Community groups react to San Juan Generating Station closure and transition issues — Western Resource Advocates #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Click the link to read the release on the Western Resource Advocates website (James Quirk):

In 2017, majority owner and operator Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) announced that the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station was too expensive to operate and that the last two of the plant’s four units would be retired in 2022, rather than operating until 2053. On-the-ground communities and advocates had long since called attention to the plant’s expense as well as its damage to health, air and our climate.

In 2019, New Mexico passed the Energy Transition Act (ETA) to build on PNM and Tucson Electric’s closure decisions by enabling use of low-interest bonds to save customers money and provide economic transition benefits to plant and mine workers and the community. About $40 million in funding through the Energy Transition Act has been or will be disbursed to plant and mine workers and the impacted community. Four Corners residents encouraged state agencies to act urgently to use the $20 million earmarked for community funding to invest in local, sustainable projects that move the region forward.

As PNM and the other owners retire the plant (which was shuttered sometime early this morning, when the coal stockpile ran out), community organizations issued the following statements:

“The plant closure has significant positive and negative implications. One positive impact is the anticipated release of ETA funds to help secure the self-sustenance of communities that were impacted by the plant,” said Duane “Chili” Yazzie of ToohBAA, a Shiprock Farmers Cooperative. “Our farmers group in Shiprock applied for the funds in the hope that it will help address one of the great needs that our farmers have, with the provision of skilled labor. With the funds, we expect to acquire equipment operators, diesel mechanics, planners and administrators who will help organize our farming activity to optimize our agricultural potential. We look forward to an expedited release of those funds.”

Community organizations also focused on the need to properly reclaim, decommission and clean up the plant, rather than allowing it to continue to pollute under Enchant, which has failed to obtain the permits, buyers or funding to operate with carbon capture, a technology that has failed in every commercial coal plant where it has been tried. At its peak, San Juan Generating Station used more water than the entire city of Santa Fe. Some of the water rights from the plant have now been allocated to run in the San Juan River.

“We now have an opportunity to protect and manage water sources in the Four Corners region,” said Jessica Keetso of Tó Nizhóni Aní, Navajo Nation. “A transition to solar, wind, renewable, clean-energy investments helps eliminate the waste and misuse of water. Precious water sources have been used to feed giant power plants all over the Four Corners region for over half a century. These water sources are limited and have been compromised in many regions. It’s time to make sure that transition and cleanup happen in an organized and speedy manner, and that ETA investments bring an opportunity for coal-impacted communities to drive economic diversification.”

“As Four Corners residents, we want to see the negotiated replacement power, solar and energy storage, and we want the ETA implementation money to go to the impacted coal workers and communities,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Enchant Energy has been disingenuous and unaccountable on the progress of their project, which joins a long list of failed carbon-capture and sequestration projects funded through the Department of Energy. City of Farmington has expended nearly $2 million in legal fees supporting Enchant’s failed project with timelines now extending to 2027.  We’re looking at the immediate need for past and current owners to carry out their decommissioning and reclamation responsibilities within 90 days of SJGS and San Juan Mine closure.”

“Today marks a pivotal moment in our Four Corners region with the decline of fossil-fuel production.  We regard this moment as a transformation for the environment in less CO2, methane, NOx, VOCs, coal ash, and other toxic pollutants. We welcome a return of cleaner air and water for the health of tribal communities and climate,” said Ahtza Chavez, Executive Director of Naeva.

“Abandonment and remediation will be difficult. Over 50 years of damage was done to the environment,” said Norman Norvelle, former San Juan Generating Station plant chemist and Farmington resident. “From releasing plant wastewater effluent into the Shumway arroyo, to air pollutants and mercury into the San Juan River watershed and the fish of quality waters. Also, plant solid and liquid waste disposal into unlined surface mine pits. Even after the plant is shut down there will be need for extensive cleanup and monitoring to verify cleanup of the contaminants. Sampling and monitoring should be done by 3 or 4 different organizations to assure completeness and honesty.”

“If not done adequately, the San Juan Generating Station chemical contaminants will go into the San Juan River near the Hogback. All of the contaminants from the plant plus the biological contaminants from San Juan County, such as fecal bacteria, will flow into the San Juan River Basin onto the Navajo Reservation to Lake Powell,” Norvelle said.

“The San Juan Generating Station has been a source of jobs and revenues in Four Corners for more than half a century, but it can no longer be operated in a manner that is fiscally and environmentally responsible,” said Cydney Beadles, Managing Senior Staff Attorney of Western Resource Advocates’ Clean Energy Program. “The Energy Transition Act helps mitigate the impacts on local workers and communities and ensures that ratepayers get the cost savings that come from shutting down an inefficient coal plant, and the Public Regulation Commission issued an order requiring bill credits upon abandonment. Unfortunately, those credits have been temporarily suspended by the state Supreme Court at PNM’s request, but we remain hopeful that the court will soon lift that stay.”

“The solar and storage replacement power approved in 2020 will provide $1 billion in investment in the communities most impacted by San Juan,” added Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director. “With pandemic supply-chain and other delays, it is incumbent upon PNM to work with developers of the solar and storage replacement power to overcome these obstacles and get those projects online as soon as possible. Analyses showed that the San Juan Solar project, to be sited in the same school district, will replace 100% of the property-tax base of San Juan.”

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District hires independent consultant to look at water plant cost — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike)

At its [September 8, 2022] meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) discussed a proposal from Canterbury Construction Management Services for an independent cost assessment for the planned Snowball water treatment plant expansion. PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey opened the discussion by mentioning that, at the last PAWSD meeting on Aug. 18, the district had received a cost estimate from PCL Construction, the construction manager at risk for the plant, placing the cost at approximately $38 million, while the initial engineering estimate by SGM Engineering had placed the cost at approximately $25 million. Ramsey explained that the Canterbury proposal would include an analysis of whether the costs suggested by PCL are accurate and would cost $36,200…

Ramsey commented that building a smaller, expandable plant would be viable and could be included in the Canterbury assessment…The board then unanimously approved contracting with Canterbury to perform the cost assessment and examine the possibility of an expandable plant.

The water treatment process

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District discusses extension of Dry Gulch lease — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

At its [September 8, 2022] meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors dis- cussed a potential lease extension for Weber Sand and Gravel Inc. on Running Iron Ranch, the site of the Dry Gulch reservoir.

In the Aug. 25 letter proposing the renegotiate or extend the lease at the extension, addressed to both PAWSD board chair Jim Smith and San Juan Water Conservancy District president Al Pfister. Andy and Kathy Weber propose that the lease be extended for one year at a cost of $48,137.78 with the potential to renegotiate or extend the lease at the end of the year.

Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons


Pick your #ColoradoRiver metaphor — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification

On a day in late May [2022] when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

The river is in deep doo-doo, and worse may very well come. So why such a sluggish reaction?

On a day in late May when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It was my first visit.

Turning off the paved highway, I drove about 10 miles around the toe of Sleeping Ute Mountain, past a few irrigation ditches, one carrying water, and a lot of fields and center-pivot sprinklers. I knew the runoff the San Juan Mountains, the source of water for the 7,700-acre farming operations by the Utes, was bad. I didn’t realize just how bad it was.

Unlike many tribal rights in the Colorado River Basin, the water rights of the two Ute tribes in Colorado were negotiated in 1986. The agreement resulted in delivery of water to Towaoc, where I ate at the casino restaurant twice on that trip. Before, potable water had to be trucked in.

Mike Preston, filling in for a Ute leader at the Colorado Water Center conference this week, remembers a time before that delivery of water. “There were stock tanks sitting in people’s yards, and a water truck would back up and fill those tanks, and people would go out with buckets to get their potable water.”

The Utes got other infrastructure, too, including water from the Dolores River stored in the new McPhee Reservoir that allows the Utes to create a profitable farm enterprise. But to get the use of McPhee water, the Utes conceded the seniority of their water rights. It worked well for a lot of years, but now in a warmer, drier climate, it leaves the Utes in a hard, dry place: They got 10% of their full allocation in 2021 and 40% this year.

They have been forced to adapt. Instead of planting alfalfa, they planted corn and other crops that use less water and can be fed to cattle. They culled cattle from their herd of 650. The tribe – as are others in Colorado – is exploring the viability of kernza, a new perennial grain created at The Land Institute in Kansas.

Still, some adaptation is impossible. The agricultural enterprise has laid off about half of its employees. And last year, despite securing all available government grants created to allow farmers to make it through hard times, the operation lost $2 million.

On a day in late May when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Listening to that story related by Preston in a video feed to the conference on the campus of Colorado State University, I wondered whether this was a metaphor for what faces the 40 million people who, in one way or another, depend upon water from the Colorado River.

During this same conference, “Living with the Colorado River Compact: Past, Present and Future,” I heard allusions to hospital emergency wards and over-drafted bank accounts. The latter came from Jim Lochhead, who had several decades of Colorado River experience before arriving at Denver Water as chief executive in 2010.

“No wonder Lakes Powell and Mead are in the condition that they are in today,” he said after accounting the over-drafting of the two big reservoirs, now down to 24% and 26% of storage respectively. “The bank account has been drawn down,” he said, “and we’re looking at a zero balance with no line of credit.”

By now, the 21st century story of the Colorado River has become familiar in its broadest outlines, part of the national narrative of despair. The pivoting reality came on hard in 2002, when the Colorado River carried just 4.5 million acre-feet of water.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

To put that into perspective, as Eric Kuhn, co-author of “Science Be Dammed,” did at this conference, those who framed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 assumed 20.5 million acre-feet as they went about apportioning the river’s flows. In the 21st century, the river has averaged 13 million acre-feet.

Alarm has been sounded but…

Now, scientists are warning that river managers should plan for no more than 11 million acre-feet, a reflection of the new hotter, and in some places, drier climate. Some think that figure is overly optimistic.

The seven basin states – particularly the thirsty states of California and Arizona – have cinched their belts with various agreements. But they have not responded in ways proportionate to the risk they now face. There is a very real danger of the reservoirs dropping to just puddles of dead pool, too little to be released downstream. Imagine the Grand Canyon without water. Imagine no water below Hoover Dam. Do these images leave you dumbstruck?

A public official on the Western Slope recently confided to me that he and others had grown weary of what they called “drought, dust and dystopia” stories. That troubled me, leaving me to wonder how my own stories are being received.

