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

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

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagosa Hot Springs

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

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

Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

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

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

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

    Other snowpack reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    River report

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

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

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

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

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases bumping to 400 CFS January 9, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, January 9th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

    @EPA orders access to water treatment plant north of Silverton — The #Durango Herald

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

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    The water treatment plant, however, is located on a site known as Gladstone, about 8 miles north of Silverton up County Road 110, owned by the same person who owns the Gold King Mine, Todd Hennis.

    Hennis, an entrepreneur based in Golden, has long had an interest in the mines that dot the San Juan Mountains around Silverton, and over the years, has been buying up old mine sites with the hopes of revamping the industry…

    After the spill, Hennis agreed to let the EPA use the Gladstone property for a temporary water treatment plant, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.

    “When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”

    The water treatment plant continues to operate to this day, and is seen by some invested in the cleanup of mines around Silverton as a possible long-term solution to improving water quality in the Animas River.

    Since 2015, the EPA has operated on the Gladstone property through a “general access order,” though the agency has not paid Hennis for use of the land, said EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins.

    The EPA has, however, worked for years to come to a long-term lease agreement with Hennis that would include payments for use of the land based on fair market value, but those efforts have not been successful.

    “Mr. Hennis has declined EPA’s multiple requests for long-term access and has rejected a long-term lease agreement for EPA’s use of the Gladstone property,” Jenkins said.

    Because, in part, of the resources and staff time required to send Hennis monthly general access orders, the EPA on Jan. 6 sent him an “administrative order” that requires him to give the EPA full access to the Gladstone property.

    An administrative order, according to the EPA website, is an enforcement tool under the Superfund program.

    “We want to have consistent access to the water treatment plant so we can maintain and provide water treatment, that’s the reasoning,” Jenkins said.

    When contacted, Hennis said, “I cannot comment on this development, other than to say the EPA currently has access to the site.”

    Indeed, Jenkins said that while Hennis has refused to come to a long-term lease agreement, he has not blocked access to the site.

    The long-term future of the water treatment plant is an issue high atop the list of priorities in the Superfund around Silverton, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    Some local officials and members of the public have called to expand the operating capacity of the plant to take in discharges from other mines around Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

    But questions have loomed about this prospect, namely who would be financially on the hook to operate the plant in perpetuity.

    But for Hennis, all this is a moot point. He’s still adamant that there are plenty of metals, like gold and tellurium, to be mined in the mountains around Silverton.

    “Some of you have government pensions to rely on when you retire,” Hennis said at a public meeting in October 2015. “My retirement is Gladstone. Sitting here, listening to people say Gladstone would make a perfect site for a remediation laboratory, having my land cavalierly dealt with, is not a happy feeling.

    “I know you wouldn’t want your backyard or your retirement stolen from you,” he continued. “This is not going to happen. I’ve tried to be very reasonable.”

    The EPA’s Jenkins said the administrative order would terminate if a lease agreement is signed or if access to the property is no longer needed by the EPA to conduct response activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    #Drought news (January 6, 2020): #AnimasRiver shatters all-time record low flow based on 109 years of data — The #Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    1913 record is broken amid prolonged drought

    Records show the Animas River recently broke the all-time low flow set on the water gauge behind the Powerhouse Science Center, which has collected data for 109 years.

    The previous record low flow at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water gauge was set March 2, 1913, when the Animas River was running at 94 cubic feet per second…

    On Dec. 21, flows on the Animas dipped below 94 cfs and continued to fall. At its lowest point, the river was running at 79.6 cfs on Christmas Day, as well as the day after.

    As of Tuesday, the Animas was running around 120 cfs, nearly half the historic average on the more than century-old water gauge.

    “It’s one of the oldest gauges in Southwest Colorado,” said Steve Harris, with Harris Water Engineering…

    A few years ago, the USGS, looking to cut costs, floated the idea of decommissioning the gauge by the Powerhouse Science Center. In response, local stakeholders banded together to form a partnership to help with funding…

    The fact the Animas recorded an all-time record low in 109 years of records is a testament to the prolonged drought hitting the region.

    As of Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor had Southwest Colorado listed in an “exceptional” drought – the highest category of drought…

    West Drought Monitor December 29, 2020.

    And snowpack, so far, in Southwest Colorado is behind – federal records show snowpack is just 74% of historic averages as of Tuesday.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 4, 2021 via the NRCS.

