points in place for establishing drought stages.

    Ramsey said, “The way we’re going now is based upon a couple different trigger points, and it’s also based on the date that the trigger point hit. For example, if Hatcher is down 6 feet and if it’s in late September, no big deal; if it’s in early May we’ve probably got problems coming. So, this way it kind of helps us see what’s coming on.”

    He continued, “Later on, in the summer, then we’ll start looking at three other issues: the amount of water in the Hatcher reservoir, the amount of water that’s going down the San Juan River and the state’s drought statement.”

    PAWSD Treasurer Glenn Walsh voiced a concern.

    “The two triggers early in the season, the call date and the snow water [equivalent] … those just need to be aligned better. If we’re operating off hitting both triggers, then I have less concern. But if we’re operating off hitting one of the two triggers, for instance the call date in 2018 was 4/11, and if we had a 2018-type year, I wouldn’t be comfortable with just starting the year full-blown stage 4 — ‘your lawns are going to die’ — because my impression was 2018 was not that type of year … Even though we do have two indicators that we use up until June 1 and then three that we use after June 1, it would be good if those were aligned so there’s not some discordance where we’re in level 4 then when we turn over to the river and lake level and the regional drought declaration we’re back to level 1 — you know? We’re jumping back and forth,” he said.

    “I guess my question is we’re going to trigger the early season stages by one of the two measures, or are we going to go with the least restrictive? … If we’re only going by one trigger, that could wind up being kind of a false alarm,” Walsh said.

    Ramsey responded, “Yes and no … They typically do fall fairly close together. … I don’t know how often they do a call before we run out of snow — it’s usually within a week. … Just because the trigger says to do that, if there’s a reason for the board to say, ‘Let’s not do it because of x, y, or z,’we call it. It just gives us a starting point … To go to stage 1, 2, 3, 4 takes a board decision; it doesn’t just do it automatically.”

    […]

    At the meeting, Ramsey mentioned that entering a voluntary level 1 or level 2 drought stage in the early season might help to eliminate the chances of reaching level 3 or level 4 later in the season by means of alerting the public to be conservative with their water usage.

    “The way we’re moving now, we’re probably going to go at a voluntary level 1, level 2 a little earlier than we have historically. We are not going to charge a surcharge to throw you into level 3 or level 4. When we get into level 2, there will be an increase in excess water use in residential, and when we get to level 3 there will be an excess water use in commercial. But, there will be no surcharge until we get to level 3 and level 4,” notified Ramsey.

    He added, “The way I calculated the surcharge was … for every drought stage we have it goes to a decrease on one use by x percentage, so I just assume that we decreased our water use by x percentage, which means that we decreased our income by x percentage, and I’m making it up with that.”

    He continued, “The hope is by going into drought mitigation level 1, level 2 voluntary, early … the only way to get to that surcharge is if we were in great dire straits.”

    Recent storms in #Colorado improved #snowpack but had little impact on #NewMexico #drought — The #Farmington Daily Times

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 22, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

    A recent trio of storms that provided significant moisture to many parts of San Juan County has brought the snowpack up to near normal in the mountains of southwest Colorado for the first time all season.

    But it did little to make a dent in the drought that has plagued the area for the last year and a half.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summary for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins, the snowpack stood at 89% of normal and 84% of average on Feb. 19. That was a significant step up from just 10 days earlier, when those figures were near 60% and falling rapidly.

    Sharon Sullivan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service bureau in Albuquerque, said those figures were buoyed by storms that left 4 to 5 inches of snow in parts of Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield from Feb. 12 through Feb. 16.

    West Drought Monitor February 16, 2021.

    But anyone who takes this as a sign that the drought has been chased away would be well advised to curb his or her enthusiasm. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of San Juan County remains locked in exceptional drought, the worst classification. That includes all but the southwest corner of the county, which is characterized as being in extreme drought, the second-worst category, or severe drought, the third-worst category in the five-tier drought system…

    The outlook for significant additional moisture is not promising. Sullivan said the long-range forecast calls for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation in the area.

