Something in the water: Trying to get a handle on E. coli issues in the #SanJuanRiver, #AnimasRiver — The #Durango Telegraph

The Animas River in Durango, in Apri, 2018. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Durango Telegraph (Jonathan Romeo):

“We know who pooped in the river, now we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from,” Alyssa Richmond said as she took a sample of water recently from the muddy San Juan River, in the blazing high desert outside Farmington.

Richmond is coordinator for the San Juan Watershed Group, a collection of local agencies and volunteers working to improve water quality on the San Juan River as it runs through northern New Mexico. The group’s ultimate goal, Richmond said, is to have the stretch of river meet national water quality standards. But as it stands, it’s not going well.

Among a plethora of water-quality issues that include mine pollution, urban runoff and rising water temperatures amid an increasing drought, is the issue of E. coli contamination. A naturally occurring bacteria that lives in all humans and animal stools, E. coli can contaminate ground and surface water, and lead to health implications.

For at least the past 10 years, researchers have launched a full-scale investigation to better understand E. coli issues up and down the San Juan River watershed, from high up in the San Juan Mountains to its major tributary, the Animas River, to stretches that run into the Navajo Nation.

Early results are not encouraging: the EPA’s standard for acceptable E. coli levels is 126 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters. In stretches of the San Juan River through Farmington, water samples taken this summer exceeded nearly 1,500 CFUs. “We didn’t expect it to be as high as it was,” Richmond said on a sampling day in late August. “It was shocking.”

But it’s not all doom and poop. The San Juan Watershed Group’s efforts will ultimately help inform where cleanup projects should be focused to achieve the highest improvement in water health. And, all up and down the watershed, even to the highest reaches of the Animas River around Silverton, there is a concerted push to face E. coli issues head on.

“The good news is everyone agrees there should be no human poop in the water,” said San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Animas Riverkeeper Marcel Gaztambide, who probably never thought he’d have to make so obvious a statement to the local paper. “And it’s an issue of concern, so it’s good we’re talking about it now.”

Defecation detectives

E. coli is a difficult contaminant to fully contextualize because not only is it naturally occurring, it is also one of the most common bacteria. It can come from livestock as well as wildlife like elk, deer, birds, beaver – pretty much any animal that poops. And to complicate matters further, only some strains of the bacteria are harmful to human health.

In the early 2010s, however, researchers knew high E. coli levels were an issue in the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, but the question was, who was the main culprit? After conducting two years of microbial source testing, which not only shows the level of E. coli but also pinpoints the exact source, the results were not what researches were expecting. It came back that the largest contributors were … drumroll, please … humans.

In fact, test results showed human feces in 70 to 100 percent of samples taken from the Animas River at the Colorado-New Mexico state line down to the border of the Navajo Nation.

With the guilty party exposed, funding was again secured to take the investigation a step further this summer by understanding where exactly the human waste was coming from, Richmond said. It’s a process that’s rather simple, by testing upstream and downstream of suspected source points, and then seeing where the spikes in E. coli levels occur. And already, there are some potential smoking guns: failing septic tanks from homes and development, outdated wastewater treatment plants and illegal RV dumping.

What the sampling has also shown, Richmond said, is the high E. coli levels aren’t necessarily coming from upstream communities in Durango and elsewhere. Instead, early results indicate the highest spikes happen in and around Farmington…

It’s a watershed moment

But that doesn’t necessarily mean upstream communities are swimming in sparkling clean waters.

The Animas River, for instance, has issues all its own. Remember that EPA standard of 126 cfu/100 mL? Well, one study conducted by Fort Lewis College in October 2018 found E. coli levels in the Animas at Santa Rita Park, near the Whitewater Park (close your eyes kayakers and surfers) at 226 CFUs. Bare in mind, this was before the completion of the City’s new water reclamation facility in December 2019…

Over in the Florida River, which runs into the Animas about 18 miles south of Durango, progress is also being made, said Warren Rider, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, which focuses on water quality issues on the Colorado side of the border.

The Florida River for years has exceeded safety standards for E. coli and accounts for nearly a quarter of the bacteria and nutrients dumped into the Animas River before the state line. In a bit of a shock, the Florida was delisted last year, but that was mostly due to a lack of data, researchers say.

While natural sources do account for a portion of contamination in the Florida, agriculture and livestock operations also contribute a good amount of harmful bacteria. As a result, Rider said the Animas Watershed Partnership has tried to work with landowners to fence off waterways to livestock and reestablish vegetation along stream banks…

Up in the high country

And no one has forgotten about the highest reaches of the watershed atop the San Juan Mountains, where an unprecedented increase in recreation, and therefore human waste, has been well noted and nosed in the past year or so.

This summer, the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Studies Institute partnered to test heavily trafficked recreation areas for E. coli. Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a forest ambassador with MSI, said areas with high use of recreation showed much higher concentrations than locations with little human impact.

In the obvious case study, South Mineral Creek – that of Ice Lakes fame – water samples taken above the highest areas of recreation tested at about 22 CFUs. Farther downstream, in a location that would catch all the cumulative impacts of recreation and camping, samples were more than four times as high, at nearly 90 CFUs. (And, it should be noted, South Mineral was closed this year because of fire damage, which likely means levels would be even higher if people were in the area)…

Christie Chatterley, Fort Lewis College assistant professor of physics and engineering, said in the popular backpacking spot Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, a student-led research program also found high levels of E. coli in streams. FLC has plans to conduct microbial source testing to see exactly where the bacteria is coming from, but Chatterley said it’s probably safe to assume hikers and campers…

So what can be done?

For starters, using best practices in the high country, such as burying waste 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, and packing out toilet paper can go a long way. This message is even more important as record numbers of people visit the backcountry, many without a working knowledge of how to protect the very landscape they come to enjoy.