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

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

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

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

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

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

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

    River report

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

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

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

    Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District customers will see rate increases in 2021 — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    At a public hearing in Septem- ber of 2018, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved changes to the rates for water ser-vice customers.

    According to information provided by PAWSD, the following changes will be implemented in 2021.

    Water charges

    Monthly service charges (per equivalent unit) are set to increase from $26.40 to $27.98.

    Volume charges (rates per 1,000gallons) are as follows:

  • For 2,001 to 8,000 gallons of usage, the charge will increase from $4.74 to $5.02.
  • For 8,001 to 20,000 gallons of usage, the charge will increase from $9.48 to $10.05.
  • For over 20,001 gallons of us- age, the charge will increase from $11.90 to $12.61.
  • Water fill station charges per 1,000 gallons are slated to increase from $10.23 to $10.84.
  • The water availability of service charge will remain at $14.30.
  • The wastewater availability of service charge will remain at $12.50.
  • Changes to the rates for water service customers will increase the volume rate charges by 6 percent annually through 2023.

    PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey explained that these volume rate charge increases began in 2019 and were based on a rate study done in 2018.

    These increases will equate to a 33.74 percent cumulative increase over the five-year period.

    The capital investment fees for both water and wastewater will increase by 3 percent per year.

    Wastewater charges

    The changes to wastewater service charges include a 2.5 percent annual rate increase beginning in 2024 and ending in 2027.

    These increases will equate to a 10.38 percent cumulative increase over the four-year period.

    Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

    #Snowpack news (12/13/2020): #SanJuanRiver Basin SWE = 103% of median

    Upper San Juan River Basin Interactive graph December 13, 2020 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    Snow report

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 11 inches of snow water equivalent as of 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 9.

    That amount is 115 percent of the Dec. 9 median for the site.

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 43.5 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 8:30 a.m. on Wednes- day, Dec. 9.

    The maximum flow rate for Pagosa Springs for that date, based on 85 years of records was recorded in 2008 at 240 cfs, and the mini- mum for that date was recorded in 1957 at 14 cfs.

    Westwide SNOTEL December 13, 2020 via the NRCS.

    Echo Canyon Reservoir drained 5 feet below spillway for dam repairs — The Pagosa Springs Sun

    Map credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    CPW Southwest Region Public Information Officer Joe Lewandowski informed The SUN that during a routine inspection of the dam in late October, “A crack in the earthen dam at Echo Reservoir was discovered.”

    He explained that CPW’s dam safety engineers worked with Division of Water Resources (DWR) dam safety engineers to control the water level drawdown, and have filled and covered the crack.

    According to Lewandowski, dam safety engineers will continue to monitor the embankment over winter. Though the crack has been reported to be stable, CPW is working with DWR to determine future measures that would ensure the integrity of the dam embankment.

    “That process will take several months and there is no timeline,” Lewandowski stated.

    #Snowpack news (November 29, 2020): #SanJuanRiver Basin = 121% of median

    San Juan River Basin snowpack graph November 29, 2020 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    Snow report

    The Pagosa Springs area experienced multiple winter storms over the past week and is forecasted for more snowfall starting Thursday through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

    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 10.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Nov. 24.

    That amount is 145 percent of the Nov. 24 median for the site.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 103 percent of the Nov. 24 median in terms of snow pack.

    [River Report]

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flow- ing at a rate of 113 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday Nov. 24.

    Based on 84 years of water records, the average flow rate for this date is 84 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 321 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 29 cfs, recorded in 1968.

    Colorado snowpack basin-filled map November 29, 2020 via the NRCS.

    Dry Gulch loan deactivated — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

    Dry Gulch Reservoir site. Credit The Pagosa Daily Post

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    During a meeting on Nov. 16, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors approved the deactivation of a loan the district currently has with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

    According to SJWCD President Al Pfister, the reasoning behind the decision is the state budget situation.

    “The state was asking us whether we wanted to deactivate our existing loan of $1.9 plus million that we had applied for and had been approved contingent upon us getting a mill levy approved to pay for that,” Pfister explained during the meeting. “It’s been three years since that was initially approved and, I’ll say, standard procedure is to, basically, after three years of actions have been taken, they deactivate those loans.”

    Pfister noted that he told CWCB that the district was fine with deactivating its loan at this time but, by doing this, it would not preclude the district from applying in the future.

    “I just want to clearly emphasize that this does not in any way mean that we are not going to pursue a reservoir project in the future,” SJWCD board member John Porco added.