    San Juan County residents may find some small consolation in the fact that conditions are even worse in other parts of the state. According to the drought monitor, 54.2% of the state is characterized as being in exceptional drought — a condition that can lead to the closure of federal lands for fire precautions, the implementation of burn bans by local governments, the encroachment of bears on developed areas, a change in flight patterns by migratory birds and the absence of surface water for agricultural use, leading farmers to rely on wells.

    The state’s southeast corner has been hit the hardest, with two counties — Eddy County and Chaves County — entirely in exceptional drought, and four others — De Baca, Curry, Roosevelt and Lea counties — having only small slivers of their territory escaping that designation. Additionally, most of Lincoln and Torrance counties are in exceptional drought.

    Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

    From KOAA (Bill Folsom):

    The 25 reservoirs in the Colorado Springs Utilities network of water storage, still have several years of water stored. Another dry year could take a toll.

    Snowpack started slow in December and January. “February 1st we were looking at snowpack averages maybe 75 to 78% of average,” said [Kalsoum] Abbasi. In the two weeks since then multiple snowstorms helped make up for low totals. Numbers in the water basins important to Colorado Springs are now at or just below normal. It’s certainly a relief to see those numbers go up the past couple of weeks.”February is when data tracking for the Colorado snow season officially begins. It is off to a good start, but the numbers have to be maintained with more storms through May.

    #NewMexico Interstate Stream Commission discusses next 50 years of water management — The #Farmington Daily Times

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    Climate change will both decrease water supplies and increase demand, and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission hopes a 50-year water plan will provide the tools and resources needed to navigate the future.

    This water plan, which is currently in the first phase of work, is among the Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s priorities.

    A study session on Feb. 18 provided the ISC commissioners with background on water planning in New Mexico, from the 19th century belief that rain would come if the land was farmed to the 2018 water plan that highlighted work needed in New Mexico’s 16 water planning regions.

    The 50-year water plan will likely be completed in 2022. The ISC is supposed to learn more about it during the March study session.

    Regions with limited aquifers rely almost entirely on surface water. Lucia Sanchez, the ISC’s water planning program manager, gave the San Juan River basin as an example of one of those areas. Meanwhile, there are other regions of the state with no surface water. In those regions, they rely almost entirely on groundwater. Sanchez highlighted Lea County as an example of an area that relies on groundwater.

    Looking to the future, Sanchez said there is a projected gap in supplies even without accounting for climate change in regions that rely heavily on groundwater. Under a drought scenario, she said all regions of the state will be impacted.

    “I almost feel like a state water plan is like somebody asking for directions and that’s easy enough to come up with if you know where the destination is,” said Commissioner Aron Balok. “And I feel like we’ve been asked to come up with directions but haven’t been given the destination, where we want to arrive.”

    He explained that New Mexico uses prior appropriation doctrine to react to scarcity. That means the oldest water rights have priority if there is a shortage. Balok said a state water plan should look at alternatives to prior appropriation…

    Commissioner Greg Carrasco said it is easier to project future water supplies than to predict what the demand will be for water in 50 years.

    The San Juan Water Conservancy District and a current board consultant extend agreement for one month, new contract won’t be pursued — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    View to the south into the snaking West Fork of the San Juan River as seen from US 160, halfway up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. By User:Erikvoss, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61976794

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    The contract between the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and its current board consultant, Renee Lewis, will not be renewed, and the existing contract between the two parties will continue for an additional month.

    During the Feb. 15 meeting of the SJWCD board, SJWCD Chair Al Pfister explained that Lewis had sent an email to himself, SJWCD board member John Porco and SJWCD’s legal counsel, Jeff Kane, informing them that she did not want to take on a new agreement with a continuation of services.