Farther downstream, upgrading septic tanks is seen as another obvious target. Brian Devine, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said new septic regulations require people selling their homes to have septic systems inspected. In 2020 alone, more than 500 systems were inspected, which led to many leeching septic tanks being fixed. “It’s resulting in systems getting repaired,” he said. Richmond, with the San Juan Watershed Group, said agencies are working with New Mexico health officials to tackle failing and outdated septic systems as well.

And, the city of Durango’s Biggs said the Clean Water Act continues to push water quality standards. “The Clean Water Act has really improved water quality, and the Animas would be a testament to that,” he said. “And everyone benefits, including our downstream users.”

So yes, there’s no quick and easy fix to E. coli issues in the Animas and San Juan rivers, but all these efforts are folded into the long history of communities along the watershed, and the responsibilities they have to one another, Biggs said. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1800s when Silverton would send down water contaminated by mining operations to Durango, and a few decades later, when Durango’s uranium pile sat along the banks of the Animas River, only to be swept downstream.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#NewMexico #drought picture has improved considerably over summer, thanks to #monsoon2021

From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

While monsoon season does not conclude officially until the end of September, it is clear the summer weather pattern that typically brings a good deal of moisture to the Southwest has helped ease the drought’s grip on much of New Mexico.

Chuck Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the agency will not have figures on monsoon rain totals until early October, after the season has drawn to a close.

New Mexico Drought Monitor Map September 7, 2021.

But a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map for New Mexico — and the rest of the Southwest — shows substantial improvement over the past two and a half months. Many parts of the state that were bone dry at the beginning of summer have emerged mostly, or even entirely, from the drought.

Nowhere has that change been more dramatic than in the southeast corner of the state. According to the Southwest and California Drought Status Update issued June 24 by the federal government’s National Integrated Drought Information System, parts of seven counties in that corner of New Mexico were characterized as being in exceptional drought — the worst category — and every county in that region was suffering from severe, extreme or exceptional drought, the three worst categories.

Now, two and a half months later, the picture there is much different, as portions of six of those counties are now characterized as normal. Much of the remaining territory in the southeast corner of the state is classified as being only abnormally dry or experiencing moderate drought.

While other parts of the state also saw marked improvement — portions of 13 counties in New Mexico now are drought free, compared to parts of just two counties on June 24 — others have not been so fortunate. Many parts of central, southwest and northwest New Mexico that were locked in drought at the beginning of the summer remain that way, even though their status has improved, as well.

The drought continues to take a heavy toll on San Juan, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Las Alamos, Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties, with each of those counties still showing substantial territory characterized as being in extreme drought, the second-worst category.

That’s not to say those locations are as bad off as they were even a month ago, when large portions of all those counties were experiencing exceptional drought. In fact, the percentage of the state that is classified as being in exceptional drought has declined from more than 50% at the start of 2021 to approximately 33% three months ago, 4.5% on Aug. 10 and 0% on Sept. 9. And while 21.2% of New Mexico was in extreme drought on Aug. 10, that percentage declined to 19.1% by Sept. 7.

According to drought.gov, this was the 32nd wettest August in New Mexico over the last 127 years. Las Cruces has enjoyed an especially good monsoon so far, having racked up 5.06 inches of precipitation over that period, the third-wettest monsoon on record, according to drought.gov.

San Juan County has not seen that kind of bounty, but it has experienced a relatively good monsoon season, at least by the paltry standards of recent years. Jones said Farmington has received 1.6 inches of moisture at Four Corners Regional Airport over the three-month period, a figure that nearly matches the 30-year average of 1.62 inches.

For the year, Farmington has drawn 4.31 inches of precipitation, which comes close to matching the figure of 4.68 inches the city has received on average through the end of August for the last 30 years. Over the last three decades, Farmington has averaged a total of 7.76 inches annually.

As of Sept. 7, the vast majority of San Juan County was still characterized as being in extreme drought, with only slivers of the southwest and southeast corners in severe drought. But on Aug. 10, approximately half the county was in exceptional drought, and now none of it is.

Rivers flowing well below average — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 27.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Pagosa Springs as of noon Wednesday, Sept. 8. That rate is more than 100 cfs below the average flow rate for Sept. 8.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 139 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1970 at 1,160 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 17 cfs, recorded in 1978.

As of noon Wednesday, Sept. 1, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 40.1, which is up from last week’s instantaneous reading of 31.5 cfs.

However, the flow rate for that date is almost 80 cfs below the average flow rate for Sept. 8.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 120 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,300 cfs in 1991. The lowest recorded rate was 8.94 cfs in 2002.

Water report

According to a press release from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey, the district remains in a Stage 1 drought per its drought management plan.

…the U.S. Drought Monitor…indicates our area is in a severe to moderate drought.

Ramsey notes that PAWSD is continuing to request voluntary odd/even watering days, “requesting that if your address is an odd number only irrigate on odd calender days and vice-versa for even number ad- dresses.”

There are no other mandatory water use restrictions in place, be- sides limiting irrigation to after 6 p.m. and before 9 a.m…

Colorado Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

Drought report

The NIDIS website indicates 95.29 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry, up slightly from the previous report of 94.84 percent of the county being abnormally dry.

The percentage of the county in a moderate drought remains at 67.47 percent.

The NIDIS website also notes that 41.75 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, which is up slightly from the previous report of 41.2 percent.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 9.12 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought — consistent with the previous report — mostly in the southwestern por- tion of the county.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

No portion of the county is in exceptional drought.

For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

Stage 1 #drought restrictions still in effect — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

According to a press release from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey, the district remains in a Stage 1 drought per its drought management plan.

This marks the sixth week in a row that the district has been in a Stage 1 drought. The PAWSD board initially approved entering the stage on July 19.

Ramsey notes that the primary driver of this drought stage is the San Juan River flow in conjunction with the U.S. Drought Monitor, which indicates our area is in a severe to moderate drought…

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 31, 2021.