    In conversations with CWCB representatives, Pfister explained that the CWCB indicated that CWCB would not take this decision to mean that SJWCD was not pursuing its San Juan River Headwaters Project…

    The motion to approve the CWCB loan deactivation was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board.

    In a follow-up interview on [November 23, 2020], Pfister explained that the loan that was deactivated was to enable the SJWCD to purchase additional lands that were needed to complete the district having ownership of the pool basin for the San Juan River Headwaters Project.

    Additionally, the loan was for environmental work for the land exchange, Pfister added.

    #Water lease agreement could help fish and help meet #ColoradoRiver Compact requirements — The Farmington Daily Times #COriver #aridification #endangeredspecies

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and The Nature Conservancy hope to demonstrate that the strategic water reserve can help endangered fish recover while also providing the ability to meet water compact requirements in the San Juan Basin.

    San Juan River. Photo credit: USFWS

    The Interstate Stream Commission approved allowing ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen to continue negotiations with the Jicarilla Apache Nation to lease up to 20,000 acre feet of water annually that became available as it is no longer needed for operation of the San Juan Generating Station.

    San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    The Jicarilla Apache Nation acquired rights to water stored in Navajo Lake in 1992 and has the authority to lease this water to other entities to help the tribe. Up until recently, the nation has leased water to Public Service Company of New Mexico to operate the San Juan Generating Station.

    Navajo Lake

    But the potential of the power plant closing in 2022 as well as a reduction in the amount of water needed to operate it due to the closure of two units in 2016 means that this water is now available for the state to potentially lease.

    The water would be placed in the strategic water reserve, which has two purposes: assisting with endangered species recovery and ensuring the state meets its obligations under water compacts. When needed, the water could be released from the reservoir to help with the fish or to meet the requirements of the 1922 Colorado River Compact…

    Terry Sullivan, the state director of The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico, said the organization has been working on the San Juan River for 15 years trying a variety of restoration projects to help create habitat. The fish rely on slow backwaters for reproduction…

    Sullivan said the water lease is a great step forward to achieve both compact requirements and benefits to endangered species.

    The amount leased each year would depend on funding available. One of the details of the lease agreement that has not yet been determined is the price…

    Peter Mandelstam, the chief operating officer for Enchant Energy, said in a statement that the company believes it has enough water rights without the Jicarilla Apache lease to successfully retrofit the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture technology and operate it.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Consulting firm gives update on ongoing analysis pertaining to San Juan Water Conservancy District’s water rights — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    An update was given on Wilson Water Group’s (WWG) efforts in completing a water use and water demand analysis for the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and completing a water availability analysis for the West Fork reservoir and canal water rights during a regular meeting on Monday.

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

    Currently, WWG has been working on its first task, which is to develop a water demand analysis strategy, Project Engineer Brenna Mefford noted, adding that the first task would be completed in the next week or so.

    The next task, to complete a current water use and water demand analysis, will be completed soon after, Mefford explained.

    Task three, which is to complete a water availability analysis, will be started in December, Mefford added…

    If the SJWCD were to go through with diligence on the West Fork water rights, it would have to show it has a potential demand for the water and that the district needs it, Mefford explained, adding that the SJWCD needs to show water availability.

    “Finally, you have to show that you have the means to develop that water and put it to that use that you had identified earlier,” she said…

    “We’ve talked to most of the people we planned to try and fig- ure out how we’re going to lay out this analysis and now we’re going to move into task two, where we’re actually going to do the current water use and water demand analysis. For this task there are a few more people that we need to reach out to and have talks with about water demand,” Mefford said, adding that WWG will need to talk to PAWSD, for example.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 300 CFS November 21, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 350 cfs on Saturday, November 21st, 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.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The November 2020 newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Elaine Chick):

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) Celebrates Final Water Purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) celebrates the Districts final purchase of the water from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

    On Saturday, October 17th the ALPWCD held a celebration at the Tribute Gardens at Lake Nighthorse commemorating the final payment option of their incremental purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWR & PDA) for their share of 700 AF of depletion purchased as part of the Animas La Plata Project.

    First authorized by the U.S. Congress on September 30, 1968 (Public Law 90-537), the Animas-La Plata Water Project experienced a few decades of delays due in part to political concerns, farming claims, environmental challenges, cost overruns and government funding issues. A breakthrough to the delays came with the Colorado Ute Settlement Act Amendments in December 2000 (Public Law 106-554).