    Southwest #Colorado livestock meeting addresses grazing, wolves — The #Cortez Journal

    Montezuma Valley

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    As snow and rain fell outside, about 50 audience members gathered at the indoor arena of the Montezuma County Fairgrounds for the morning meeting session to hear presentations, some broadcast via Zoom…

    State House bills

    Republican Marc Catlin, state representative for the 58th District, listed some bills he plans to introduce.

    A watershed mitigation bill proposes to provide funding for cities and counties for timber thinning projects on private land. A water rights bill would protect the water rights of mutual ditch companies. Another bill would allow tribes to operate their own foster homes so Native American foster children could grow up in their culture. Catlin said a bill providing a tax exemption for the removal of beetle-killed trees in forests would be an incentive to remove the fire-prone dead trees.

    Shakeup at the Southwestern Water Conservation District brings in new face to deal with old problems — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Amy Novak Huff. Photo via Colorado Water & Land Law, LLC and LinkedIn

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A fresh face was appointed to the Southwestern Water Conservation District to bring new ideas to decades-old problems surrounding water in the arid Southwest – at least that’s the hope of La Plata County officials.

    In January, La Plata County commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff, in their last meeting before leaving office, along with commissioner Clyde Church, appointed local water attorney Amy Novak Huff to the district.

    The move ousted longtime board member Bob Wolff, who has represented La Plata County on the commission for more than 10 years.

    Lachelt, speaking to The Durango Herald, said commissioners will sometimes replace people who have served long bouts of time to bring in new perspectives about various issues facing the county…

    Huff was raised in Southern California, but went to school at the University of Colorado-Boulder and never looked back. After teaching high school in Durango and Mancos, she went to law school at the University of Denver while working at Denver Water, where she became drawn to water law.

    After she passed the bar exam, Huff was selected for a judicial clerkship in Division No. 1 Water Court and then worked for a water law firm in Denver. All those years on the Front Range, where water is scarce, allowed her to experience firsthand the contentious water issues…

    Huff said she has now been practicing water law for 18 years, the majority of which has been in Southwest Colorado where water issues abound, exacerbated by drought, increasing demand and tricky multi-state compacts…

    Huff, for her part, will take a seat at her first board meeting Tuesday. She said she understands the gravity of the moment and how important local decisions will affect water availability and people’s way of life.

    “We’re going to be faced with water restrictions, changing landscapes and people are going to be forced to learn (about water issues),” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”

    Celebrating our wetlands — @AudubonRockies via The Pagosa Springs Sun

    Pagosa Springs River Walk Wetlands. Photo credit: Pagosa
    Wetland Partners

    Here’s a From The Pagosa Daily Post (Keith Bruno):

    Swamps, wet meadows, floodplains, bottomlands, bogs, freshwater and saltwater marshes, places where the water stands still and the soil becomes inundated to the point of saturation — these are wetlands.

    Tuesday, Feb. 2, marked the annual celebration of World Wetlands Day (check out http://worldwetlandsday.org). Though this day will have passed once this edition of The SUN makes it to print, it’s important to note that this often-neglected habitat type is a true reflection of life and biodiversity, so let’s celebrate it.

    After all, wetlands are the great defenders. They control flooding events by slowing down and spreading out pulse runoff flows, they absorb and purify water by trapping excess sediment, they sequester many impurities by trapping and storing them in their anaerobic soils, thereby protecting the adjacent and often more vulnerable aquatic life in riparian zones. Along coastlines, wetlands act as bulwarks, taking the brunt of tidal shifts and defending inland waterways from erosion.

    Why, then, must we continue to undermine and take for granted this portent of necessity and life? In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s National Wetlands Inventory determined that between the 1780s and 1980s in what we now call the lower 48 of the United States, we had somewhere close to a net loss of 53 percent of its total wetlands. A startling figure, it’s been estimated that during this 200-year period, 60 acres of wetland were lost every hour to development and associated means. A more recent (2019-2020) toll included the devastating and uncensored groundwater pumping from the iconic 2,400- acre San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona for border wall construction. This wetland complex houses a wide array of diverse life, including two species of native and endangered fish found nowhere else. The bottom line is: We have a long-standing debt to pay back on our wetland take.