Drought report

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was updated on Aug. 24, re- porting the same numbers for the second consecutive week.

The NIDIS website indicates 94.84 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry and 67.46 per- cent of the county is in a moderate drought.

The NIDIS website also notes that 41.2 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 9.12 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought, mostly in the southwestern portion of the county.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

No portion of the county is in an exceptional drought.

For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 39.7 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 154 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2008 at 1,290 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 8.66 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 31.5 cfs.

Based on 50 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 191 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,210 cfs in 2008. The lowest recorded rate was 5.42 cfs in 2002.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 800 cfs August 27, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridifcation

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Friday, August 27th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. This release change is calculated to be the minimum release required to maintain the minimum target base flow.

San Juan #Water Conservancy District votes to oppose BLM water rights applications — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Jessica Hanson):

The San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) board met on Monday, Aug.16, to hear a report, among other business, from the board’s attorney, Jeff Kane, on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) intent to file two applications for water rights.

According to agenda information posted on the SJWCD website, the two water rights applications are for transmountain diversions to the Rio Grande River basin from a tributary of Wolfe Creek. (Note: This spelling of Wolfe Creek is what is found in the BLM’s original application for water rights.) This is a tributary to the West Fork of the San Juan River.

These two applications could mean the diversion of up to 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water.

The BLM stated in its applications that the diversion of the water would be to support wildlife management and wetlands habitat at the BLM’s Blanca Wetlands Area and South San Luis Lakes Area.

According to the memorandum presented to the board by Kane, this means that any authorization of this type of diversion causes 100 percent depletion to the originating stream basin. The water that would be diverted under this water rights application would then not be available to support any uses or habitats in the San Juan River or its
tributaries.

The BLM is requesting a change in the places and types of use of the already existing 7 cfs of the Treasure Pass Ditch water right. This water right was purchased in 2019. This current agreement calls for a 1922 priority for the irrigation of 80 acres. The new water rights application by the BLM asks for 13 cfs for the Treasure Pass Ditch and for the right to authorize the BLM to store and deliver water from the Treasure Pass Ditch through several reservoirs in the Rio Grande Basin for support use to the wetlands in the San Luis Valley.

The BLM is also seeking flexibility in approval so it can use the water it wants to divert from the Treasure Pass Ditch in the Rio Grande Basin in a variety of ways, according to Kane.

Kane’s report to the board states, “the applications do not limit the ultimate use of diverted water to support wetlands and wildlife.”

The BLM has the burden of proof when making a request for water rights changes. In a request for a change of water rights, the applicant must prove that the request will not cause an increase in use of requested water as compared in amount, time and place to what has been historically used, according to the memorandum presented by Kane.

A request for an exchange of water rights is when proof is required of the applicant that the request will not harm or impede other water rights and can be applied, Kane’s memorandum explains. A request for a new water right requires the applicant to provide proof that the water to be used will only be beneficial and that there is actually water available to be diverted.

As Kane presented his report on the BLM applications to the board, he noted that both the board and its constituents could be adversely affected in many ways.

The ability of the district to divert and store water under existing water rights or future appropriations considering the diverting water from the Treasure Pass Ditch would not only reduce flows in the San Juan River, but also reduce the water available for Dry Gulch Reservoir, he suggested.

The report also states that the habitat in the tributaries of the San Juan River may also be impacted. The BLM’s applications could also affect the district’s constituents’ efforts to divert and use water if the event a Colorado Compact call were to arise.

The Colorado Compact call is the need to reduce the increasing risk of a compact-driven curtailment which could result in cutting of water to users across the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming, Kane reported to the SJWCD board.

Heron Lake, part of the San Juan-Chama Project, in northern New Mexico, looking east from the Rio Chama. In the far distance is Brazos Peak (left) and the Brazos Cliffs (right), while at the bottom is the north wall of the Rio Chama Gorge. By G. Thomas at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1598784

Kane also noted that the San Juan-Chama Project is currently diverting an average of 110,000 acre feet a year from the San Juan River to the Rio Grande Basin and the BLM is proposing to divert more water from the Wolfe Creek tribu- tary than at any time in history.

Kane recommended that the board file statements of opposition to the BLM’s applications.

The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Navajo Unit will be virtual, and is scheduled for Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at 1:00 pm — USBR #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.Photo credit Mike Robinson via the University of Washington.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Navajo Unit will be virtual, and is scheduled for Tuesday, August 24th, at 1:00 pm. At the meeting time, click here to join the meeting.

This meeting is open to the public and will be held virtually via Microsoft Teams video. The meeting should open in any smartphone, tablet, or computer browser, and does not require a Microsoft account. If you are away from a computer, you can also call-in at (202) 640-1187 (Phone Conference ID: 460 056 201#).

A copy of the presentation and meeting summary will be distributed to this email list and posted to our website following the meeting. If you are unable to connect to the meeting, feel free to contact me (information below) following the meeting for any comments or to ask questions.

The meeting agenda will include a review of operations and hydrology since April, current streamflow and hydrologic conditions, a discussion of hydrologic forecasts and planned operations for remainder of this water year and next water year, planned drought operations, updates on maintenance activities, and the Recovery Program on the San Juan River.

If you have any suggestions for the agenda or have questions about the meeting, please call Susan Behery at 970-385-6560, or email sbehery@usbr.gov. Visit the Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html for operational updates.

Navajo Dam operations update (August 17, 2021): Releases to be reduced 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):

The City of Farmington Hydroelectric Power Plant will be taken offline today, Tuesday, August 17th, at 1:00 PM for unscheduled work. The Bureau of Reclamation will open the Auxiliary 4×4 release at that time, to 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) (a reduction from the current release of 800 cfs). The Auxiliary will continue releasing for a period of up to a week while work continues at the Power Plant.