    Christine Arbogast, Kogovsek & Associates, lobbyist at that time with ALPWCD for the project, stated, “Advocacy is all about relationship. This project would not have happened if all of the partners for the project had not stuck together in that family relationship that is ALP.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation began construction in 2003, with the reservoir filling to capacity on June 29, 2011 at a total cost of $500 million. Lake Nighthorse is named in honor of former United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo. The reservoir is part of the Animas-La Plata Water Project, providing water storage for tribal and non-tribal water right claim-holders on the Animas River in both Colorado and New Mexico.

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District was one of the seven original sponsors of the ALP Project: The other sponsors included the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, State of Colorado, La Plata Conservancy District in New Mexico, and San Juan Water Commission in New Mexico.

    The general purpose of the District includes, but is not limited to: “acquire and appropriate waters of the Animas and La Plata rivers and their tributaries and other sources of water supply by means of ‘works’ as defined in the ‘Water Conservancy Act’ and to divert, store, transport, conserve and stabilize all of said supplies of water for domestic, irrigation, power, manufacturing and other beneficial uses within and for the territory to be included in the District.”

    The ALPWCD Statutory Project Allocation was purchased in advance on behalf of local entities by the Colorado Water and Power Resource Development Authority. ALPWCD being one of those entities, worked for many years to make that incremental purchase from the Authority, and now that water is in local hands and is being put to use. ALPWCD has made subsequent sales of their portion of the original allocation of that water that provides multiple benefits to the community. One of ALPWCD’s principle missions is to develop water for the benefit of the local community, and that has happened!

    The City of Durango has purchased the remaining amount of the original ALPWCD Project Allocation from the Authority to firm up their future water supplies, and the La Plata West Water Authority and Lake Durango Water Authority have made subsequent purchases of water from the Animas-La Plata District which is being put to use for rural domestic water in the western part of La Plata County.

    The Animas-La Plata Project is managed by the ALP Operations, Maintenance and Replacement, Association, and includes representatives from the project participants. (ALPOM&R Association). Recreation at Lake Nighthorse is managed by the City of Durango in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Water projects can take decades to come to fruition, but after many years of hard work by countless individuals and organizations uses are occurring from this reservoir and associated project facilities. This is one more step in making the water in Lake Nighthorse of beneficial use to local communities!

    Snowpack news: Wolf Creek Summit SWE = 8.1″ #ColoradoRiver #COriver #SanJuanRiver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    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 8.1 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on Nov. 11.

    That amount is 169 percent of the Nov. 11 median for the site.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 148 percent of the Nov. 11 median in terms of snowpack.

    River report

    With more winter storms rolling through Pagosa Springs and the surrounding areas, the San Juan River flow spiked to over 300 cfs on Nov. 8. As of 2 p.m. on Nov. 11, the river flow at the U.S. Geological Survey station in Pagosa Springs was listed at 58.1 cfs.

    Based on 84 years of water records, the average flow rate for this date is listed at 99 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 340 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 13 cfs, recorded in 1951.

    The San Juan Water Conservancy District Invites Public Participation in Budget Decision — The Pagosa Daily Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From the San Juan Water Conservancy District (Al Pfister) via the The Pagosa Daily Post:

    As is custom and per State procedures, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) is in the process of developing our 2021 budget.

    Our draft 2021 budget sets the framework for our activities in the coming year. In an effort to better communicate with our district taxpayers as to how we can provide the appropriate amounts of water under wet and drought conditions, we are inviting you to a public meeting and hearing on November 16, 2020 at 5:00pm via ZOOM to discuss our proposed 2021 budget.

    We have developed our proposed 2021 budget to be used to set the framework for activities that we will implement in the accomplishment of our mission. Our mission is to ensure water resources are available for beneficial use to those who do provide water (such as the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District) for the community. This may come in the form of consumptive uses like agriculture, municipal, fire protection, and industrial pursuits. This may also mean non-consumptive uses such as recreational, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics.

    Our main focus with the 2021 budget will be implementation of our Strategic Plan that will deal with the challenge of serving the water needs of the majority of Archuleta County. We look forward to seeing and hearing from you on November 16. If you would like more information or want to discuss the budget and associated issues, please contact me or any board member whose contact info is listed on our website — http://www.sjwcd.org — under the “About Us” tab. The website also has the draft 2021 budget, our draft Strategic Plan, the meeting agenda, and the ZOOM information.

    Accomplishment of our mission must take place in accordance with Colorado water law (including the prior appropriation doctrine), and following the direction set forth in the Colorado State Water Plan.