At the conference this week on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, I heard something of the same self-doubt.

“With all due respect to my fellow panelists, I live in an area where some of the topics that are mentioned, we’re not uniformly and broadly received,” said Perry Cabot, the lead researcher at Colorado’s State University’s Western Colorado Research Center near Grand Junction. “I think as researchers, we tend to believe that just more educating is going to change the dynamics of the narrative.”

Other panelists agreed with Cabot’s observation that new narratives, not just information, would better convey the gravity of the situation.

“I think the scientific community has gotten its head handed to itself,” said Brad Udall, who has dome some of the pioneering research that shows that “aridification” – as much or more than drought itself – is driving the reduced flows. Drought ends, but aridification resulting from atmospheric greenhouse gases? Not any time soon.

That has gone against the grain of water managers. A decade ago, there was still skepticism about climate change, and water always has been variable. Surely, good winters would return in the mountains of Colorado and other upper basin states that produce 90% of the river’s flows. Colorado alone is responsible for 60%.

After all, every batter goes through slumps, every best-selling author can tell of rejection slips.

By now, however, a clear trend has become evident. Even in good snow years, the runoff lags.

Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, described various outcomes of a river with continued declines in flows. Photo/Allen Best

At the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction, Brendon Langenhuizen offered no hope for refilling the glass that is now far less than half-full in the coming year. It will be the third La Nina in a row, he pointed out, likely producing above-average temperatures and hence below-average precipitation.

Even so-so precipitation has been coming up as something worse. For example, the snowpack in the Gunnison River watershed last year was 87% of average, but the runoff was only 64%.

Dry soils have sopped up moisture, and then there is the heat. The last year has been among the six warmest in the last century in Colorado, said Langenhuizen, a water resources engineer for the River District. Summer rains the last two years have helped. Still, the reservoir levels drop, the seven basin states so far unable to apportion demand to match supply. After all, there’s money in the bank, and for probably a year more, enough water in the reservoirs to generate electricity.

At water meetings, an element of collegiality has remained, at least until recently. Testiness has crept in, an element of what Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, calls finger-pointing.

Colorado water officials, Mueller included, are doing some of that themselves.

They point out that Colorado and the other upper-basin states get nicked for 1.2 million acre-feet in evaporative losses in their delivery of water to Lake Mead, outside of Las Vegas. California, Arizona, and Nevada do not. “It’s like running two sets of books,” said Mueller.

Mueller was negotiating with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the day of the conference in Fort Collins. His stand-in, Dave Kanzer, explained that the Law of the River —the Colorado River Compact and other agreements – don’t necessarily apply anymore. It is “based on long-term stable water supply, and we no longer have that,” he said.

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. Members of the Colorado River Commission stood together at the signing of the Colorado River Compact on November 24, 1922. The signing took place at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover presiding (seated). (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Renegotiate the compact?

The Colorado River Compact assumed too much water and also used precise numbers when ratios would have been better, Mueller has observed. Instead, those who gathered in Santa Fe in November 1922 apportioned

7.5 million acre-feet to each of the two basins, upper and lower. In practice, the lower-basin states have been using twice as much water as Colorado and other upper-basin states.

Colorado’s average annual consumption from the Colorado River and its tributaries is 2.5 million acre-feet. In terms of the compact, what mattes entirely is when the diversion began, before or after the compact.

About 1.6 million-acre feet- mostly older agriculture rights – are pre-compact, but 900,000 acre-feet came later. This includes water for Western Slopes cities and the nearly all of the 500,000 acre-feet diverted across the Continental Divide to cities along the Front Range and farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys. This water is most imperiled.

Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, said he does not believe it’s practical to attempt to amend or renegotiate the Colorado River Compact.

“But within a few years, maybe after we have figured out how to get out of the current crisis, we’re going to essentially ignore all of the provisions of the compact except perhaps article one, which defines the purpose and the signatures page.”

Lochhead has much the same opinion about the much-disputed element of the compact about the obligations of Colorado and other upper basin states to deliver water. It really won’t matter, he said. The real problem is that the basin states need to align demand with supply that, during the last few years, has been close to 11 million acre-feet. (Keep in mind, the compact assumed more than 20 million acre-feet).

“We’re literally in a situation of triage,” said Lochhead. “Something needs to be done in the very near term to lay a foundation for actions that can be taken in the medium and longer term to manage the river to a sustainable condition.”

The feds need to step up

Lochhead outlined three possibly overlapping alternatives.

First: involuntary regulations and restrictions. The federal government – although it has been using it with restraint – does indeed have authority to regulate use of water that enters into Mead. The U.S. Supreme Court has characterized its power as such. The Bureau of Reclamation must be seen as delivering a coherent threat.

“That gives the U.S. government enormous authority over what happens in the lower basin,” Lochhead said. This is unlikely to happen until after the November election, he said, but it absolutely must happen.

Voluntary agreements must also occur. The Bureau of Reclamation imposed an August 2022 deadline for agreements. If the deadline had been a hard one, the states would have failed. Lochhead said it came down to finger pointing. Arizona and California “stared across the river at each other, seeing who’s going to blink first.”

The federal government has now put $4 billion on the table – through the Inflation Reduction Act —to “grease” the skids in terms of voluntary agreements. (Think, perhaps voluntary retirement of water rights). “They’re going to have to buy down demands in the lower basin,” said Lochhead, conjecturing on deals involving the Imperial Irrigation District, the giant ag producer just north of the border with Mexico.

We will need to sort through what grasses we want and can afford, both in residential settings and in pubic areas, such as Colorado Mesa University, above. That will extend to grasses grown to feed livestock. Top, the Colorado River at Silt, Colo. on Sept. 17. Photo/Allen Best

Lochhead also described the need for reductions in water use in the municipal sectors. Denver Water and several other water agencies in Colorado – but also in Nevada and California and Arizona—announced an agreement in August in which they will try to pare their consumption. For example, Denver wants to end irrigation of medians along roads and highways and crimp the amount of water used for turf. But Denver and other cities need to continue to have trees, said Lochhead.

More cities will join this pact to reduce water use for residential consumption in coming weeks and months, Lochhead said.

But he said Colorado may need state legislation to ensure that real-estate developers can’t create landscaping in the future that requires lots of water, offsetting these gains.

That brings me back to the Ute Mountain Ute lands that I visited in May. By virtue of their 1986 agreement, reality has smacked them hard. There is pain, but there is also adjustment. They have had to adjust.

Something of the same thing must occur in the broader Colorado River Basin. So far, it’s easier to postpone action. But another so-so year – or worse? While the states are trying to make the cuts necessary for  a river that is delivering 12 million acre-feet per year, Mueller warns that the plans must contemplate a 9 million acre-foot river, as some scientists have said may come to pass.

But in Grand Junction, one of the scientists pointed out to me that it’s just possible the river may deliver 7 million acre-feet – and that could be next year and the year after.

Then, we may need a new metaphor, something worse than an empty bank account.

Reclamation awards $73 million construction contract for continued progress on the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project’s San Juan Lateral

What the Tsé Da’azkání Pumping Plant and Tó Ałts’íísí Pumping Plant will look like during construction. Credit: USBR

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

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced the award of a $73,056,845 contract to Archer Western Construction of Phoenix, Arizona, to convey reliable drinking water to Navajo communities and the city of Gallup in northwest New Mexico. This award marks significant progress toward the completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

These areas currently rely on a rapidly depleting groundwater supply of poor quality to meet the demands of more than 43 Navajo chapters, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, and the city of Gallup. The NGWSP consists of two main pipeline systems: the San Juan Lateral and the Cutter Lateral. This contract award is for the Tsé Da’azkání Pumping Plant and Tó Ałts’íísí Pumping Plant on the San Juan Lateral. These drinking water pumping plants are two of 13 water transmission pumping plants on the San Juan Lateral.

“This is a significant milestone for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and illustrates the Department of the Interior’s commitment to Tribal and rural communities,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “We are excited to leverage the resources in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make further investments that ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in Tribal communities.”

Both plants will be located in the Navajo Sanostee Chapter in New Mexico’s San Juan County and will operate in concert with the other pumping plants on the San Juan Lateral, pumping San Juan River water that has been treated to Safe Drinking Water Act requirements at the San Juan Lateral Water Treatment Plant to the north and delivering to downstream communities to the south. Each plant will have four equally sized pump and motor units with a combined capacity of approximately 51.5 cubic feet per second, or 23,100 gallons per minute. Work under this contract will begin this fall with groundbreaking in early 2023 and completion expected by the fall of 2025.

“Reclamation is pleased to begin construction on the Tsé Da’azkání and Tó Ałts’íísí pumping plants,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “With the Cutter Lateral delivering water to Navajo homes and construction of the San Juan Lateral now more than 50% finished, this construction contract continues our progress toward meeting the United States’ obligation to the Navajo Nation under the nation’s water rights settlement agreement on the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico, where over a third of households still haul drinking water to their homes. That importance has been underscored by our pandemic experience. A good water supply is essential to public health and safety.”

The Tsé Da’azkání and Tó Ałts’íísí pumping plants will further the progress of the NGWSP. When the full project is completed, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks. Construction on the Cutter Lateral is complete and water deliveries are currently being made to eight Navajo communities and soon to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, serving 6,000 people or 1,500 households.

This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, the Navajo Nation and other project partners constructing the NGWSP to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.

Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project

Navajo Dam operations update (September 22, 2022): Bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today 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 (PAWSD) Board of Directors and the #Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors joint work session recap — The Pagosa Springs Sun

Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

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

Pagosa Springs Town Manager Andrea Phillips began the meeting by providing an update on the pumps the PSSGID recently purchased for the pipeline running from downtown to the PAWSD Vista wastewater treatment plant. She added that the project has experienced additional costs since its installation in 2015, including spending on odor-control devices, an underground storage vault to store overflow waste and the new pumps, which had cost PSSGID approximately $800,000. Utilities Supervisor Lucian Brewster also provided an update on the pumps, indicating that the system has been fully switched over to the new pumps and the pumps have been running well.