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 (August 17, 2021): Releases to decrease to 800 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach and a forecast wetter weather pattern, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Tuesday, August 17th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Navajo Dam operations update (August 14, 2021): Releases to bump to 900 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Saturday, August 14th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Navajo Dam operations update (August 12, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Conceptual framework, on the San Juan. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs for THURSDAY, August 12th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

#Drought restrictions remain — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

According to an Aug. 2 press release from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey, the district remains under Stage 1 drought restrictions.

“Under the Drought Stage 1 there is mandatory water use restriction limiting irrigation to after 6:00 pm to 9:00 am.,” the press release reads.

Ramsey notes that PAWSD is continuing to request voluntary odd/even watering days where “if your address is an odd number only irrigate on odd calender days and vice-versa for even number addresses.”

[…]

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 3, 2021.

Drought report

Drought Information System (NIDIS) website indicates that, as of July 27, 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry and 89.38 percent of the county is in a moderate drought.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage, dry-land crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 65.2 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 38.59 percent of the county is in an extreme drought, mostly in the western portion of the county.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

There is no longer any portion of the county in an exceptional drought.

For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought. gov/states/Colorado/county/ Archuleta.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 132 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 196 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1999 at 845 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 20.1 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 193 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 216 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,230 cfs in 1999. The lowest recorded rate was 18.2 cfs in 2002.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 700 cfs August 7, 2021

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 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 700 cfs today, Saturday, August 7th, starting 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: Releases to bump to 500 cfs August 6, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, August 6th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Invitation to propose ideas for natural resource restoration projects related to 2015 #GoldKingMine release — #NewMexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee #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]

Here’s the release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (Elysia Bunten):

The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) is in the preliminary stages of soliciting ideas for projects that will restore natural resources in New Mexico injured by the 2015 Gold King Mine release.

We welcome stakeholder engagement in our process and invite you, as a stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, to participate in this process. Please see the attached letter containing details about ONRT’s funding, process, upcoming information session, and timetable.

Project Solictation Letter to GKM Release Stakeholders 7.15.21

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

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

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

At a special meeting on Monday, July 19, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to enter into Stage 1 drought restrictions in compliance with its 2020 Drought Management Plan.

At the special meeting, District Manager Justin Ramsey explained that the primary factor behind deciding when to enter into the restrictions is the San Juan River flow rate.

“We’re not seeing an average flow anywhere near median, so that’s where we’re at,” Ramsey stated.

He explained that it is not likely that the river will rise enough in the next month or two to where it would no longer meet the Stage 1 restriction requirement.

Ramsey explained that with en- tering into the Stage 1 restrictions, there is still no requirement as to which days residents are allowed to water lawns.

However, he mentioned that PAWSD is still asking people to voluntarily irrigate on an odd/even schedule where those with even-numbered addresses irrigating only on even-numbered days and odd-numbered addresses irrigating only on odd-numbered days.

Ramsey explained that one requirement with the Stage 1 restrictions is that residents must irrigate after 6 p.m. and before 9 a.m.

Board member Glenn Walsh noted that this is the first time the district has been through this process under the 2020 Drought Management Plan…

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 20, 2021.

Drought report
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was updated on July 13, showing that 100 percent of Archuleta County is in a moderate drought and more than half of the county is in severe drought.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage, dry-land crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 71.17 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 51.04 percent of the county is in an extreme drought, mostly in the western portion of the county…

River report
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 81.7 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 263 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1941 at 1,470 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 15.4 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 66.2 cfs. This is an increase from a July 14 reading of 62.3 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 232 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,350 cfs in 1986. The lowest recorded rate was 10.3 cfs in 2002.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to decrease to 400 cfs July 27, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Tuesday, July 27th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

For families of color, #ClimateChange in #NewMexico is already here, say experts — The New Mexico Political Report

Rio Grande River, March 2009 (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gardener41

From The New Mexico Political Report (Susan Dunlap):

Climate change isn’t in the future for New Mexico—it’s already here and impacting families of color, according to climate change experts.

From Navajo leaving their land due to dwindling resources, hotter wildfires altering landscapes, an increase of climate change refugees crossing outside ports of entry and wells running dry in rural areas, families of color in New Mexico are already feeling the heat from climate change, various sources told NM Political Report.

Joan Brown, executive director of climate justice organization New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said it’s hard to not feel “immobilized” by the immensity of the problem…

According to a Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication report, communities of color are likely to disproportionately feel climate change more than white communities due to socioeconomic inequities. Communities of color are likely to be more vulnerable to heat waves, extreme weather events, environmental degradation and the resulting job opportunity dislocations, the report said.

Brown said she believes the first aspect of climate change to have the greatest impact on families of color in New Mexico will be the intensity of forest fires in the state.

This week forest fire smoke from western states has affected skies and air pollution in the eastern part of the U.S. and the Bootleg Fire in Oregon is so intense it is causing its own weather…

Families of color who live in Albuquerque are also feeling the effects of climate change and the ensuing severe drought, Brown said. Her organization has been involved in tree plantings, as part of the City of Albuquerque’s initiative to plant thousands of trees in city neighborhoods. Brown said New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light has focused its efforts in the International District in Albuquerque because the area acts as a “heat sink” due to a lack of vegetation and too much concrete, she said.

Heat sinks, which occur in urban settings, are more likely to affect low income and diverse communities such as the International District, Brown said…

Brown said there are places around New Mexico where wells are running dry. She said the state needs to allocate money and put more effort toward water preservation, adaptation and mitigation…

In southeast New Mexico, where significant oil and gas extraction takes place in the Permian Basin, Brown said the “folks suffering the most” are those who have less access to income. She said families of color who are low-income suffer from pollution-related health issues such as asthma.

With the anticipated increased heat from climate change, she said, low income families of color will suffer the most because they often don’t have evaporative coolers, insulated houses or air conditioning.