    The Colorado Water Plan (Plan) was completed in 2015 and is based on three foundational elements: interstate compacts and equitable apportionment decrees (ie. each of the States are entitled to a certain amount of water as detailed in the respective compacts), Colorado water law, and local control. The Plan is the result of several years of statewide collaborative efforts and discussions about how the water needs of Colorado residents and downstream users will be met. “It sets forth the measurable objectives, goals, and actions by which Colorado will address its projected future water needs and measure its progress- all built on our shared values”. As a headwaters state we need to be actively involved in ensuring our water needs and rights are met, while also complying with interstate compacts.

    The San Juan River, and its tributaries, contribute water needed to comply with local water rights user’s needs, as well as several interstate compacts (Colorado River Compact 1922, Rio Grande River Compact 1938, Upper Colorado River Compact 1948, others). Admittedly, how all these water rights needs are met is a very complex and confusing scenario, under which SJWCD is charged with accomplishing our mission under State statute. Nonetheless, the Water District is responsible for ensuring the conditional water rights owned by the District taxpayers are utilized to meet our shared water needs. In order for the District to better understand how the District’s taxpayers want that to happen, we need your input.

    We hope to finalize our Strategic Plan that outlines our implementation of the statewide Plan in the next couple months.

    Al Pfister is Board President for the San Juan Water Conservancy District.

    #Drought planning hinges on #DemandManagement, reaching an agreement could be challenging — The #Farmington Daily Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The four states in the upper basin, including New Mexico, are working on demand management plans to reduce the risk they will be mandated to reduce water use to fulfill obligations of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    While this could reduce the risk to the water users, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen told the San Juan Water Commission that he is not highly optimistic that the upper basin states can reach an agreement about demand management and storage. He said coming to an agreement on these topics will take a while…

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

    Recognizing that drought could strain the limited supplies in the river, both the upper and the lower Colorado River basins have created drought contingency plans. One key element of the upper basin plan is demand management. This means water users can be paid to temporarily reduce their water consumption and the water saved through that method would be placed in one of the upper basin reservoirs, such as Navajo Lake.

    If a situation arose where the upper basin could not reach its contractual obligation to deliver water to Lake Powell, the water stored in one of those reservoirs would be released to meet those requirements.

    The details about demand management are still being worked out and, on Nov. 4, representatives from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission provided the San Juan Water Commission with an update on those efforts.

    Schmidt-Petersn said there is only a small chance that there will be a call on the river that would require the upper basin to curtail use, but the demand management proposal will protect the water users if such situation arose.

    Currently, New Mexico is in the stakeholder outreach process of developing a demand management plant, according to Ali Effati, who presented on behalf of the Interstate Stream Commission.

    Effati said demand management could be easier to set up in New Mexico than in other upper basin states due to the proximity to Lake Powell, however there are still questions that remain such as how to shepherd the water that is released to meet the compact requirement and make sure that it makes it into Lake Powell.

    All four upper basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — must agree on demand management and storage, as must the Upper Colorado River Commission. This type of agreement may be hard to achieve, Schmidt-Petersen warned, as each state works to protect its own interest in the Colorado River water.

    San Juan Water Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, emphasized the importance of having a way to meet the Colorado River Compact requirements even if a drought reduces the flows significantly in the rivers.

    Navajo Lake

    New Mexico currently does not use all the water that it is allocated and Dunlap said that furnishes a “false benefit” to the lower basin states and could lead to challenges if New Mexico chose to increase its utilization of its allocated water.

    Farmington Community Works Director David Sypher highlighted an area that could create challenges: how to fairly share the burden of water shortages. If a drought does occur, entities will have to cut back. But Sypher said the City of Farmington has already invested in efforts to conserve water such as leak detection, storage and maintenance. This has led to higher water rates for customers.

    Sypher said conservation is a huge part, if not the most important part, of demand management.

    #SanJuanRiver streamflow report #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    After a recent storm that dropped nearly 2 feet of snow across the southern San Juan Mountains, the San Juan River has seen a rise in its flow rate compared to recent readings. Last month, a record low flow rate was set.

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 48.4 cfs as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

    Based on 84 years of water records, the river is still flowing below the average rate of 117 cfs for this date. The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 657 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 22 cfs, recorded in 1956.