    Now for the good news. Among other top-line priorities, the current administration plans to restore protections ensured within the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), two measures that offer wetlands hope and security. If you have access to water rights and have an interest in re-establishing defunct wetlands, consider contacting the Colorado Division of Water Resources to learn more about what you can do to provide valuable habitat. Additionally, development projects can visit Colorado’s Wetland Information Center to learn more about the difference between Compensatory Mitigation vs. Voluntary Restoration.

    Ask yourself, how familiar are you with your local wetlands? Consider a visit to a local wetland and ask some questions. If you have children, here are a few activities to try out:

    (1) How many different types of plants can you find in and around the wetland? Notice that some of the plants are either partially or fully submerged in the water. These are hydrophytes. What adaptations may these plants have adopted to live in a wetland?

    (2) What kind of wildlife can you detect? Though it’s still winter time, pay a visit to our warm-water wetlands downtown and with a few minutes of observation, one may note a surprising amount of life. There are roughly 180 species of birds that visit this area yearly. How many can you spot? Once the red-winged blackbirds arrive, watch for their unique breeding and nesting activities.

    (3) As we advance toward spring, keep an eye out for increased activity and noises. One spring tradition I have with my daughter is to crawl commando-style on our bellies as close to our neighborhood wetland as possible to see if we can spot the Houdini-act of the boreal chorus frogs as they emanate piercing mating songs. Give it a shot.

    (4) For more age-appropriate challenges, visit http://plt.org/stem-strategies/ watch-on-wetlands/ where Project Learning Tree offers STEM-based activities ranging from mapping activities to quantifying ecosystem goods and services gained from preserving wetlands.

    For more regional-appropriate resources, visit http://rockies.audubon.org and enter “wetlands” into our search bar. Additionally, learn of upcoming plant and bird walks along the downtown San Juan Riverwalk by following Weminuche Audubon Society events at http://weminucheaudubon.org and by following Pagosa Wetland Partners, an associated group, on Facebook.

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    San Juan Water Commission may request #LakeNighthorse water release if ‘stars align’ — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission authorized Director Aaron Chavez to request a release from Lake Nighthorse in an attempt to capture that water for San Juan County residents — if the conditions are right.

    The San Juan Water Commission hopes to someday have a pipeline that can reduce the losses from the river if a release from Lake Nighthorse is requested. However that pipeline does not yet exist.

    That means the only way to deliver water from Lake Nighthorse to the City of Farmington is through the Animas River, and that has never been tried before.

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    The City of Farmington requested the action as it hopes to gather data while the river levels are low and the irrigators are not pulling water out of the river, the city’s Community Works Director David Sypher explained during the Feb. 3 meeting…

    The proposed release would either be 40 cubic feet per second or 53 cubic feet per second. The release would last for five days and the City of Farmington would draw the water out of the Animas River using its pump at the Penny Lane diversion…

    Chavez said during low flows he anticipates it could take 103 hours for the water to reach Penny Lane and there will likely be loss along the way. The water commission is projecting that 30 cubic feet of water per second would reach Penny Lane if 40 cubic feet per second was released. One reason Farmington hopes to do the release is to get better data about the amount of water lost.

    If this release occurs, it will likely happen in March and it would cost $4,500 to $6,000 to replace the water in Lake Nighthorse. Sypher and Chavez would work together to ensure none of the water released from Lake Nighthorse passes the diversion at Penny Lane, where the pump station would take the water to Lake Farmington…

    Multiple organizations would need to be notified, requiring two weeks of notification. These include the Colorado and New Mexico offices of the state engineer as well as the Animas-La Plata Association…

    There has never been a release from Lake Nighthorse upon request of the San Juan Water Commission…

    Sypher said the current drought forecasts are awful for the region. If the Animas River was to go dry, the water commission would likely need water released from Lake Nighthorse.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Meetings: San Juan #Water Commission to discuss release from #LakeNighthorse — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission is considering asking for a release of Animas-La Plata Project Water. This water is stored in Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado.