Phillips added that she anticipates that the PSSGID will have to perform an additional $500,000 in pretreatment screening upgrades to ensure the new pumps continue to perform effectively throughout their lifetimes. She also stated that the PSSGID is working on an emergency liner for one of the previously used lagoons by Yamaguchi Park to provide additional wastewater storage, an addition that would likely cost another $100,000…

PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey then gave an update on PAWSD’s efforts to acquire a delay on a state-mandated upgrade to the Vista wastewater plant that was originally mandated to be completed by 2025 and would cost approximately $20 million. He indicated that PAWSD is hop- ing to get the deadline for the implementation of certain nutrient- filtering upgrades delayed to at least 2027, although the delay had already been requested and rejected once by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)…

The group then moved on to discuss the possibility of construct- ing a joint sewer plant for the PSS- GID and PAWSD, which Ramsey suggested could be a solution to PAWSD’s difficulties in upgrading the Vista plant.

Navajo Dam operations update (September 14, 2022): Turning down to 850 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a cooler weather pattern and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs for tomorrow, September 14th, 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.  This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.

San Juan Water Conservancy (#NM) official says status of local watersheds is better than other areas of Southwest — The Farmington Daily-Times #CRWUA2022

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

Click the link to read the article on the Farmington Daily-News webisite (Mike Easterling). Here’s an excerpt:

A presentation for San Juan County commissioners on the status of local watersheds on Sept. 6 illustrated that while the Four Corners region remains locked in the grip of a long-running drought, it is in relatively good condition compared to other parts of the Southwest. The 14-minute presentation delivered by Aaron Chavez, executive director of the San Juan Water Commission, was designed to bring commissioners up to speed on the health of the county’s two main watersheds, those associated with the Animas and San Juan rivers.

New Mexico Drought Monitor map September 6, 2022.

But Chavez, who is beginning a two-year term as president of the Colorado River Water Users Association, also devoted a significant amount of attention to the status of that watershed, which serves as a crucial water supplier to tens of millions of residents of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico…Chavez began his presentation by noting that while last winter’s snowpack in southwest Colorado was close to normal, it did not yield the kind of runoff one might have expected because the soil moisture content in the region was down substantially after years of substandard precipitation…

Nevertheless, most of the indicators Chavez examined this year were an improvement over the recent past, he said, as he noted the Four Corners area has had a good monsoon season this year that has helped make up for the relatively poor spring runoff. Most river basins in the area, he said, are at 90% to 100% of average…

According to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited by Chavez, Navajo Lake was 55% full as of Aug. 24 — a level that was roughly equal to other local reservoirs, as Vallecito Lake northeast of Durango, Colorado, was at 49% and McPhee Reservoir north of Cortez, Colorado, was at 53%. The good news was that Lake Nighthorse west of Durango was listed at 99% full…But those figures stood in sharp contrast to the Southwest’s two mammoth reservoirs fed by the Colorado River. Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona was only 26% full, while Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona was at only 28% of capacity.

Pump replacement for town’s sanitation district remains a success, staff ‘cautiously optimistic’ — The #PagosaSprings Sun

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

At its Sept. 6 meeting, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors heard an update about the district’s major pump replacement project that relayed that the pumps are, so far, a success. The project, which began during the last week of June, was meant to address a history of broken parts and inefficiencies within the system. At this point, the new pumps are achieving flows “near to what is desired,” the agenda brief explains. However, the project has come with costs, with a total cost to date of $780,000, according to the brief. Town Manager Andrea Phillips explained that the project “may be slightly over budget” due to having to order some additional parts and retrofits.

However, the town will seek reimbursement from a $400,000 grant from the state, Phillips explained…

Some of these improvements include additional pretreatment that “may be needed in order to ensure that the longevity of the pumps continue,” such as a grit removal system or moving to an automated bar screen, Phillips explained.

Wastewater Treatment Process

Navajo Dam operations update (September 8, 2022): Bumping up to 850 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a hot dry weather pattern and continued decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs for tomorrow, September 8th, 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.  This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.

Facing ‘dead pool’ risk, #California braces for painful #water cuts from #ColoradoRiver — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification #LakeMead #LakePowell

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1449828004230664195

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Click through for the photo gallery, here’s an excerpt:

Managers of districts that rely on the Colorado River have been talking about how much water they may forgo. So far, they haven’t publicly revealed how much they may commit to shore up the declining levels of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir.But state and local water officials say there is widespread agreement on the need to reduce water use next year to address the shortfall. Without major reductions, the latest federal projections show growing risks of Lake Mead and Lake Powell approaching “dead pool” levels, where water would no longer pass downstream through the dams. Though the states haven’t agreed on how to meet federal officials’ goal of drastically reducing the annual water take by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, the looming risks of near-empty reservoirs are prompting more talks among those who lead water agencies…

Though [Tanya] Trujillo and [Camille] Touton have stressed their interest in collaborating on solutions, they have also laid out plans that could bring additional federal leverage to bear. Their plan to reexamine and possibly redefine what constitutes “beneficial use” of water in the three Lower Basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — could open an avenue to a critical look at how water is used in farming areas and cities. How the government might wield that authority, or tighten requirements on water use, hasn’t been spelled out. The prospect of some type of federal intervention, though, has become one more factor pushing the states to deliver plans to take less from the river…

Because most water rights fall under state law, developing a new definition of “beneficial” would be complicated and could lead to lawsuits, Larson said. What might qualify as “waste” would also be hard to pin down, he said, because “one person’s waste is another person’s job.”

[…]

Arizona and Nevada are calling for a look at “wasteful” water use as a way of prodding large California agencies like the Imperial Irrigation District to agree to substantial cutbacks, [Rhett] Larson said. It’s an indirect way, he said, for the two states to send a message that “California, your agriculture needs to be more efficient.”

#Durango to explore pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Terminal Reservoir — The Durango Herald #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click the link to read the article on the Durango Herald website (Christian Burney). Here’s an excerpt:

The proposed solution is a new water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Durango’s Terminal Reservoir, on College Mesa, which stores water short term until it is pumped into the city’s treatment facility and made ready for use. The pipeline would allow the city to access its share of water at Lake Nighthorse in the event its access to the Florida or Animas rivers is compromised or those waters become unavailable or unsafe for use.

City Council approved an allocation of $500,000 to the city’s water fund for a feasibility study and a preliminary design report. Justin Elkins, Durango utilities manager, said on Thursday he hopes the study will be completed by the end of the year. He said the feasibility study is intended to determine if a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Terminal Reservoir can be installed and, assuming it can be, what materials would be used and the size of the pipe; where it would be installed; any land-use or zoning obstacles; and how much the project would cost. The study will also examine if Durango is using its water in the most efficient way or if it will need to adapt in the future, he said…

“From the two watersheds that we draw from – the Animas and the Florida watersheds – we do have statistically significant reduction over the past 20 water years in precipitation, in total runoff, in the watershed’s ability to convert runoff,” he said.

[Allison] Baker said at the City Council meeting August 2, 2022 that the downward trend started in 1980. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Personally, what I look at more than the trends … is that there is a lot of extreme years where we are extremely high or extremely low (in precipitation),” she said.

Flows in #SanJuanRiver remain above median — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Stream flow for the San Juan River on Aug. 31 at approximately 9 a.m. was 162 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 195 cfs at 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 30.

The NIDIS also indicates that the levels of drought in the county have declined significantly from July and early August, with only 36.2 percent of the county being affected by drought, down 64 percent from last month, although there has been no change since last week.

Navajo Dam operations update (September 2, 2022): Bumping up to 750 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. 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 a warmer drier weather pattern and continued decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 750 cfs for tomorrow, September 2nd , 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.  This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.

#Colorado landowner’s takings claim against EPA advances after judge denies motion to dismiss — The Ark Valley Voice #AnimasRiver #GoldKingMine

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]

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

On Tuesday, August 30, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision from the bench in favor of New Civil Liberties Alliance’s (NCLA) client and denying a motion to dismiss in Todd Hennis v. The United States of America.

“Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015, said New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) Litigation Counsel Kara Rollins. “We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him—and took from him.”

Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He took this step after years of waiting for action. On August 5, 2015, EPA destroyed the portal to the Gold King Mine, located in Silverton, Colorado. Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. According to Hennis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Hennis’s downstream property. Ever since, he has been trying to recover damages.  This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial…

[The EPA] eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions, but it apparently ignored Hennis’s explicit instructions on how to protect the land and the scope of the access that he granted. Instead, the EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land, without permission, compensation, or even following a procedure to appropriate his property for public use. After seven years, Hennis says the U.S. Government has been “squatted on his lands”, and he wants financial compensation. Hennis says he didn’t voluntarily give EPA permission to construct and operate a water treatment facility on his property. It was built without his knowledge or consent, and it later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with exorbitant fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights. When Hennis  refused to sign an access document, the EPA preceded to occupy his property by operation of the agency’s own administrative order—and threatening him with fines if he challenges it.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Navajo Dam operations update (September 1, 2022): Bumping up to 650 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a warmer drier weather pattern and 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 650 cfs for tomorrow, September 1st , 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.  

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

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation PAWSD board meeting recap — 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

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

Water demand study

In other news, the board discussed the water demand study recently conducted by Wilson Water Group on behalf of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and raised concerns about its accuracy. In particular, board members questioned its emphasis on recreational water needs; its findings concerning potential population growth in the area, which several board members suggested were too high; and its methods for estimating water demand, which board members suggested exaggerate potential water demand in the area by projecting that relatively fixed sources of water use, such as the golf course or water leaks in the PAWSD system, would increase with population growth. Hudson, who brought the matter to the board’s attention, suggested that he could create a summary of the concerns raised about the study and submit it to the SJWCD, which is currently requesting public comment on the water study.

However, after discussion of how this would be accomplished before the SJWCD public comment period ends on Aug. 30, the board instead decided to individually submit concerns and comments about the study to the SJWCD.

2022 Navajo Unit meeting summary and slides #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

Please see the links below for the August 23rd, 2022 Navajo Unit Meeting Summary and Slides. The next meeting is scheduled for January 17th, 2023 at 1:00 PM and is currently planned as an in-person meeting with a virtual/phone option, though stay tuned for changes.  Details will follow. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

August 23rd, 2022 Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting Summary

August 23rd, 2022  Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting Presentation Slides

See all archived meeting materials on our website here: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/mtgs/nmcurrnt.html

San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016 headwaters of the San Juan and Rio Grande rivers. Photo credit: Allen Best

High precipitation reported in July, #drought level decreases — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 16, 2022.