In another corner of the state, local organizer Nena Benavidez works with the social justice organization New Mexico CAFé in the Silver City area, the home of the Santa Rita Copper Mine. As the state plans to transition to meet legislation enacted to plan for a 50 percent renewable energy standard by 2030, Benavidez is focused on the transitioning economy for rural locales, such as Silver City, which has been dependent on the metal mining industry since the late 1800s.

The Energy Transition Act is about phasing out the state’s reliance on coal, not copper, but New Mexico CAFé is concerned about what happens to jobs in rural communities, such as Silver City as the planet heats up. Johanna Bencomo, executive director for New Mexico CAFé, said immigrants and people of color in rural areas frequently work outside in the extractive industries or agriculture…

Bencomo said this summer, which has been one of the hottest and driest on record, impacted people of color picking green chile, as well as people of color working in the copper mine and in dairies.

New Mexico CAFé is pushing for a “just transition” to a green economy especially for the state’s rural communities. Not everyone wants to leave their small towns for a bigger city, Bencomo said…

The Navajo Nation

Mario Atencio, who is Diné [Navajo] and a board member of Diné C.A.R.E. (Citizens Against Ruining our Environment), said the Navajo, who are still living on their traditional land, are already being dispersed from their homeland due to climate change.

“Even now, people are selling their cows. It’s kind of happening. There are no jobs, you can’t raise and sustain a herd of cows, what else are you going to do? You’ve got to go work. It’s not going to be a mass migration. It’s happening very slowly, a climate change diaspora,” he said…

He said some Indigenous people who rely on medicinal plants are not finding those plants due to climate change and worsening drought, which he said is a matter of food security and food sovereignty…

But, the biggest climate change challenge facing the Navajo will be sustainable water resources, Atencio said. Robyn Jackson, Diné [Navajo] and climate and energy outreach coordinator for Diné C.A.R.E., said a number of Navajo farmers did not plant this year because of the significant decrease in water due to the severe drought…

Not being able to plant, as Navajo people have done for generations, affects mental health because many dry land farmers received their seeds from their grandparents. She said maintaining the generational traditions are a reminder of the Navajo way of life.

Navajo and other Indigenous people have had to suffer the effects of environmental racism for generations. Jackson said that during the 1970s, the U.S. government named areas of the Navajo Nation a national sacrifice zone to meet the energy needs for large cities in the southwest region…

Oil and gas wells have been in operation on Navajo land since the 1920s, Jackson said. The extractive industries have brought “huge environmental impacts” with air and water quality issues and now that some, such as the coal industry, are in decline and closing, this brings additional economic impacts as well, Jackson said.

In a land where water is scarce and a third of Navajo families lack electricity and running water at home, the Navajo’s water issues have been exacerbated by different types of mining that American industry has extracted on Navajo land, including uranium mining and strip coal mining, Jackson said. This has left the Navajo with some contaminated water sources. She said there are over 1,000 abandoned mines on Navajo land.

The Weminuche Audubon Society: Monthly chapter meeting, Wednesday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m.

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

From the Weminuche Audubon Society (Jean Zirnhelt) via The Pagosa Springs Sun:

The Weminuche Audubon Society invites you to join us for our monthly chapter meeting on Wednesday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting will take place on Zoom and the link may be found on the Events tab of our website, http://www.weminucheaudubon.org.

Water, always an important topic in our area, will be the focus of this month’s meeting. In July, we will learn about the work of the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), a local organization working to address the management of this precious resource.

Al Pfister, on behalf of the WEP, will be presenting the results of data collected in Phase II of the WEP’s assessment of the environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs in the Upper San Juan River. The WEP’s data collection is a part of the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 in the development of a Stream Management Plan/Integrated Watershed Management Plan. The WEP’s data collection efforts were done to assess local environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs in the face of a warming and drying climate.

Pfister is a semi-retired fish and wildlife biologist who has worked in seven western U.S. states dealing with endangered species issues, trying to find a balance between conserving imperiled fish, wildlife, plants, herptiles and invertebrates, while still allowing the various uses (development, recreation, grazing, timber harvest, energy development, etc) to coexist. In addition to his work with WEP, he serves on the board of the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership and on the board of the San Juan Water Conservancy District. He is a past board member of the Weminuche Audubon Society.

Audubon meetings are open to the public. Please come with your questions about this important management tool. We hope to be able to return to in-person meetings this fall if conditions allow.

Upper #SanJuanRiver Basin conditions — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridfication

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 13, 2021.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Drought report

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) shows 100 percent of Archuleta County is in moderate drought, with almost three-quarters of the county in severe drought and just over the half the county is in extreme drought.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage, dry-land crops may suffer, range- land growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 71.17 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 51.04 percent of the county is in an extreme drought, mostly in the western portion of the county.

The NIDIS website notes that, under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

According to the NIDIS, 6.24 percent of the county, in the southwestern portion, is in an exceptional drought stage.

Under an exceptional drought stage, agricultural and recreational losses are large and dust storms and topsoil removal are widespread.

For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought. gov/states/Colorado/county/ Archuleta.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 92.2 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 14.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 328 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1995 at 1,550 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 10.9 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 14, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 62.3 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 266 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,160 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 9.44 cfs in 2002.

Reclamation’s July 24-Month Study implements contingency operations in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification #GreenRiver #SanJuanRiver #GunnisonRiver

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released the July 24-Month Study, confirming declining hydrologic conditions for the Colorado River system. To protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the study incorporates the implementation of drought operations under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA).

The July 2021 Operation Plan for Colorado River System Reservoirs 24-Month Study (July 24-Month Study) shows that the Lake Powell water year 2021 predicted unregulated inflow volume has decreased 2.5 million acre-feet in the six-month period between January and July 2021. The current forecast for WY2021 is 3.23 maf (30% of average).