    If the commission chooses to move forward with the release, it would be the first time that water is released from Lake Nighthorse upon the request of the San Juan Water Commission.

    During the drought of 2018, the San Juan Water Commission took steps to request a release on behalf of the City of Farmington. However that release was cancelled as storms brought rain to the Four Corners region.

    The water commission has been discussing a release from Lake Nighthorse as a test run that would allow it to address potential issues that could emerge. For example, making sure the water released from the reservoir reaches its intended destination.

    The San Juan Water Commission meets at 9 a.m. Feb. 3 via Google Meets. A link is available on the agenda posted at sjwc.org.

    Other agenda topics include legislation and long-term water development opportunities.

    #NewMexico #water managers warn communities to prepare for low #RioGrande — The #Albuquerque Journal

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    New Mexico water agencies are urging farmers to think twice about planting crops in what could be a tight water year. The state faces a big water debt to downstream users, and a multi-year drought is taking its toll.

    The Office of the State Engineer recommends “that farmers along the Rio Chama and in the Middle Valley that don’t absolutely need to farm this year, do not farm,” according to a staff report that Interstate Stream Commission Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen presented to the Commission earlier this month.

    Irrigation supply along the river from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir is governed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. The district cut its 2020 irrigation season a month short, because there wasn’t enough water to go around. A shorter season also helped deliver some river water to Elephant Butte as part of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Compact obligations.

    In January, the district board voted to delay the start of the 2021 season until April 1, a month later than usual.

    This year is on track to be a situation of water shortages and storage restrictions unlike any since the 1950s, said Mike Hamman, the district’s chief engineer and CEO and an Interstate Stream Commissioner. The district also anticipates receiving as little as half the usual allotment of San Juan-Chama water.

    “The hydrology really started to shift in the early ’90s,” Hamman said. “We’ve got into this cycle of below-average, average, above-average years, and I’ve noticed that our climatic conditions (limit) the available snowpack. That exacerbates things a little bit more now, where we need to have well-above-average snowpacks to address the poor watershed conditions that may have resulted from a poor summer rain period or fall moisture.”

    […]

    Regional farmers are advised to prepare for severe water shortages by exercising “extreme caution” in planting crops this spring and by using any available water only for the most essential uses…

    The current Rio Grande Compact water debt of about 100,000 acre-feet, or 32 billion gallons, restricts how much the state can store in reservoirs.

    By the end of January, the state will have released about 3,200 acre-feet, or about 1 billion gallons, of “debit water” from El Vado and Nichols Reservoir near Santa Fe to Elephant Butte.

    Last year’s monsoon season from May to September was the driest on record for New Mexico.

    The Rio Grande could go completely dry this summer all the way from Angostura Dam north of Bernalillo through Albuquerque, especially if this year brings another lackluster monsoon season…

    ‘Last page in our playbook’

    The fail-safe options New Mexico relied on last year to stretch the Rio Grande water supply won’t be available this year. This summer on the river may look like what water managers and environmental groups worked to stave off during last year’s hot, dry summer months.

    The Middle Rio Grande didn’t look good in July 2020. The MRCGD had just a few days of water supply left.

    No water could have meant no irrigation for farmers, but also limited river habitat for endangered species, scarce drinking water supply for local communities, and meager flows for river recreation.

    Then came word from the other Rio Grande Compact states of Colorado and Texas: New Mexico had permission to boost river flows by releasing a total of 12 billion gallons from El Vado Reservoir.

    “That was the last page in our playbook, or pretty darn close to it,” Schmidt-Petersen told the Journal.

    The release kept the Rio Grande from drying completely in the Albuquerque stretch and helped extend the irrigation season for central New Mexico farmers.

    Colorado River water diverted via the San Juan-Chama Project also added to the trickling native Rio Grande flows.