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

July was the fifth wettest July in the past 128 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), with 3.05 inches more precipitation than average. 2022 to date is the 55th wettest year in the past 128 years according to the NIDIS, with 0.1 inches more precipitation than average.

The NIDIS also indicates that the levels of drought in the county have declined significantly from July and early August, with 36.2 percent of the county being affected by drought, down 1 percent from last week and 64 percent from last month.

River report

Stream flow for the San Juan River on Aug. 17 at approximately noon was 134 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 168 cfs at 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 16. These numbers are down from last week’s reading of 237 cfs at noon on Aug. 10.

Protected pastures: New tax incentives boost interest to #conserve private lands — The #Durango Telegraph

Ancient juniper at Weaselskin, La Plata County. Photo credit: KeepItColorado.org

Click the link to read the article on the Durango Telegraph website (Jonathan Romeo):

A year after being passed, a new state law that increases the financial benefits of conservation easements has reinvigorated efforts, at unprecedented rates, of people who want to protect their land from development.

In Colorado, a conservation easement is a voluntary agreement with a property owner in which the owner agrees to limit development on the land for the preservation of scenic views, wildlife habitat and watersheds, among other values that benefit the public. While an agreement to limit development can devalue the full potential of a property, in return, the property receives a tax advantage. One such recent success story is a property known as “Weaselskin,” south of Durango on Florida Mesa, just off Highway 550. For years, the property owner, Jennifer Thurston, tried to get the land placed under a conservation easement, but the 50% tax credit just didn’t make the deal financially feasible. But the passage of HB 1233 pushed the project over the finish line. Now, 180 acres of farmland and piñon-juniper forest, an area critical for wildlife and home to untold numbers of Native American ruins, is protected under a conservation easement. And, the move is just the first of a multi-phase project to protect the larger Weaselskin property.

“We could have quit or stopped,” Thurston said. “But I said, ‘I will do this.’ Hopefully, we’ll serve as a model to show other property owners conservation easements can happen and not feel like you’re giving away the value of the land in the process.”

A vital role

In the late 1990s, Colorado started offering conservation easements, recognizing private lands play a vital role in the protection of open space and ecologically important areas, and to promote the heritage of Colorado’s rural landscape. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that it became more popular as an option for preservation…Conservation easements, too, can take many forms. In 2016, the James Ranch family placed the bulk of its 420-acre property in the Animas Valley into a conservation easement to ensure the property continues to provide local meat and produce. In 2021, more than 700 acres northeast of Durango were conserved, mainly to protect the city of Durango’s water supply. And most recently, a Native American ruin site called Haynie, northeast of Cortez, received the designation. But the one common (and required) theme to properties that qualify for a conservation easement: they must have some public benefit quality…

But it’s not just the tax credit that’s persuading them. More than ever, landowners are feeling a sense of urgency to protect open space amid the influx of people moving to Colorado and extreme development pressures in the wake of the pandemic. James Reimann, conservation director for Montezuma Land Conservancy, which covers Dolores, Montezuma and western San Miguel counties, said he’s received six calls in just the past two weeks…Much like in La Plata County, [James] Reimann said landowners in his region want to protect their farms or ranches from development. Some hope to pass the land onto their children or the next generation. Others simply want to conserve the landscape for views or wildlife habitat.

Navajo Dam operations update (August 19, 2022): Releases bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for tomorrow, August 19th, 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.

Navajo Dam spillway via Reclamation.

The San Juan Water Conservancy District presents #SanJuanRiver #water supply and demand analysis to public — The #PagosaSprings Sun

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

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

The study’s first task was to identify municipal demand, and in doing so, the analysis provided population projection ranges for Archuleta County. Using a variety of sources, the ranges project that, in 2050, the population could be at 16,623 (low), 21,652 (medium) or 24,979 (high). In 2050, these ranges put municipal water demand at 4,208 acre-feet (low), 5,481 acre-feet (medium) or 6,323 acre-feet, calculated using a constant of 226 gallons per capita per day, which reflects the current demand.

[Wilson Water Group] also calculated demand needs in agriculture, environmental and recreation, using a variety of sources and data. Cumulatively, all of these demands (including municipal needs) were used to calculate different shortage scenarios and, ultimately, explore solutions for meeting these potential shortages. This included calculating potential reservoir sizes, which was met with contention at the event. The limiting factors in reservoir sizing are the legally and physically available water to fill the reservoir, the 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) filling constraint, and the demands driving reservoir releases, the analysis explains. The 50 cfs limit is based on the Dry Gulch Reservoir water right, and that the Dry Gulch environmental flow stipulations had to be met when the reservoir was filling, [Erin] Wilson explained…The recommendations for the reservoir size were 1,600 acre- feet to meet low demand and 10,000 acre-feet to meet mid-range demand. Wilson clarified these calculations are usable volume numbers, not the total volume of the reservoir…

Other highlights of the report include:

• Municipal water demands could more than double if the pace of population growth in Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s area continues at current rates.

• Under historical climate conditions, agricultural demands are not expected to increase and may actually decrease due to urbanization.

• The two largest concerns affecting current and future water uses are earlier runoff and the potential for a catastrophic fire. Having storage to help capture earlier runoff could continue to be important in the future, and additional storage could provide redundancy and help mitigate the effects of a fire.

• Other alternatives, including stream restoration, fallowing and forest health, have the potential to improve streamflow and the SJWCD should continue to monitor on-going projects to see how the results could be applicable in the Upper San Juan Basin.

The public comment period is open until Aug. 31. Comments can be sent to comment.sjwcd@ gmail.com.

Navajo Dam operations update (August 13, 2022): Bumping up releases to 650 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The forecast for low flows on the San Juan River continues and actual looks a little worse today. Therefore, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs for August 13th 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.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 450 cfs August 12, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

SAN JUAN RIVER The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

In response to the forecast for low flows on the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for August 12th 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.

High precipitation totals reported in Archuleta County — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #monsoon2022

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

This week, according to the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) website, Station CO-AU-33, located on Cactus Drive in Aspen Springs west of Pagosa Springs, experienced the third highest rain total in Colorado of 3.46 inches for the period between July 27 and Aug. 3. CoCoRaHS also indicates that, for the period between July 20 and Aug. 3, sites in Archuleta County received between 2.85 and 4.20 inches of rain. Higher precipitation totals were concentrated in and to the north and west of Pagosa Springs, with the highest total being reported near Hidden Valley Lake up Four- mile Road north of Pagosa Springs…

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on Aug. 3 at approximately 12 p.m. was 611 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 1,020 cfs at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 2. These numbers are down from a recent peak flow of 1,470 cfs at 4:15 a.m. on July 29. However, flows are up from last week’s reading of 134 cfs at noon on July 27.

Colorado Drought map Monitor August 2, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought In- formation System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. The NIDIS places the entire county in a moderate drought…The NIDIS also places 46 percent of the county, primarily the southern and western portions, in a severe drought.

A real gold mine: Multimillion-dollar settlements raise questions among #Colorado officials — The #Durango Telegraph #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

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]

Click the link to read the article on the Durango Telegraph website (Jonathan Romeo). Here’s an excerpt:

With the recent news that the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to pay New Mexico and the Navajo Nation more than $63 million for damages related to the Gold King Mine spill, some Coloradoans are asking: What about us?

“I just always question, should we have been louder, because holy smokes, that’s a lot of money,” La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka said. “And it is concerning when $60 million-plus goes to communities at the end of the river, yet (Durango and Silverton) were the most heavily impacted.”

[…]

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

After the plume passed by, the communities closest to the headwaters – Silverton and Durango – decided not to pursue litigation against the EPA. Instead, they chose to push for the cleanup of mines that pock the mountains around Silverton and have degraded water quality in the Animas River since the heydey of mining in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And indeed, in fall 2016, a collection of historic mines in the area, including the Gold King, received a Superfund designation with widespread local support…

Downstream communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, however, went a different route. New Mexico sued the EPA in May 2016, with the Navajo Nation following suit a few months later. The $63 million settlement, announced in June, is now under question by upriver elected officials.

“Those are funds I would have liked to see go to the actual source of the issue,” Salka said. “We should be addressing the Superfund site, making sure water quality is good and preventing another mine blowout.”

[…]

While the sheer sight of the spill alarmed even the most involved members of groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group (a now-defunct organization of volunteers dedicated to protecting the health of the river), the fact that a mine blew out near Silverton wasn’t a shock. It has happened many times over the years. Looking at the long view: roughly 5.4 million gallons of acid mine drainage leaches into the Animas each day, compared to 3 million in the one-time Gold King blowout. The spill, however, was the catalyst that finally secured a Superfund designation for the mines draining around Silverton. In the past, some community members objected that a Superfund declaration carried a stigma that would imperil the town’s tourism economy and destroy any possibility of reviving the local mining industry. But after the Gold King blowout drew national attention, there was no stopping the momentum, and the Bonita Peak Superfund site was established. It’s composed of 48 historic mining sites around Silverton that are the biggest culprits of metal loading…

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

It should be noted New Mexico also reached an $11 million settlement with Sunnyside Gold, the last operating mining company in Silverton, and is still pursuing a lawsuit against the EPA’s contractor…

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)

On the Navajo Nation, a different case was made about the Gold King Mine spill. From a Native American cultural perspective, waters are sacred, and the disturbing sight of a bright orange San Juan River had a traumatic impact on tribal members (not to mention the history of environmental injustice on tribes throughout North America). According to media reports, some farmers on the Navajo Nation refused to use San Juan River water for years after the spill…

That’s not to say Silverton and Durango were shorted. Both governments received some reimbursement for dealing with the spill itself. The EPA built a $1 million water treatment plant that continues to operate at a cost to the EPA of $2.5 million a year. And, the agency has spent about $100 million to date on the Superfund site and expects to spend significantly more in the coming years…

Since the Gold King Mine spill happened, a lot of money has been exchanged (and not exchanged: the EPA, for instance, denied liability for $1.2 billion in private damages, such as rafting companies that took a hit during the river closure, lost wages for the tourism sector and alleged damage to crops and livestock). EPA’s Basile added a separate lawsuit settlement will have Sunnyside Gold pay $41 million to the federal government and $4 million to Colorado, all to be used on top of the federal government’s $45 million for the Bonita Peak site…At the end of the day, however, local officials say the best payout of all would be improved water quality in the Animas River watershed. Yet, Brookie said it does sting to see the dollar amount going to a New Mexico community that may not necessarily have a case for claiming they were impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Upper #SanJuanRiver conditions report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on July 27 at approximately 9 a.m. was 148 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 191 cfs at 12:30 a.m. on July 27. These numbers are down from a recent peak flow of 328 cfs at 8:45 p.m. on July 25. However, flows are up from last week’s reading of 113 cfs that occurred at 9 a.m. on July 20.