In addition, 5-year projections released by Reclamation last week predicted a 79% chance that Lake Powell would fall below the DROA target elevation of 3,525 feet within the next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

Consistent with DROA provisions to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the July 24-Month Study includes adjusted releases from the upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project Act to deliver an additional 181 thousand-acre feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of December 2021. The additional releases are anticipated to be implemented on the following schedule:

Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) planned releases July 16, 2021. The “Last Flush”. Data credit: USBR

The releases detailed above are in addition to the already established releases determined by operational plans for each of the identified facilities. The additional delivery of 181 kaf is expected to raise Lake Powell’s elevation by approximately three feet. The additional releases from the upstream initial units do not change the annual volume of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in WY2021, as those volumes are determined by the 2007 Interim Guidelines.

Reclamation publishes a 24-Month Study for Colorado River System reservoirs each month. The August 24-Month Study will set the operating conditions for Lake Mead and Lake Powell for the upcoming year. Reclamation will also release an update to the 5-year projections in early September.

Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states continue to work together cooperatively to closely monitor projections and conditions and are prepared to take additional measures in accordance with the DROA.

Reclamation remains committed to reducing the collective risk of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead falling to critical elevations and will continue to work with entities in the Colorado River Basin to ensure that both facilities continue to function as authorized to meet the natural, municipal and agricultural needs of the basin.

To view the July and prior 24-month studies, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies.

Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

Navajo-Gallup #Water Supply Project completion expected to move from 2024 to 2029 — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Pipes are laid for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments via The High Country News

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is expected to move back a few years since the project intends to use facilities at the San Juan Generating Station for its future water delivery.

Members of a state legislative committee were told this week by a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official that the bureau decided to use the existing system that intakes water from the San Juan River to help deliver water to the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup once the pipeline is completed and operational.

Pat Page, manager of the Bureau’s Four Corners Construction Office, explained that among the apparatuses that will be acquired are the diversion dam, pumping plant and reservoir.

The tribe is the primary beneficiary of the project through its water settlement for the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico. The project will also serve Gallup and the Jicarilla Apache Nation – through a separate lateral…

Extension of the project’s completion date from 2024 to 2029 is due to upgrades of existing structures and construction at the site, he explained.

However, it is also viewed as a cost savings because the original plan was to build a new diversion system off an irrigation cancel downstream, Page added.

The bureau is continuing negotiations to acquire the facilities from the power plant’s owners.

San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap — The #FortMorgan Times

Hunter in fog at Prewitt Reservoir via Colorado Open Lands

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jeff Rice):

It’s going to be difficult for legislators to strengthen Colorado’s already strong water anti-speculation laws, but that’s what a study group is looking at.

Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, told his board’s executive committee Tuesday it will be tough for the study group to come up with viable recommendations to the legislature.

The study group was authorized by Senate Bill 20-048 during the 2020 legislative session. The bill “requires the executive director of the department of natural resources to convene a work group to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law and to report to the water resources review committee by August 15, 2021, regarding any recommended changes.”

Frank said the 18-member working group, which has been meeting since November 2020, is “a pretty diverse group,” and that has caused some concerns about the viability of recommendations that it may propose.

“The hard part, in my mind, is how you distinguish between traditional speculation and investment speculation, and how you protect people’s property rights,” Frank said. “How do you tell a landowner who he can and can’t sell his property to? (Some states have) laws about selling (farmland) to people outside the state, but I’ve talked to some (Colorado) tenants whose out-of-state landowners are really good landlords.”

Water speculation is generally thought of as buying water rights without having an immediate beneficial use for the water, hoping to later sell the water for a profit. The concern is that agricultural water would be taken off the land and sold out-of-state. Current water law requires that anyone buying water shares or buying ag land with a water right must have an immediate beneficial use for the water.

That has led to the practice “buy and dry,” in which cities and utilities buy agricultural land and use the water for their own purposes. One example is when Sterling purchased the Scalva Bros. farm in the early 2000s so it could use the farm’s strong water right to augment pumping for municipal use. Although the water is still being used to irrigate crops on the farm, eventually it will have to be taken off the cropland and the land returned to a natural state.

Board member Gene Manuello said anti-speculation legislation can be a double-edged sword. He referred to a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court decision in which the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and San Juan Water Conservancy District were denied permission to build Dry Gulch Reservoir. Trout Unlimited sued the districts claiming their projections of water needs over the coming 50 years were excessive and amounted to water speculation.

The high court ruled that the Pagosa area water districts, which supply water to nearly all of Archuleta County, had not sufficiently demonstrated a need for the amount of water they claimed, based on projected population growth and water availability over a 50-year planning period…

A report on recommendations from the study group is due in mid-August, Frank said.

In other business Tuesday the executive committee when into executive session to discuss legal and negotiation issues concerning the proposed Fremont Butte project. That project would store excess South Platte River runoff in Prewitt Reservoir and a new reservoir south of there, to later be pumped upstream for use by the Parker Water and Sanitation District.

Governor Polis declares #drought emergency for western #Colorado — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor map July 6, 2021.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

On Wednesday, June 30, Gov. Jared Polis formally declared a drought emergency for 21 counties in the western portion of the state by proclamation.

The proclamation states that Colorado is now in phase 3 activa- tion of the State Drought Plan for 21 counties, including Archuleta, Hinsdale and La Plata counties.
Mineral County was not in- cluded in the governor’s proclamation.

However, a press release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) explains that counties along the Continental Divide in abnormally dry conditions or a moderate drought “will continue to be closely monitored and added to the drought emergency proclama- tion as appropriate.”

The CWCB press release explains that phase 3 is the highest level of activation under the State Drought Plan.

The CWCB press release notes that on June 22, 2020, phase 2 of the State Drought Plan was activated for 40 counties and expanded to all 64 counties by September 2020…

Colorado Drought Monitor map July 6, 2021.