    Last summer’s massive release from El Vado was water that had been stored as assurance that the state’s Rio Grande Compact debt would be paid.

    That water is gone. New Mexico still has to “pay back” the 12 billion gallons, plus any obligations accrued this year.

    State Engineer John D’Antonio said the drought is shaping up to be as severe as the conditions the state experienced in the 1950s.

    New Mexico Drought Monitor January 26, 2021.

    Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s December 2020 emergency drought declaration could provide some financial relief for communities affected by the record-setting dry conditions.

    “There could be appropriated up to $750,000 for each eligible and qualified applicant that the governor may designate from the surplus unappropriated money in the general fund, if there is any,” D’Antonio said.

    The state Drought Task Force would determine which organizations or local governments receive the money, which under the emergency declaration could be used for water conservation projects, to offset economic losses caused by the drought, or as a match for federal funding.

    Dylan Wilson on the banks of the Rio Grande near Las Cruces, N.M. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Gloomy forecast

    New Mexico will endure another double whammy of limited water supply and growing Rio Grande Compact water debt if snowpack levels don’t improve dramatically by early spring.

    Statewide snowmelt runoff forecasts published Jan. 1 showed most of New Mexico at less than 80% of normal levels.

    Since then, some snowstorms have brought much-needed moisture to the northern half of the state.

    But New Mexico needs several months of above-average snow and rain to dig out of a drought before the hot summer months.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 1, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Groundwater wells in the lower Rio Grande region of southern New Mexico supply water for municipal and agricultural uses when the river is low.

    “That’s not the same in the middle valley for all the farmers there,” Schmidt-Petersen said. “There are limitations on wells that have been in place for long periods of time, so some places can pump and some cannot, and similarly all the way up the Chama.”

    #Snowpack news: Wolf Creek Ski Area passes 200 inches of snow for the season — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Upper San Juan Basin snowpack January 31, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    Pagosa Country received nearly 20 inches of snow throughout the past week.
    As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 51 inches of new snow received over the previous seven days. The recent storms put the ski area at 228 inches of total snowfall received so far this season…

    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 20.4 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on Jan. 27.

    That amount is 102 percent of the Jan. 27 median for this site.

    San Juan, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph January 29, 2021 via the NRCS.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins were at 79 percent of the Jan. 27 median in terms of snowpack.

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 37 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

    Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 58 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2005 at 152 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 22 cfs, recorded in 1990.

    The Piedra River was flowing at a rate of just under 50 cfs near Arboles as of Monday, Jan. 25. An instantaneous value was unavailable for Jan. 27.

    Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for Jan. 27 is 75 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate was 287 cfs in 2005. The lowest recorded rate was 18.6 in 2003.

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District sets fee schedule and approves changes for non-rate revenues

    Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara) [I could not find a deep link]:

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) approved changes to non-rate revenues and set the schedule of fees and charges for 2021 at a meeting on Jan. 14.

    According to agenda documentation, most of the non-rate revenues are related to changes that have been made to service charges.

    Changes that are highlighted include changes to water and wastewater connections, which, according to agenda documentation, vary annually depending upon quotes received for applicable equipment inside the meter pit, inside the pit, and the cost of the radio read equipment.

    Additionally, equity buy-in fees were recalculated according to a prescribed formula, with water equity buy-in fees decreasing by $106 and wastewater equity buy-in fees going down by $102 as a result of “no major additions to assets and ongoing depreciation.”

    Within the changes, water equity buy-in fees will go from $5,044 to $4,938 per equivalent unit (EU). Wastewater equity buy-in fees will go from $3,897 to $3,795 per EU.

    Wastewater equity buy-in fees will go from $3,897 to $3,795 per EU.

    Additional changes

    The affordable housing water surcharge will increase from $0.68 to $0.69 and the standard three-quarter inch meter will go from $1,475 per connection to $1,550.