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 26, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought.

Although June 2022 was the second wettest June in 128 years, with 2.48 more inches of precipitation than normal, 2022 to date is the 33rd driest year in the last 128 years, with 2.84 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, according to the NIDIS. The NIDIS places the entire county in a moderate drought…The NIDIS also places 46 percent of the county, primarily the southern and western portions, in a severe drought.

The San Juan #Water Conservancy District sees draft of #SanJuanRiver water supply and demand analysis — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons

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

The San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors saw the first draft of an Upper San Juan River Basin water supply and demand analysis at its July 25 meeting.

The analysis, conducted by Lakewood-based consultant Wilson Water Group (WWG), studied the supply and demand through 2050 in the Upper San Juan River Basin and was commissioned by the SJWCD. Presenting the results, Erin Wilson, principal at WWG, noted that the results are still a draft and that its findings could be revised or expanded depending on feedback from the board.

The goals of the analysis were to document “current and potential future demands for water from municipal, agricultural, and environmental and recreational users” in the region, as well as “identify options for meeting any potential shortages in water supply in the future,” Wilson stated. The “unprecedented growth” of the Town of Pagosa Springs and ongoing drought conditions of the San Juan region emphasize the importance of this study, Wilson explained…

These demands showed an average annual future shortage that ranges from around 4,100 acre-feet to 73,000 acre-feet in the analysis. Wilson clarified that the shortages incorporate the area’s current water storage capabilities. From these numbers, the analysis suggests potential Dry Gulch reservoir sizes that could meet the needs of the demand projections. The limiting factors in reservoir sizing are the legally and physically available water to fill the reservoir, the 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) filling constraint, and the demands driving reservoir releases, the analysis explains. The 50 cfs limit is based on the Dry Gulch Reservoir water right, and the Dry Gulch environmental flow stipulations have to be met when the reservoir is filling, Wilson explained.

“Note that because the annual high demand shortages are greater than water available for filling (limited by 50 cfs), the reservoir inflow cannot keep up with the reservoir releases; therefore, a reservoir cannot meet the high demand shortages regardless of size,” the report reads.

The recommendations for the reservoir size are 1,600 acre-feet to meet low demand and 10,000 acre- feet to meet mid-range demand. Wilson clarified these calculations are usable volume numbers, not the total volume of the reservoir. The report also offers alternatives to the construction of a reservoir that could potentially lessen shortages and meet demand projections. These include stream restoration, agricultural fallowing and improved forest health…Many of these potential solutions are experimental at this point, and the report suggests that SJWCD “continue to monitor on-going projects to see how the results could be applicable in the Upper San Juan basin.”

Overall, board members brought forward many suggestions to strengthen the report. This included a deeper analysis of wildfire resiliency, leaking issues with PAWSD and a more in-depth look at the need for a reservoir.

There was also a dispute over the 226 gallons per capita per day metric, which board member Joe Tedder thought sounded too high based on Colorado averages.
Wilson clarified the number is the region’s entire demand — commercial included — and not just household use.

Navajo Dam operations update (July 28, 2022): Bumping releases down to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for today, July 28th, at 4:00 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.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 500 cfs July 27, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Humpback chub

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today, July 27th, at 4:00 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.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 600 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among Lake Powell 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 Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs for today, July 26th, at 4:00 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.

#SanJuanRiver flow below median despite wet June — The #PagosaSpringsSun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Stream flow for the San Juan River on July 13 at approximately 9 a.m. was 132 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 150 cfs at 4 a.m. on July 13. Flows are down from last week’s reading of 328 cfs at 9 a.m. on July 6 and from that day’s nighttime peak of 499 cfs at 2:45 a.m. The median flow for July 13 for the period between 1987 and 2022 is 205 cfs. Last year, the San Juan River was at 86.1 cfs at 9 a.m. on July 13, down from a nighttime peak of 102 cfs at 9:15 p.m. on July 12.

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 12, 2022.

Drought

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. Although June 2022 was the second wettest June in 128 years, with 2.48 more inches of precipitation than normal, 2022 to date is the 33rd driest year in the last 128 years, with 2.84 inches of precipitation less than normal, according to the NIDIS.

The NIDIS places the entire county in a severe drought, which the
website notes may cause farmers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be extended, among other impacts. The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low surface water levels and reduced river flows.

The NIDIS provides an evaporative demand (EDDI) forecast…The forecast for the area indicates that in the next two weeks, the majority of Archuleta County will be experiencing a mix of severe wet and extreme wet conditions while the four-week forecast shows the county will be experiencing a mix of severe wet and moderate wet conditions.

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board will hold a public hearing concerning proposed upgrades to the Snowball #Water Treatment Plant on August 18, 2022 — The #PagosaSprings Sun

The water treatment process

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

He explained that the engineer had estimated that the cost would be $25 million but that the contractor placed the price at “closer to $40 million,” necessitating that PAWSD reapply for a larger loan. The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the PAWSD administrative office at 100 Lyn Ave.

The Evolution of Agriculture — @WaterEdCO

Photo courtesy of Ben Wolcott, Wolcott Ranches

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Sensa Wolcott):

My family has been raising cattle in the Southwest for almost 50 years, and last year we experienced a first – producers in our valley did not receive any supplemental irrigation water from the reservoir. Agricultural producers in the river valleys and winding canyons of the Southwest are feeling the impacts of climate change. Temperatures are rising, snowpack is decreasing, runoff is occurring earlier in the year, and it’s becoming drier. As climate change continues to impact the Southwest, understanding how these environmental changes impact us will help farmers and ranchers like myself adjust our land management practices to remain resilient to drought and climate change.

Ecosystems Adapt & So Can We!

Areas that receive low amounts of rainfall are especially susceptible to changes in the environment. The plants and animals that live in dry areas are specialized to this unique landscape, and as the world around them changes, they must adapt or face extinction. Fortunately, healthy ecosystems respond to change, and so can we. The key to responding is diversity. Biodiversity is what gives species the genetic advantage they need to adapt to changing environments. The environment is changing, and just as genetic diversity allows for change, farmers and ranchers can proactively use innovative, versatile strategies to respond and help their enterprises survive.

Healthy Livestock Make Happy, Profitable Ranchers

Ensuring livestock remain healthy is the top priority for those who raise animals. Managed grazing that supports healthy soils and robust forage is a must. Lack of water affects the nutritional content and digestibility of forage. This leads to animals – and ranchers – becoming stressed. Adjusting stocking rates and pasture rotation are a few strategies recommended by the USDA Southwest Climate Hub that can help support the health of your pastures, which in turn supports the health of your animals.

Increased temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable; livestock consume more water when it is hot, making stock water especially important when water is scarce. Warmer temperatures also directly impact the health of our livestock, which in turn reduces profits. Providing access to pastures with trees or shade structures where livestock can get out of the sun is just as important as providing access to water.

It’s No Surprise That Plants Need Water

Photo courtesy of Sensa Wolcott

When water is limited, our fields produce less hay, forage and produce, making it challenging to grow what we need to be successful. Changing temperature will affect which crops thrive in particular areas. The Colorado State University Extension office provides many helpful strategies for how we can tackle these challenges. Prepare to make adjustments to the specific plants that you cultivate. Try planting crop varieties that require less water to thrive and research how specific crops use water. Rotate crops in a way that better promotes growth and productivity during drought and incorporate strategies that slow down water and increase infiltration, such as installing contour swales in fields.

Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will impact the harvest timing of hay and produce and increase the likelihood of weeds popping up. Be prepared for changes in when you typically harvest and focus on increasing biodiversity by planting a mixture of different types of plants in a hayfield or pasture. Variety provides resilience as well as defense against invasive species, which are less likely to move into healthy, drought-resilient pastures and hayfields.

Healthy Watersheds Support Us All

Wetland. Photo courtesy of Sensa Wolcott

Water is critical to life in Colorado because it supports the biodiversity and health of the entire watershed, including the animals and plants so important to farmers and ranchers. Improving irrigation efficiency and upgrading diversion structures can help us adapt to rising temperatures that cause snow to melt and runoff earlier in the year. Early runoff means there is less water later in the season, when animals, plants, and irrigators all need water. Practicing irrigation strategies that encourage keeping rivers wet and implementing practices that increase groundwater storage support healthy waterways and support the needs of farmers and ranchers.

Riparian area management techniques like those mentioned in this article from Agri-Food Canada can benefit producers and the ecosystem. Try fencing livestock out of parts of the riparian corridor to support healthy riparian ecosystems. Livestock can cause erosion and water quality concerns – but well-planned access points that provide livestock with access to crucial drinking water can support both a healthy herd and a thriving waterway.

Farmers and ranchers want to see water in the river – the longer the better – which also supports the health and well-being of the aquatic ecosystem. Protecting our riparian areas is imperative; when our riparian corridors are healthy and thriving, so are we.

We Have a Choice

The future of agriculture is tied tightly to the future of our waters. Healthy ecosystems that have a variety of plants and animals are vital. Choosing innovative management strategies enables us to be good stewards of the natural world while also improving our farms and ranches so that we all can remain resilient in the face of drought and a changing climate.

Sensa Wolcottt.

Sensa Wolcott works as the Watershed Coordinator for the Mancos Conservation District. She is pursuing her Masters in Biology through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly, where her work focuses on community-based conservation and connecting people with the land through dialogue and collaboration. Sensa and her family live on their family owned and operated cattle ranch and enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, and photography.

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

Navajo Dam operations update (July 13, 2022): Bumping up to 700 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. 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 low flows in the critical habitat reach and increased irrigation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs for today, Wednesday, July 13th at 12:00 PM, and additional increase from 700 cfs to 800 cfs at 2:00 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.