    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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, 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 Monday, November 9th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

    Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District discusses new #Colorado #wastewater regulations, new #drought surcharge plan — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Wastewater Treatment Process

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    The new regulations would require PAWSD to treat wastewater so that it is cleaner than the water initially taken in through their river diversions, Ramsey explained. This would mean the treated wastewater that gets discharged downstream would be cleaner than the water PAWSD takes in upstream.

    Ramsey went on to explain how treating the wastewater to that extent may not be worth it, given the next water district to pull from that water source is over 100 miles away.

    According to Ramsey, this would be upward of a $12 million capital investment project.

    When asked in a phone interview about where the funding needed for a project like this would come from, he said, “We have no idea, that’s the problem.”

    The board also discussed the possibility of raising the monthly sewer service base charge from $32 to $47 in 2025…

    In the meeting, Ramsey ex- plained that PAWSD could fight the state on the imposed regulations.
    PAWSD has already hired an at- torney to assist with the matter. According to Ramsey, PAWSD chose to hire attorneys with Law of The Rockies, who are currently representing Mt. Crested Butte in its dispute…

    According to Walsh, the revised intergovernmental agreement with the Pagosa Springs Sanitation Gen- eral Improvement District (PSS- GID) “clearly stated that expansion and/or modification was a joint expense.”

    PAWSD and the PSSGID entered into the agreement for PAWSD to treat the PSSGID’s wastewater.

    Drought surcharge plan

    The board also discussed the possibility of implementing a new drought surcharge rate plan. The new plan would include five stages of drought, progressing from a vol- untary stage to stage four.

    The triggers used to determine the drought stage would include the San Juan River flow rate and the Hatcher Reservoir water level, along with the call date on the Four Mile diversion and the date when snowpacks on the mountains have melted away.

    According to a presentation from Ramsey, for the voluntary through stage two categories, there would be no extra sur- charge for up to 4,000 gallons of water used in residential units per month. For stages three and four, there would be a surcharge of $7.68 per unit.

    According to the presentation, for the voluntary stage and stage one, there would be no surcharge for residential units using more than 4,000 gallons of water a month. In stage two, a “2x stan- dard tier rate fee” would be ap- plied when using more than 4,000 gallons. Stage three would incur a “surcharge and a 3x standard tier rate fee” and stage four would in- cur a “surcharge and a 4x standard rate fee” for residential units using more than 4,000 gallons of water a month.

    These new rates have not been applied yet, and according to Ramsey, PAWSD will be conducting a water usage study before imple- menting a new plan.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 400 CFS November 2, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, 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 Monday, November 2nd, 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.

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

    Southwest #Colorado ranchers battle #drought, development — The #Durango Herald #ActOnClimate #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Durango Herald (Emily Hayes):

    Persistent dry conditions, rising land prices force change

    After living out his dream of running 400 head of cattle on a ranch straddling Montrose and Gunnison counties, Barnes now works with ranchers in Montezuma County and beyond to help manage their rangeland and cattle with the new challenges and pressures ranchers face.

    Cattle is Colorado’s top agricultural product, bringing in $4 billion per year. But with exceptional drought conditions and development driving up land prices, it is harder to be a rancher in this corner of the state.

    In September, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite disaster aid payments to farmers and ranchers.

    “We need to regard drought as the new normal,” Barnes said, but the “ranching community as a whole doesn’t accept climate change.”

    […]

    In the bigger picture, subdivision development is increasing in Western Colorado.

    Demographics are shifting, and agriculture has fallen behind the tourism and service industries as the leading employer.

    The red indicates areas that have been converted from farmland and rangeland to residential land uses in Colorado. The bold green and yellow indicate good farm and rangeland for production, while the lighter green and yellow indicate land that is not productive. According to the American Farmland Trust, development “often claims the most productive, versatile and resilient land.” Courtesy of the American Farmland Trust via The Durango Herald

    And in Southwest Colorado, rent is high – it is difficult to rent a place for less than $1,000 per month. So sprawling ranches have been subdivided into smaller parcels that can be developed to increase the housing stock and lower prices of rentals and single-family homes…

    New generations not taking over

    The changing landscape of the West is “one of the elephants in the room” for most ranchers, Barnes said.

    Children are less likely to take over a ranch now.

    By the time their parents retire and hand the ranch over, the children have developed a career and are making more money than they would in ranching, he said…

    There are four times as many producers older than 65 in Colorado as there are younger than 35, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust.

    In the ranching industry, the work doesn’t pay by the hour, and there isn’t much room for vacations. A century ago, this lifestyle worked because there “wasn’t much to compete with,” Barnes said.