    The water system capital investment fee will increase from $4,898 per EU to $5,045 per EU. The wastewater system capital investment fee will increase from $1,079 per EU to $1,111 per EU.

    Additionally, the water model data use fee will go from $62 per EU to $62.25, with the max increasing from $6,200 to $6,225.

    For raw water charges, the annual rate will increase from $145 per EU to $154 per EU…

    Additional changes include an increase in potable water fill station and treated water tanker charges from $1.02 per 100 gallons to $1.08 per 100 gallons.

    Prohibitive discharge inspection fees are going to increase from $50 to $55 per inspection and the tax replication fee is going to increase from $10.76 to $13.15.

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District approves rate increase — The #PagosaSpring Sun

    San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    Changes were approved to water rates by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) at a regular board meeting on Jan. 14.

    Back in September of 2018, the PAWSD board approved changes to its rates for water service customers that would take place in 2021, ac- cording to a public notice.

    These changes, according to the notice, will increase the minimum monthly service charge per equiva- lent unit (EU) and will also increase the volume rate charges by 6 percent annually through 2023. They will equate to a 33.74 percent cumulative increase over a five-year period.

    For 2021, the monthly service charge per EU will increase from $26.40 to $27.98, the release notes.

    For those who use between 2,001 to 8,000 gallons, the rate per 1,000 gallons will increase from $4.74 to $5.02, according to the release.

    Additionally, from 8,001 to 20,000 gallons, the rate per 1,000 gallons will increase from $9.48 to $10.05. For over 20,001 gallons usage, per 1,000 gallons, the charge will increase from $11.90 to $12.61.

    The water fill station charge per 1,000 gallons will also increase from $10.25 to $10.84, the release notes.

    Water availability of service and the wastewater availability of service charges will remain the same at $14.30 and $12.50, respectively, the notice reads.

    The release also notes that the capital investment fees for both water and wastewater will increase by 3 percent per year.

    Wastewater charges

    PAWSD will also be implementing increases to wastewater charges in 2024 and will end in 2027, according to the release.

    The changes will include a 2.5 percent annual rate increase, which amounts to a 10.38 percent cumu- lative increase over the four-year period, the release notes.

    #Snowpack levels decrease across #Colorado (January 17, 2021) — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basin High/Low graph January 14, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    All basins in the state continue to decrease in snowpack totals, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins sit at 68 percent of median this week, compared to 72 percent of median last week.

    A 5.94 percent decrease was reported for the Wolf Creek summit, with totals going from 101 percent of median to 95 percent of median this week.

    A reported 15.9 inches of snow water equivalent was posted at Wolf Creek Summit as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

    The Upper Rio Grande Basin has a snowpack total of 95 percent of median this week. Last week it was 102 percent of median.

    At the Arkansas River Basin, totals were 100 percent of median last week and are 93 percent of median this week.

    At the Yampa and White River basins, snowpack totals went from 82 percent of median this time last week to 72 percent of median this week.

    The Laramie and North Platte River basins were 82 percent of median last week, whereas they are 71 percent of median this week.

    The South Platte River Basin’s snowpack total is 77 percent of median this week. Last week, it was 82 percent of median.

    Snowpack totals at the Upper Colorado River Basin were 76 percent of median this time last week. This week they are 70 percent of median.

    The Gunnison River Basin was 73 percent of median last week. This week, it is 67 percent of median…

    River report
    As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 37.9 cfs, which falls below the 57 cfs average for Jan. 13, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The highest reported flow total for Jan. 13, based on 85 water years of record, came in 1987, when the San Juan had a reported flow of 114 cfs. The lowest flow total came in 1946, when the San Juan River had a flow of 26 cfs.

    Westwide SNOTEL basinf-filled map January 17, 2021 via the NRCS

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District adopts budget, certifies mill levies — The Pagosa Sun

    Pagosa Hot Springs

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    The board began by voting to certify its mill levies. A mill levy of 11.778 was certified for District 1 that will lead to $1,514,389 in revenue. For District 2, the board voted to certify a levy of 5.098 mills that will produce $565,839 in revenue.

    PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns gave a summary of changes made since the draft budget was presented.

    PAWSD had $1,111,059 in total revenue for its general fund for 2019, had $1,094,782 in total 2020 revenue, and proposed $1,143,197 for 2021 total revenue.

    As far as expenditures, in 2019 PAWSD had $1,088,605 in total expenditures, $1,115,160 in 2020, and $1,243,667 for the 2021 proposed budget.

    Its beginning balance for 2020 was $983,500 and the end-of-year balance was $963,122.

    The budget projects that the end-of-year balance for 2021 will be $862,652.

    In terms of its water enterprise funds, PAWSD planned to spend $1,246,368 in 2020 on total water treatment and actually spent $1,201,778. The budget projects that in 2021 it will spend $1,212,748.

    For total water distribution, PAWSD planned to spend $1,354,525 for 2020. It actually spent $946,928 in 2020 and plans to spend $1,178,166 in 2021.

    The total water enterprise expenditures were expected to be $5,725,406 for 2020 and by the end of the year were actually $5,033,192.

    The water enterprise budgetary fund balance for the beginning of 2020 was $6,285,577 and the budgetary fund balance for the end of 2020 was $7,497,054.

    In regard to its wastewater enterprise fund, PAWSD budgeted for $918,856 in total wastewater collection in 2020, but ended up receiving $694,034 by the end of 2020. It projects to make $839,393 in wastewater collection for 2021.

    It budgeted $802,080 in total wastewater treatment for 2020, but actually spent $763,109 for the year. In 2021, PAWSD expects to spend $953,140 in this area.

    Total wastewater enterprise expenditures for 2020 were expected to be $2,636,374, but ended up being $2,324,183. It projects that expenditures for the waste- water enterprise in 2021 will be $2,874,099.

    The budgetary fund balance for PAWSD’s wastewater enterprise at the beginning of 2020 was $3,110,691 and by the end of 2020 it was $3,461,858.

    #NavajoNation, #NewMexico reach settlements over #GoldKingMine spill — The #Colorado Sun

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million

    The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…

    The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…

    The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…

    The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…

    In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.

    In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.

    From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

    Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.

    Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

  • The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
  • In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
  • Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
  • In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
  • After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
  • Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
  • It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.

    For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    [Pagosa Springs] area #snowpack levels down from last year (January 10, 2020) — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 10, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    Local basins have seen an 11.11 percent decrease in snowpack totals over the last week, with the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins sitting at 72 percent of median this week, compared to 81 percent of median last week.

    According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), that site was at 117 percent of median this time last year.

    A 9 percent decrease was reported for the Wolf Creek summit, with totals going from 111 percent of median to 101 percent of median this week…

    Other snowpack reports

    The Upper Rio Grande Basin has a snowpack total of 102 percent of median this week. Last year at this time it was 116 percent of median.

    At the Arkansas River Basin, totals were 119 percent of median this time last year and are 100 per- cent of median this week.

    At the Yampa and White River basins, snowpack totals went from 117 percent of median this time last year to 82 percent of median this week.

    The Laramie and North Platte River basins were 112 percent of median this time last year, whereas they are 82 percent of median this week.

    The South Platte River Basin’s snowpack total is also 82 percent of median this week. Last year it was 122 percent of median.

    Snowpack totals at the Upper Colorado River Basin were 107 percent of median this time last year. This week they are 76 percent of median.

    The Gunnison River Basin was 105 percent of median last year. This week, it is 73 percent of median…

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing below the average rate at 43.5 cfs as of Wednesday at 2 p.m.

    Based on 85 years of water records, the average flow rate for Jan. 6 is 59 cfs.

    The San Juan River had the lowest flow total for Jan. 4 in 1990. The lowest flow total from that year for Jan. 4 was recorded at 24 cfs.

    The highest flow total for that date came in 1987, when the San Juan River had a flow of 116 cfs.