How this tribe survives in #Colorado’s worst #drought region with as little as 10% of its hard-won water supply — The #Denver Post #DoloresRiver #SanJuanRiver #COriver #aridification

South of Hesperus August 2019 Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Bruce Finley). Here’s an excerpt:

“A lot of reckoning” as Colorado low water flows imperil farming and ranching

The Utes are surviving, for now, by relying on a unique asset: a mill built in 2014 where tribal crews de-husk, grind and package all the corn they can harvest: “Native American Grown whole grain Non-GMO.” Sales nationwide to whiskey distilleries, health-oriented grocery stores and others help make ends meet — even as less water is available. Dry times led reservoir operators to cut the Utes’ water to 10% of their allotment last year and 25% this year. Only 13 of the tribe’s 110 center pivot irrigation sprinklers can run…

Mcphee Reservoir

The agricultural economy of far southwestern Colorado once encompassed more than 75,000 irrigated acres, including 7,700 acres on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. It relies on the huge McPhee Reservoir completed in 1986, one of the largest and last that the federal government built to enable settlement in the arid Southwest. The reservoir is less than half full. Snowpack in the high San Juan Mountains has been shrinking — recent federal research has found these mountains will be dry before 2080 — and the cumulative impacts are such that runoff toward the reservoir disappears more quickly into parched terrain. The snow melts earlier, complicating planting, and unusually high winds and heavy dust accelerate water depletion.

Towaoc-Highline Canal via Ten Tribes Partnership/USBR Tribal Water Study

By tribal leaders’ own reckoning and multiple historical assessments, the Utes have been dealt repeated bad hands, forced in the 19th Century onto some of North America’s harshest land – high desert southwest of Cortez — with limited access to water.

For thousands of years, Utes migrated in sync with nature’s seasons across valleys and deserts that became Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. A tribal website video celebrates Utes’ role as stewards of the mountains. European settlers displaced them and disrupted nomadic lifestyles. A 1908 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said water on reservations had to fulfill the purpose of the reservations, which included agriculture. Yet, access to sufficient water remains difficult. Ute Mountain Utes lacked domestic drinking water in Towaoc, the tribal capital, until the late 1980s. Tribal members had been hauling snow down from Sleeping Ute Mountain on their backs and melting it.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is continuing to provide water for #Chama — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Chama Train Depot. By Milan Suvajac – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40166802
CC BY-SA 4.0

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

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is continuing to provide water to Chama, N.M., with that community continuing to deal with a water shortage. PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey reported Wednesday the district will continue to provide water through July 10. Ramsey elaborated on PAWSD’s involvement in providing water for Chama in a June 30 press release.

The release states, “Due to a pipeline break and operator issues the community of Chama New Mexico is suffering a severe water issue. The state of New Mexico has declared a state of emergency due to this predicament. The Chama community has asked for our help to provide some relief to this dire situation. The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) has agreed to provide Chama with temporary emergency water.

“This may appear imprudent on PAWSD’s part due to our own drought concerns. However, PAWSD has developed a plan allowing 6,000 gallon tanker trucks to use uptown fill stations with water coming from our San Juan Water Treatment Plant to transport up to 150,000 gallons per day to Chama. Using these fill stations and water from the San Juan Water Treatment Plant has the lowest impact on our water reserves.

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on July 6 at approximately 9 a.m. was 328 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a nighttime peak of 499 cfs at 3 a.m. on July6. Over the night, due to heavy rains, the flow rose from 239 cfs at 7 p.m. on July 5 to the peak early in the morning of July 6. Flows are down from last week’s reading of 402 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 29.

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 5, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought…

The NIDIS also provides an evaporative demand (EDDI) forecast, an experimental tool for predicting drought conditions through measuring atmospheric evaporative demand or the “thirst of the atmosphere.” The forecast for the area indicates that in the next two weeks, the majority of Archuleta County will be experiencing extreme wet conditions, while the four-week forecast shows the county will be experiencing a mix of extreme wet and severe wet conditions.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District implements Level 1 water-use restrictions — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the release from PAWSD on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Justin Ramsey):

Due to current drought conditions and decreasing water supply levels, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) began implementation of Level 1 water-use restrictions last week. Below is an abridged summary of the levels of water-use restrictions. A full and detailed explanation of forthcoming water use restrictions will be mailed to all PAWSD customers. It is expected that all affected customers will become familiar with the requirements and employ the demand reduction mandates so as to preserve the current water supply.

Copies of the PAWSD Drought Management Plan are available at http://www.pawsd.org or at the PAWSD office located at 100 Lyn Ave.

The Pagosa Area #Water & Sanitation District providing water to #Chama — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Ranch near Chama, New Mexico. By Jeff Vanuga / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24839450

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

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is currently providing water for Chama, N.M., with that community facing a water shortage and lack of running water. District Manager Justin Ramsey explained in an interview with The SUN that PAWSD is currently working with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) to provide water for Chama.

According to Ramsey, DHSEM has a contract with PAWSD for up to 150,000 gallons of water a day for five days, which they are currently drawing from to help provide water for Chama, which is facing extensive water line breakages and extreme water shortages from a lack of running water.
“I know it’s gonna seem odd ‘cause we just went into drought restrictions, but this is an emergency,” Ramsey said of PAWSD’s involvement. “They have no water … to water their grass and their vegetables, … so we opted to be good neighbors.”

Ramsey also commented, “We’re trying to get ‘em to take it from … the fill station at [the PAWSD Vista office] and the fill station at Trails so that it’s coming from our San Juan plant. … Once it passes that diversion at San Juan, it’s gone, we don’t have it anyway, so that’s where we’re trying to grab it from. It’s water that would flow by us anyway.”

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on June 29 at approximately 9 a.m. was 402 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a recent peak of 911 cfs at 6:30 a.m. on June 27 and up from last week’s reading of 220 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 22.

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 28, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought In- formation System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. The NIDIS indicates May 2022 was the 19th driest May in 128 years, with 1.03 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 to date being the sixth driest year in the last 128 years, with 5.22 inches of precipitation less than normal. The NIDIS places the entire county in a severe drought, which the website notes may cause farm- ers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be extended, among other impacts. The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low surface water levels and reduced river flows. The NIDIS also places a portion of the county in an extreme drought…

The forecast for the area indicates that in the next two weeks, the majority of Archuleta County will be experiencing extreme wet conditions, while the four-week forecast shows the county will be experiencing a mix of extreme wet and exceptionally wet conditions.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 400 cfs June, 29, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation and sufficient 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 for Wednesday, June 29th, 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.

Low #SanJuanRiver flows trigger #drought plan restrictions — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Low river flows in the San Juan river have triggered drought stage 1 for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), according to a June 21 press release from District Manager Justin Ramsey. Ramsey’s press release contin- ues that entering the drought stage requires a vote of the PAWSD Board of Directors, which is scheduled to come during a 4 p.m. special meeting on Wednesday, [June 22, 2022].

In an interview with The SUN, Ramsey explained that drought stage determinations are based on lake levels at Hatcher Lake, river flow in the San Juan River and the state drought stage, with the variables to weighted to give Hatcher the highest priority, followed by the river flows, followed by the state drought stage. Ramsey commented that, while Hatcher is “still in good shape,” the median river flow for June 21 is 929 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the flow for that day in 2022 was 250 cfs…

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on June 22 at approximately 9 a.m. was 220 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a recent peak of 662 cfs at 7:15 p.m. on June 19 and up from last week’s reading of 137 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 15.
According to Ramsey, the rise in river levels is linked to the recent storms in the area.

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 21, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports hat 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. It notes May 2022 was the 19th driest May in 128 years, with 1.03 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 to date being the sixth driest year in the last 128 years, with 5.22 inches of precipitation less than normal. The NIDIS also places the entire county in an extreme drought, which may cause pasture conditions to worsen and large fires to develop. The NIDIS also notes that an extreme drought can cause extremely low reservoir levels, mandatory water use restrictions and increases in water temperatures.

Low waters in Navajo Lake impact recreation, marina — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. 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

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

According to the Lake Navajo Water Database, the lake was at 56.4 feet below full pool, an eleva- tion of 6,028.6 feet, on June 12 and at 55.78 percent by volume of full pool on that same date. Before this year, the lowest level that had been observed in Navajo Lake on June 12 in the last 10 years was in 2013, when the lake was at 6,029.17 feet of elevation. Last year, the water level on June 12 was 6,041.47 feet of elevation. The Navajo LakeWater Database also notes that the San Juan and Piedra rivers, which feed Navajo Lake, are at 11.92 percent of their combined aver- age and that inflows for water year 2022, which began on Oct. 1, 2021, and ends on Sept. 30, 2022, are at 89.6 percent of those for water year 2021.

In an interview with The SUN, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager for Navajo State Park Brian Sandy explained the impact the low water levels have had on the park. He commented that the low water levels have had a “really negative impact” on the park’s marina and the services it can provide, with the on-the-water fuel pump dock and the pump-out station for houseboats both inactive. He noted that no slips are available at the dock, with the few that remain usable reserved for patrol and rental boats. He added that the water level in the mooring cove is sufficiently low to render most of the mooring balls unusable. Sandy stated that the low water level has had a particularly severe impact on houseboats, many of which depend on the mooring cove and the pump-out station…

Sandy commented that water levels in the reservoir are likely to continue to drop over the season with water commitments for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and municipal water for communities including Farmington, N.M., contributing to the decrease in lake levels, along with the drought and high winds.

Sandy added that releases of water from the reservoir also occur for the purposes of improving endangered fish species habitat downstream by raising water levels in rivers.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

$32 million settlement reached over toxic #GoldKingMine spill damages — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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]

Click the link to read the article on The Farmington Daily Times website (Mike Easterling). Here’s an excerpt:

A little less than seven years after contractors working at the site of an abandoned mine in southwest Colorado triggered a spill of toxic materials that led to perhaps the worst environmental disaster in the history of the Four Corners region. Federal and New Mexico officials announced during a June 16 press conference they had agreed on a settlement of $32 million to compensate the state for damages related to the incident…

The announcement came on the same day that Navajo Nation officials announced in a statement that they had reached a $31 million settlement with federal officials for damages caused by the same incident…

[Governor] Lujan Grisham noted New Mexico’s settlement with the EPA does not include an additional $11 million the state has received from private entities that shared responsibility for the Aug. 5, 2015…

“The river has largely healed, which is incredible,” Lujan Grisham said while announcing the settlement, adding that a variety of partners worked together to resolve the issues created by the spill. “What hasn’t happened is creating a holistic investment in the community.”