Drought report
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), as of 10 a.m. on June 29, 100 percent of Archuleta County remains in a moderate drought stage, with more than half of the county in extreme drought.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage, dry-land crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 71.17 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 51.04 percent of the county is in an extreme drought, mostly in the western portion of the county.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

According to the NIDIS, 6.24 percent of the county, in the southwestern portion, is in an exceptional drought stage…

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 149 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 7.

Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 482 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1995 at 2,080 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 17.5 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 7, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 119 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 372 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,920 cfs in 1975. The lowest recorded rate was 8.05 cfs in 2002.

Low water levels in #LakePowell could affect #NavajoLake — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Joe Napolitan):

During a meeting on June 21, members of the San Juan Water Conservation District (SJWCD) board discussed local implications of historically low water levels in Lake Powell.

“The article that came out today just said that there’s a threshold that Lake Powell has to reach for the CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) to enact some legal movements,” said board member Joe Tedder. “Apparently we’re going to hit that, probably by the end of June.”

The threshold Tedder referred to is outlined in the Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations Plan (DCP).

The plan states that if Lake Powell reaches a surface elevation of 3,525 the upper-basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) shall take action to send more water to Lake Powell from reservoirs upstream.

According to the USBR, the surface elevation of Lake Powell was 3,559 feet on July 4. Aside from the drought in 2005, such low water levels have not been seen since the 1960s, when Lake Powell was still filling after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963.

Low water levels in Lake Powell have implications for the Colorado River Basin, which includes the San Juan River and Pagosa Springs.

According to a report by the Pacific Institute in 2013, roughly 70 percent of the Colorado River Basin’s water is used to irrigate nearly 5.7 million acres of land for agriculture. The USBR estimates that more than 40 million people depend on the river to support their lives.

Another report prepared by Southwick Associates in 2012 esti- mated that 5.6 million people over the age of 18 use the Colorado River for recreational purposes each year.

The same report totals the value of all spending resulting from such recreational expenditures to be $25.6 billion, generating $1.6 billion in federal tax dollars…

SJWCD board member Doug Secrist outlined provisions in the DCP, stating that in an effort to stabilize Lake Powell, water would be reallocated from reservoirs up- stream, otherwise referred to as initial units…

“I can tell you that PAWSD is senior to all those reservoirs, so PAWSD water is pretty well protected,” SJWCD Board of Directors President Al Pfister said of the Pagosa Area Wa- ter and Sanitation District. “But it is a very intricate and interwoven issue.”

[…]

The National Integrated Drought Information System reports that Archuleta County is experiencing its driest year in over a century, and that the initial units from which water is planned to be supplied to Lake Powell are already low in volume and inflow…

The USBR predicts that the preliminary unregulated flow which supplies the Navajo Reservoir, which presently has a pool elevation 27 feet below the 1981-2010 average, will be 36 percent of the average for the month of July.
For Blue Mesa, which presently rests 43 feet below the 1981-2010 av- erage, is projected to have an inflow volume 40 percent of average.
Flaming Gorge, which rests only 3 feet below its average pool eleva- tion, is projected to have an unregu- lated inflow volume of 42 percent of average.

Half of Archuleta County in extreme #drought — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor map June 29, 2021.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Pagosa Country also remains in a voluntary drought stage…

“Under the Volun- tary Drought State there are no mandatory water use restrictions, however PAWSD does encourage responsible water use. This spring we have seen higher than normal temperatures. These high tempera- tures along with a reduction in late spring precipitation resulted in a quicker than normal melting of the snowpack reducing our available water and could lead to water use restrictions.”

[…]

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 221 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 30.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 759 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1957 at 3,020 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 19.9 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 30, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 176 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 764 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 2,030 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 10.6 cfs in 2002.

Drought Report

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) as of 10 a.m. on June 22, 100 percent of Archuleta County is in a moderate drought stage.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage dry-land crops may suffer, range- land growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 71.17 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 51.04 percent, mostly the western portion, of the county is in an extreme drought.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

According to the NIDIS, 6.24 percent of the county, in the south- western portion, is in an exceptional drought stage.

Under an exceptional drought stage, agricultural and recreational losses are large and dust storms and topsoil removal are widespread.

For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

Navajo Dam operations update: Release bump to 600 cfs Monday, July 5, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Monday, July 5th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Wildlife officials ask anglers not to fish the #DoloresRiver for the first time ever as rain fails to dent Western Slope #drought — The #Colorado Sun

West Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.

Devastating drought and disappearing runoff in far southwestern Colorado have prompted state officials to seek voluntary fishing restrictions on the Dolores River for the first time, and fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.

Intense rain over the weekend — generating eye-opening but perhaps deceptive coverage of flash floods and mudslides — are not nearly enough to bring Colorado’s Western Slope out of a 20-year drought that has drained rivers and desiccated pastures.

Conservation groups, meanwhile, say they are also worried about low river levels in more visible, main-stem branches of waterways usually popular with anglers and recreators in July, including the Colorado River…

Voluntary fishing closures on prime stretches of the Colorado are “imminent,” too, as soon as state weather warms up as expected in a few days, said Kendall Bakich, aquatic biologist for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division in the Glenwood Springs area. Portions of the Colorado are seeing water temperatures above 70 degrees and related fish stress a month earlier than in a usual year, Bakich said.

Moreover, sediment from the heavy rains and mudslides that make some Front Range residents hear “drought relief” are actually making things harder on trout and other species, Bakich said. The murky water makes it harder for them to find food.

Even if you release a caught trout and it survives, Bakich said, this year’s far earlier than normal heat stresses are threatening the sperm and egg health in the species…

Bakich said she has worked the waters from Glenwood Springs upstream to State Bridge since 2007, and has not seen Colorado River temperatures rise this fast, this early…

Ranchers are seeking alternate pasture and culling herds. Fruit orchards south and east of Grand Mesa predict smaller crops. Reservoir managers told the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and other growers they will see only 10% of their usual water allotment.