    Now, young Coloradans can get a construction job that pays more and is “less complicated,” he said…

    Between 2001 and 2016, 112,400 acres of Colorado’s best land for farming and ranching was converted for development uses, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust. And the number of farms and ranches in Colorado in 2019 totaled 38,700, down 200 from 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (The data are not available for more localized regions such as Southwest Colorado.)

    Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

    But McAfee is working to replenish the land on his family’s ranch through regenerative grazing. With a combination of native and introduced grasses, there is little wind erosion and water runoff, he said.

    Cattle graze the same paddock for a year and then move on to the next one, he said. The number of cattle ranges from 200 to 400 head on 100 acres at a time.

    McAfee said ranchers in the area are hesitant to change their grazing system because there is a risk that it might not work. But old systems like summer fallow cause erosion and are hard on the soil, he said.

    The transition for McAfee was “weird and scary,” but with the drought there wasn’t an alternative.

    Adapting instead of succumbing

    Most ranchers in Southwest Colorado do it because they enjoy it, which is partly why more outsiders are becoming involved, Barnes said.

    “They are well-educated 20-somethings with a laptop in one hand and a shovel in the other,” he said.

    Cachuma Ranch in Dolores raises Criollo cattle, which Barnes describes as the closest thing to wild cattle you can get in Southwest Colorado.

    Criollo are descended from Spanish stock imported to the Americas. They weigh less, and calves are smaller than commercial Angus breeds, but they’re suited to the area.

    They survive part of the year in Disappointment Valley, browsing for greasewood instead of depending on grass year-round, said Kathryn Wilder, mother of the family operation.

    Drought also affects small desert shrubs, but Wilder said the Criollo cattle can forage a larger range of shrubs and grasses than commercial cattle, and they eat less of it…

    Possible solutions

    Kay and David James with the James Ranch north of Durango saw their children migrate back to the ranch to rear their families here and improve the land, according to their website.

    Their direct-to-customer model and a demand for local food creates support for the ranch and positions it as a tourist attraction…

    James Ranch has 400 irrigated acres along the Animas River, with early water rights. The James’ cattle are scattered in different parts of the Four Corners, but they run cattle on irrigated pastures in the summer when there is enough water. They finish about 175 head of cattle for slaughter per year.

    But the drought still affects the ranch through higher hay prices, said Joe Wheeling, son-in-law of David James.

    Less water means lower hay production, and the price for hay goes up. In the past five or six years, Wheeling said hay prices have escalated primarily because of the drought.

    Land prices have gone up as well, especially near Durango, Wheeling said. The direct-to-customer model has been important to the family’s ranching legacy because it means more customers, he said…

    Keeping it small and local

    Andrew and Kendra Schafer shifted the focus of Cedar Mesa Ranch in Montezuma County from cattle to sheep in 2009. They also run goats because they eat things like weeds, shrubs, knapweeds and invasive Russian olive plants.

    “Imports lost their ability to harvest from this land,” Andrew Schafer said. But his Navajo-Churro sheep, originally obtained by Native American nations during the Spanish conquest, are known for their hardiness and adaptability to extreme climates.

    Kendra Schafer shears the sheep to make yarn for weaving and knitting, supporting a local textile industry as well…

    The Colorado Department of Agriculture is mapping an increase in smaller farm plots in La Plata and Montezuma counties, with 30- or 35-acre plots dedicated to a variety of fruits, vegetables and animals. A push for local food systems can lead to smaller plots.

    For the Schafers, a localized market is in the same frame of mind as their holistic grazing management. They are constantly moving their sheep and goats between quarter-acre sections of pasture. About 150 animals graze 1% of the land per day while the rest grows back…

    “Think about it this way: If you’re out there with a lawnmower every day, it’s never going to grow back,” Schafer said.

    There has to be animals on the land, he said, but the grazing system has to be viable for both the land and the animals in a time of drought.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 500 CFS October 27, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, 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 Tuesday, October 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.