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe faces another devastating #drought year, but recent rain, wheat prices bring hope — @WaterEdCO

South of Hesperus August 2019 Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Rachelle Todea):

Low snowpack and soaring temperatures made 2020 the third-driest year on record in Colorado. When similar conditions repeated in 2021, tribal farmers in southwest Colorado had to scramble, fallowing thousands of acres of land and laying off workers at the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s farm and ranch outside of Cortez.

“It made me very aware that our farm is in the desert. We have to look at it that way,” says Simon Martinez, general manager for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprise and the Bow and Arrow Brand non-GMO cornmeal business. The 7,700-acre farm is located on the tribe’s 553,008-acre reservation in southwest Colorado, less than 20 miles from the Four Corners.

When Dolores River flows below McPhee Reservoir were reduced to just 10% of normal in 2021, the tribe was able to operate only eight center pivot sprinklers, compared to its usual capacity of 110 sprinklers. A single center pivot sprinkler system irrigates circles of crops ranging from 32 to 141 acres in area. Lack of water meant fallowed acres, leaving the tribe to use only 500 acres in 2021, compared to 4,500 acres of alfalfa alone grown in 2020.

Without irrigation water, the farm’s ability to grow its mainstay crops of alfalfa and corn was majorly reduced, and without crops to harvest, employment, too, was cut to 50%. Twenty farm workers lost their jobs.

This year the tribe is expecting slightly more water, 20% to 25% of its normal allocation, or roughly 6,000 acre-feet of water, according to Mike Preston, president of the Weenuch-u’ Development Corporation, which oversees the farm’s operations. But some 6,000 acres of its 7,700-acre farm remain fallowed, a situation that requires the tribe to spend millions of dollars to keep weeds in check.

There is also hope in rising wheat prices, which are expected to reach $11.16 a bushel by December, according to Wall Street Journal crop pricing data. Preston said the tribe hopes to plant a late wheat crop this year to capitalize on the world-wide wheat shortages triggered by the war in Ukraine.

Overall, the tribe’s farm and ranch enterprises operate for economic empowerment and employment. And operations are largely successful—before the drought, the farm had been productive and profitable since it began operating in the late 1980s.

For Bow and Arrow Brand, operations didn’t slow, even last year. The cornmeal operation was launched years ago in order to stretch the shelf life of the tribe’s corn. Fresh sweet corn can last about two weeks, but by creating cornmeal, the produce remains profitable for around 18 months. Even during the drought and pandemic, sales continue. Full staff employment has been maintained.

Sustaining everything has been a challenge, but Martinez is up for the challenge, as he must be, he says. “We’re going to do our best to keep employment.”

Some help and funding is available to make up for losses, such as drought impact funding. And Martinez is working to help the farm adapt. He’s spreading the limited amount of water as far as possible through work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to upgrade sprinkler nozzle packages and continued consultations with agronomists on crop selection for increased drought tolerance. But those efforts can only go so far.

Martinez is hopeful that McPhee, the third-largest reservoir in Colorado, which serves the tribe, will see its water levels restored to meet tribal needs.

“We’re kind of teetering on the brink,” says Preston. The Dolores River watershed relies entirely on snowpack. But conditions aren’t looking great—100% of Montezuma county remains in severe or extreme drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Forecasts for the Dolores River Basin, as of June 1, project 45% to 60% of water supply availability this year, according to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.

What seems clear to many in the region is that desert-like conditions are likely to continue and that means the Ute Mountain Utes must shift their operating plans to accommodate drier conditions.

“We’ve got to adapt,” Martinez says.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Headwaters magazine. Additional reporting was contributed by Fresh Water News Editor Jerd Smith.

Rachelle Todea is Diné and a citizen of the Navajo Nation. She is a freelance reporter based in Westminster, Colo., who reports on climate change and Indigenous peoples.

Cisco Resort and other water buffalo oddities: A 1946 report called for the #ColoradoRiver System to be dammed, diverted, and industrialized — @Land_Desk #COriver

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. The proposed Marble Canyon Dam would have been just downstream from here. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

Reading and listening to accounts of running the Colorado River and its tributaries before the dams came can be heartbreaking because it reminds us of all that has been lost. Imagine what Tiyo, the Hopi boy who piloted a cottonwood raft from somewhere in Glen Canyon to the Sea of Cortez long, long ago, saw on his journey. Consider the experiences of John Wesley Powell, E.C. La Rue, Emery Goodridge, Bert Loper, and, albeit not on a boat, Everett Ruess. Those experiences cannot be duplicated, even in some modern form. Where once ran water wild and free, now are still and stagnant reservoirs held back by giant, concrete monoliths.

But sometimes when I read old papers about the Colorado River Basin, I become grateful, as well, knowing that it could have been a heck of a lot worse. Such is my experience recently as I’ve made my way through the 1946 Bureau of Reclamation report titled: The Colorado River: A Natural Menace Becomes a National Resource1.

The rather off-putting name, aside, the 300-page report is a fascinating read, chock full of information about population in the Basin, industries, and so forth. But it’s also a blueprint for plumbing the Colorado River system, from the headwaters to the Sea of Cortez, with diversions, dams, canals, hydropower plants, tunnels, and trans-basin exports. That’s the insane part.

As I read the report, instead of envisioning all that had been lost to development, I imagined what the West would look like had the water buffalos realized all of their dam dreams. It’s scary. Nary a mile of river would have remained unaltered. They had plans for dams in the Grand Canyon, in Glen Canyon, in Cataract Canyon; on the Green and the Yampa; in Echo Park and in the Goosenecks of the San Juan; and, perhaps most byzantine, the Animas-La Plata project (which I’ll get to in a moment). But first, a little sampling of potential projects:

  • The Glen Canyon Project: The proposal is similar to what was eventually realized. Notable quote from the report: “This lake would have unusual recreational opportunities.”
  • Dark Canyon Project: This dam would have been on the Colorado River a few miles above the current Hite bridge and the reservoir would have inundated all of Cataract Canyon and stretched to the edge of Moab and almost to Green River.
  • The Moab Project: A dam on the Colorado just upstream from Moab with a reservoir stretching all the way to the Dewey Bridge.
  • Dewey Project: A dam on the Colorado three miles downstream from its confluence with the Dolores River. The 8.2 million acre feet reservoir would have extended 55 miles up the Colorado and 20 miles up the Dolores and would have inundated Cisco. From the report:

    “The town of Cisco, population 53, lies entirely within the reservoir site but if relocated on the reservoir shore line and on both a railroad and transcontinental highway, it should have ample opportunity to become a resort center.”

  • Echo Park Project: A dam on the Green River 3.5 miles below its confluence with the Yampa with a lake that would inundate Dinosaur National Monument. This is the reservoir David Brower and the Sierra Club—with help from the coal industry, which didn’t want more hydroelectric competition—were able to stop.
  • Bluff Project: A dam on the San Juan River just below Comb Wash. It would have put the town of Bluff under about 100 feet of water.
  • Goosenecks Project: A 500,000 acre foot reservoir with hydroelectric dam some 43 miles downstream from Bluff.
  • Slick Horn Canyon Project: Another San Juan River dam, probably just below Slick Horn Canyon.
  • This diagram showing some of the madness … er, proposed dams … is best viewed at http://LandDesk.org.

    And now for the big doozy: The Animas-La Plata Project in Southwestern Colorado. Now, I know some of you will think, Here he goes, talking about the Animas River again. And, yeah, I get it. But as crazy as all of the aforementioned proposals are, this one was more complex and convoluted and involved than any of the others.

    From 1946 “Menace” report, USBR. Credit: The Land Desk

    The Animas-La Plata project was first conceived of in the early 1900s. It was intended to move water from Animas River to the “Dry Side” in the La Plata River watershed, about a dozen miles west of the Animas. The Dry Side has oodles of fertile, flat farmland, but not enough water to irrigate it; the Animas Basin has relatively reliable and abundant flows of water, but not a lot of farmable land. The A-LP would provide “supplemental water for 24,700 acres of insufficiently irrigated land in the La Plata River Basin and a full supply for 86,300 acres of new land in that basin and adjacent areas, including 25,500 acres under the Monument Rock project on the Navajo Indian Reservation.”

    You might think this would be simple: Just tunnel through the divide between the two watersheds and send the water through. But that’s not nearly as fun as building nine reservoirs, miles of canals and tunnels and conduits, and a handful of hydropower plants. Here’s the rundown:

  • An aqueduct would be built near Silverton to catch water from Mineral Creek and Cement Creek and deliver it to the 54,000 acre feet Howardsville Reservoir on the Animas upstream from Silverton. From there, a pressure conduit would send water to a 12 megawatt power plant in Silverton.
  • A dam on the Animas at Whitehead Gulch, about four miles below Silverton. Silverton Reservoir would only be about three miles long (and would not inundate Silverton, but would flood the railroad tracks), as its main purpose is for hydropower production and to divert water through a tunnel to the Lime Creek drainage, where …
  • … another dam would be built, presumably just above the confluence with Cascade Creek. In addition to the water from Silverton Reservoir, the Lime Creek Reservoir would also get “unregulated inflows from Cascade Creek through a collection conduit and tunnel.” And, from Lime Creek another tunnel would lead back through the West Needles to a power plant on the Animas River w/ a static head of 1,155 feet and installed capacity of 40 megawatts. Wow.
  • The dam for the 140,000 acre feet Teft Reservoir would be on the Animas River somewhere below Tefft (the proper spelling) Spur (close to the Cascade Wye). Maybe it would be in the Rockwood Gorge, but I’m not sure. Water would back up into Cascade Creek and, most likely, would inundate Needleton. The railroad tracks would be underwater.
  • The main project canal—the one that takes water over to the La Plata—would begin at or just below Teft Dam and go along the west side of the Animas River, intercepting the flows of Hermosa, Junction, and Lightner Creeks, along with storage releases from …
  • … Hermosa Park Reservoir (25,000 acre feet) on Hermosa Creek. That would add an interesting twist to skiing the backside of Purgatory. Ice skating, anyone?
  • Whether the canal would skirt Durango, or would cross higher ground west of Durango is not clear. But somehow it would wend its way westward, and would “cross the Animas-La Plata Divide northeast of Fort Lewis College and extend across the La Plata River Valley to the Dry Side. It would continue southwest along the Mancos-La Plata Divide to the head of Salt Creek,” which in turn would serve the …
  • … Monument Rocks Reservoir (20,000 af) and project lands below it, located north of Shiprock.
  • Long Hollow Reservoir (14,000 af) would be “connected the La Plata River by inlet and outlet canals.” Another canal from Long Hollow would irrigate the McDermott-Farmington Glade area near Colorado-New Mexico state line. (Note: This is the only component of the 1946 plan that got built).
  • State Line Reservoir (32,000 af) would straddle the State Line on the La Plata River. A canal would lead from there to the southwest to …
  • … Meadows Reservoir (11,400 af).
  • The Land Desk’s rendering of the 1946 description of the proposed Animas-La Plata Project in Southwest Colorado. Legend: Pink Box=Dam; Blue Line=River/Creek; Green Line=Canal; Dotted Black-Orange Line=Tunnel.