Flow in the Dolores River is controlled almost completely by McPhee’s dam. Normally at this time of year, the stream is running at 60 to 80 cubic feet per second. Last week, it ran at 9 cfs, White said. Managers believe it will be down to 5 cfs later in the summer, barely a trickle in the wide stream bed.

So Parks and Wildlife is asking Dolores anglers to stop fishing by noon each day. Water comes out the bottom of McPhee at a chilly, trout-friendly 45 degrees, White said. In typical weather, anglers have a few miles of river to work below the dam before the water heats up to 75 degrees, a temperature band that starts weakening fish survival rates. Those 75-degree stretches have moved much closer to the dam this summer, he said.

The same is happening on the Animas and San Juan rivers in the southwest corner of the state, and voluntary closures are close on the horizon there, White said.

“We anticipate probably asking anglers to refrain from fishing at some point later in the summer if water temperatures start to get high, which we do anticipate this year,” he said.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River sections could see some relief, from engineering if not from the weather.

Wildlife and conservation leaders said they are in talks with Front Range water diverters, who have rights to send Western Slope river water under the Continental Divide for urban and suburban household water, to release more flow west from their healthy reservoirs on the Colorado and its tributaries.

The Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District accepts grant to repair pumps, awards solution contract — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Wastewater lift station

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Joe Napolitan):

During a meeting on June 17, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept a grant award from the Small Communities Water and Wastewater Grant Fund.

According to the agenda brief, in early March PSSGID, staff informed the board that they had taken the initiative to apply for a grant to repair the lift stations that pump sewage to the Vista Treatment Plant. The grants are specifically for small communities that need funds to protect the water quality in the region.

“The grant application was for the maximum amount of that grant, $400,000 and the GID of- fered a match of $100,000 for a total amount of $500,000,” said Public Works Director Martin Schmidt. “That amount was determined by what [we] anticipated were the costs for replacing the pumps and pricing at the lift stations.”

The brief states that the staff made it very clear in the applica- tion that the failing lift stations are a serious problem and must be remedied with a long-term solution.

On Tuesday, June 7, the staff received a letter informing the district that the application was successful…

The agenda brief states that the funds will be used for replacement of equipment at Pump Stations 1 and 2, where there continue to be unsustainable failures with the pumps.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District asks customers to use odd/even irrigation — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Pagosa Country is still in a voluntary drought stage, according to a June 21 press release from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey.

To avoid entering the next drought stage, PAWSD has asked for home and business owners to voluntarily implement an odd/ even irrigation schedule. The odd/ even schedule means that houses and businesses with odd numbered addresses will water on odd numbered days of the month and even numbered addresses will water on even numbered days of the month.

“Compliance with this voluntary schedule would all but guarantee that there would be adequate supply for the entire system without the need to implement further restrictions,” Ramsey notes in the press release.

Ramsey explains in his press release that water use increases by up to 300 percent in the summer versus winter, putting a strain on PAWSD’s ability to deliver water throughout the entire 70-square-mile service area…

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 322 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,030 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1941 at 4,040 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 32.1 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 170 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 732 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 2,160 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 16.8 cfs in 2002.

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.

Drought report

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), as of June 15, 100 percent of Archuleta County remains in a moderate drought stage.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage dry-land crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 99.36 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, the fire season is extended.

For more information and maps, visit https://www.drought.gov/ states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 500 cfs June 25, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, June 25th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Lakes full, but #drought continues — The Pagosa Springs Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s (PAWSD) lakes are full, but Archuleta County remains in moderate to severe drought and the snowpack is gone.

According to a June 14 press release from PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey, all five of Pagosa’s lakes are now completely full.

This includes Lake Pagosa, Hatcher Lake, Stevens Lake, Village Lake and Lake Forest…

Snow report

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, no longer had a snowpack equivalent to any snow water amount as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16.
The average amount of snow water equivalent for this date is 5.2 inches…

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 10 percent of the June 16 median in terms of snowpack.

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.

Drought report

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), 100 percent of Archuleta County remains in a moderate drought stage.

The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage dryland crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.

The NIDIS website also notes that 99.36 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.

According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 562 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,280 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1979 at 3,850 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 44.1 cfs, recorded in 2002.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 373 cfs.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 968 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 3,070 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 18.3 cfs in 2002.

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

New Mexico Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vallecito Lake via Vallecito Chamber

From The Durango Herald (Shannon Mullane):

Town outlines increased fines for periods of extreme drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

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

Montezuma Valley

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

State and federal programs offer drought assistance, emergency loans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mcphee Reservoir

The June 2021 Audubon Rockies newsletter is hot off the presses

Marsh Wren. Photo: Ramkumar Subramanian/Audubon Photography Awards

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

Inspiration to Preservation in Pagosa Springs

Promoting community-driven wetland conservation with Pagosa Wetland Partners.

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

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

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

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

Our work has been shaped by three strategies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From KSJD (Lucas Brady Woods) via KUNC:

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

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

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

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

    And the data show another concerning correlation.

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

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

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

    He also says that drought can be especially devastating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Durango Telegraph (John van Becay):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

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

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

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New General Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    San Juan wildflowers.

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery Novak):

    In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs on Tuesday, May 18th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

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

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

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

    River report

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Snow report

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 20.8 inches of snow water equivalent as of 3 p.m. on May 12.

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery Novak):

    In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, May 15th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast for increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Wednesday, May 12th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast lull in flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a temporary increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, May 11th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

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

    Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Joe Napolitan):

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

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

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

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

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

    […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From New Mexico in Depth (Elizabeth Miller):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, May 8th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, May 7th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Saturday, May 1st, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.