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    The Animas-La Plata Project ultimately was built, but it looks nothing like this. It’s a single off-stream reservoir, Lake Nighthorse, filled with water pumped uphill from the Animas River. A small amount of water is piped westward, but it doesn’t make it to the Dry Side. In fact, the water—much of which belongs to the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Tribes—mostly is just sitting there, providing a nice place for Durangoans to cool off on hot summer days. There currently is no mechanism for delivering the water to the tribes. Long Hollow Reservoir was also constructed later, but separately from the A-LP.

    Excerpt from the 1946 “Menace” report. Credit: The Land Desk

    Most of the other projects on the water buffalo wishlist didn’t come to fruition, either, and Cisco, Utah, won’t be a lakeside resort town anytime soon.

    The Land Desk is about to take the old Silver Bullet on the road to do some reporting. You know how we fund this stuff? With your subscriptions! We got no ads, no corporate sponsors, no fancy grants — just you (which is a lot). So, yeah, the Bullet is pretty darned fuel efficient, but still with gas prices these days? We sure could use your help. Thanks! — Subscribe

    #AnimasRiver #water quality is improving in #Durango, study shows — The Durango Herald #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Upgrades made to the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility have improved water quality in the Animas River. Reduced nutrients and E. coli make the river safer for recreationists and limit impacts on aquatic life. (Courtesy of Mountain Studies Institute)

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

    A study by Mountain Studies Institute, the city of Durango and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released late last year has revealed that upgrades made to the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility from 2017 to 2020 have improved water quality in the Animas River. The improvements have decreased the nutrients and bacteria the reclamation facility discharges into the Animas River, creating a healthier ecosystem for aquatic life and making the river safer for recreation…

    The improvements were extensive and included new headworks, which is where the wastewater enters the plant, secondary processing infrastructure and an ultraviolet disinfection system. They completely changed parts of the water treatment process at Santa Rita. From 2017 to 2020, the city, CDPHE and MSI conducted a study to quantify the water quality improvements in the Animas River from the facility’s upgrades as a part of CDPHE’s Measurable Results Program. They took water samples above and below Santa Rita, as well as at the point where the facility discharged treated water back into the river, and measured the concentrations of nutrients and E. coli.

    The changes were significant.

    The study found the upgrades reduced phosphorous by 93%, nitrogen by 59% and E. coli by 90% in the water the treatment plant releases into the Animas. Santa Rita’s May 2020 permit allowed for 100 mg/L of nitrogen in the water it released. After the improvements, it was releasing 7.16 mg/L. For E. coli, the facility’s permit allows 1,756 mpn/ml. With the new UV system, it now releases less than 10 mpn/ml, Elkins said. Mpn/ml stands for most probable number per milliliter and is a measurement of the concentration of bacteria in water.

    “That should give you an idea of how well we’re doing,” Elkins said.

    Upper #SanJuanRiver #drought #snowpack #runoff conditions (May 22, 2022) — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    A May 16 press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) District Manager Justin Ramsey urges residents to reduce water consumption due to worsening drought conditions.

    It states, “The NRCS SnoTel station reached a Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) of 0” on May 10th a full three weeks quicker than the median. The median date for reaching a SWE of 0” is May 31st.

    “Per the Districts Drought Management Plan we would have triggered the Voluntary Drought Stage had the SWE occurred 2 days earlier on the 8th of May.

    “Although we are not in a Voluntary Drought Stage, the unseasonably high temperatures and winds will make for a high water use season. Our weekly water use has increased by 2 million gallons over last years weekly usage.

    “The District is requesting everyone conserve water and use outside irrigation sparingly. Please do not water between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day wastes water as a significant portion of the irrigation water evaporates prior to percolating into the soil, wasting not only water but your money.

    Drought outlook

    Stream flow for the San Juan River on May 18 at approximately 9 a.m. was 1,120 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geologi- cal Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard, down from a nighttime peak of 1,320 cfs at 2 a.m.

    These numbers are down from May 11, when the river flow was at 1,390 cfs at 9:15 a.m. with a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.
    As referenced in Ramsey’s press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report at the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had zero inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18. The report also notes that the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 4 percent of the May 18 median in terms of snowpack.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map May 17, 2022.

    Upper #SanJuan River #snowpack, #runoff, and #drought report: The Upper San Juan is pretty much melted-out — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    Stream flow for the San Juan River peaked on May 8 at approximately midnight at 1,970 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This peak matches almost exactly the timing of last year’s peak flow of 1,280 cfs, which occurred on May 8 at approximately 1 a.m. As of 10:45 a.m. on May 11, the river flow was at 1,360 cfs, down from a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 9.9 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Wednesday, May 11. The Wolf Creek summit is at 30 percent of the May 11 snowpack median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 19 percent of the May 11 median in terms of snowpack.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map May 10, 2022.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought, with April 2022 being the eighth driest April in 128 years, with 1.22 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 being the 11th driest year in the last 128 years, with 4.15 inches of precipitation below normal. The NIDIS places the entire county in a moderate drought, which the website notes may cause rangeland growth to be stunted, very little hay to be available, dryland crops to suf fer and wildfires to increase. The NIDIS also shows 18.8 percent of the county, primarily on the southern edge, in a severe drought, which may cause farmers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be ex tended. The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low snowpack and surface-water levels and reduced river flow.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 14, 2022 via the NRCS.

    #Aridification Watch: May edition As the snow season wraps up, how are things looking? — @Land_Desk #snowpack #runoff

    Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson) and to drop some dough in the tip jar:

    It’s that time of the year, again, folks. Yep, you guessed it, it’s … Yukigata Time! Okay, maybe you didn’t guess it. Maybe you have no idea what the word even means. But I’m willing to bet you are familiar with the concept and, if you are a farmer or a gardener, you probably use a yukigata.

    A yukigata is a pattern formed by melting snow on a mountain slope or hillside in the spring. They often serve as agricultural calendars, letting farmers know when to plant certain crops, or when the danger of a tomato-killing freeze has passed. The calendars can be simple: over in the Montezuma Valley gardeners wait until Ute Mountain is free of snow to plant. Or more elaborate: In the Grand Valley of Colorado, it would be foolish to plant before the Swan’s Neck has melted. And in the North Fork Valley of Western Colorado, gardeners wait for the Devil’s Neck on Mt. Lamborn to “break.”

    But the yukigatas have been doing their thing, or disappearing, sooner than in the past, tricking people into planting too early and making their crops vulnerable to the inevitable spring freeze. In Durango, Colorado, for example, gardeners once planted according to when the snow melted off the north face of Smelter Mountain. Now that can happen as soon as March—if there’s snow on the mountain at all—which is just too early.

    This also messes with plants’ internal calendars, tricking fruit trees into blossoming too early. A study published this spring found wildflowers in the sagebrush ecosystem now bloom weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. And here’s a cool map from the National Phenology Network showing where trees leafed out earlier (or later) than usual this year.

    Clearly the premature melting of the yukigata is caused by less snow to begin with combined with warming temperatures. Dust on the snow causes it to melt faster, too. As does, wait for it, atmospheric thirst! That’s right, the increasing temperatures are making the atmosphere thirstier, and it’s guzzling up snow, drying out plants, sucking up reservoirs, and so on. Last month, scientists from the Desert Research Institute published a study tracking changes in evaporative demand and found it is increasing everywhere, especially in the Southwest.

    As evaporative demand increases, it pulls more water from the land into the air via evaporation and transpiration from plants (and snow and reservoirs), leaving less in the streams and soil. In the Rio Grande Basin, the authors say, that means crops need 8% to 15% more irrigation now than they did in 1980. They go on to note, “These increases in crop water requirements are coincident with declining runoff ratios on the Rio Grande due to warming temperatures and increased evaporative losses, representing a compounding stress on water supplies.”

    The authors conclude:

    “These higher evaporative demands mean that, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, and aquifers across the region. Soils and vegetation spend more time in drier conditions, increasing potential for forest fire, tree mortality, and tree regeneration failure.”

    So the thirsty atmosphere is likely a factor in the catastrophic fires currently burning in New Mexico. The Hermits Peak Fire—in the Pecos River watershed, east of the Rio Grande—has grown to a monstrous 166,000 acres and is threatening Las Vegas, Mora, and Montezuma.

    This year neither the Rio Grande nor the Pecos watershed has done all that well, snowpack-wise. Not many watersheds have, although Southwest Colorado is in better shape than it was last year. Snow season is pretty much over. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow any more in the high country. It’s just that the snowpack peak has almost certainly passed, runoff is underway, and many lower elevation SNOTEL stations are registering zero, which can throw off basin-wide graphs. So, below we offer the snowpack season finale with May 1 readings at our three go-to high country SNOTEL , plus the current graph for the Rio Grande Basin.

    The bright spot is definitely Columbus Basin, high in the La Plata Mountains. It’s below the average level for the period of record, but still doing far better than 2021. The La Platas feed the Animas, La Plata, Mancos, and Dolores Rivers. Last year the Dolores had an awful year. Things are looking up this time around—relatively speaking. The Dolores River through its namesake town shot up to 1,800 cfs at one point, dropped, then shot back up again, pushing up levels at McPhee significantly. Still, don’t goo excited. McPhee’s only at 59% of capacity and water managers are releasing virtually nothing from the dam.

    River runners better get out on the water now, while they still can.