    San Juan River. Photo credit: USFWS

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 650 CFS October 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs on Tuesday, October 20th, 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 scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

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

    #Colorado cutthroat restored to 23 miles of Hermosa Creek — The #Durango Herald

    Connor Bevel, an Aquatic technician with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, holds one the 450 adult Colorado River Cutthroat trout released into the Hermosa Creek drainage October 9, 2020. Photo credit: Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks & Wildlife via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A decades-long effort to restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek has been completed, resulting in the largest continuous stretch of waterway for the native fish species in the state…

    Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango, releases Colorado River cutthroat trout fingerlings into the East Fork of Hermosa Creek on Oct. 9. CPW released 4,000 fingerlings.
    Courtesy of Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Durango Herald

    The upper reaches of Hermosa Creek were instantly recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project, both for its outstanding water quality as well as easy access through a Forest Service road that runs behind Purgatory Resort.

    Over the years, barriers have been installed to isolate certain stretches of water and an organic poison known as rotenone has been used to clear out invasive species, like brown, brookie and rainbow trout.

    All this to clear the path for cutthroat reintroduction.

    Last weekend, CPW stocked an estimated 4,000 cutthroat fingerlings and an additional 475 mature cutthroats in the final stretch of the Hermosa Creek project, giving the waterway back to the native fish for the first time in 100 years.

    And now, the project to restore 23 miles of cutthroat habitat is finally complete…

    Hermosa Park

    For the stretches of upper Hermosa Creek that have been restocked with cutthroats, populations are showing encouraging signs. White said there’s about 400 to 600 fish per mile, which he called a “nice, healthy population.”

    Because the area is a popular draw for anglers, there is a strict catch-and-release policy. Local fish-guiding companies have said in the past that anglers come from all over the country to fish native cutthroats.

    The Hermosa Creek project was a collaboration between CPW, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    Prolonged #drought results in record-low flows on #AnimasRiver — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    All week, the Animas River has recorded record lows at a gauge station in Durango, which has been tracking flows on the river for 107 years.

    On Thursday, for instance, the Animas River was reportedly running at 117 cubic feet per second – under the previous record low of 138 cfs in 1957 and far below the average of 447 cfs for this time of year.

    The low flows on the Animas River come as no surprise as the region has been gripped by a prolonged drought.

    Since January, a weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded just 5 inches or so of precipitation, a 7-inch departure from historic averages at the site.

    On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor released a report that showed all of La Plata County engulfed in the “extreme” and “exceptional” drought categories, the center’s highest listings for dryness in a region.

    West Drought Monitor October 6, 2020.

    And, several weather stations in the headwaters of the Animas River recorded the lowest precipitation levels in August and September based on about 40 years of record keeping.

    “The combination of an extremely dry spring, lack of a monsoon and above-average summer and fall temperatures has resulted in very low flows on the Animas River,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center…

    Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said 2020’s water year was the third-driest on record, behind only the infamous drought years of 2002 and 2018…

    The high country of the San Juan Mountains received about normal snowpack this winter, but it melted fast and early. On top of that, soils were so dry they absorbed more water than usual.

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph May 14, 2020 via the NRCS.

    One issue that concerns Bollinger is that the atmosphere is so dry, it is causing rapid evaporation of what little moisture there is – called evaporative demand…

    Bollinger wonders whether a lack of monsoons in Colorado is the new normal.

    “This is the fourth year in a row we have not gotten the benefits of monsoon moisture,” she said. “It’s concerning to think that might be a trend. Or is it just really bad luck? I don’t know the answer to that right now.”

    […]

    As of this week, Vallecito and Lemon reservoirs were at about 24% and 27% capacity. Ken Beck, superintendent of the Pine River Irrigation District, said in an email to constituents that outflows were reduced to 5 cfs on Thursday…

    The main concern for water managers is whether the upcoming winter will bring enough snowpack to replenish reservoirs. In previous drought years, such as 2018, the next winter brought heavy snowfall.

    But meteorologists say the region may be stuck in a La Niña cycle, which typically means less snow for Southwest Colorado. That could result in less water for livestock and municipalities, and spell disaster for next year’s wildfire season.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    #SanJuanRiver streamflow report #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    On the morning of Sept. 30, the flow rate of the San Juan River was listed at 30.3 cfs.

    Based on 84 years of water records, the average flow rate for this date is 170 cfs. The highest recorded flow rate for this date was in 2014 at 902 cfs. The lowest rate was 12 cfs in 1953.

    #SanJuan River streamflow update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, on the morning of Sept. 23, the San Juan River was flowing at 38.8 cfs, not even half of the average rate of 175 cfs for this date.

    Based on 84 years of water re- cords, the lowest recorded water flow for this date was 11 cfs in 1953. The highest recorded water flow was 1,480 cfs in 2013.

    The Water Information Program September 2020 Newsletter is hot off the presses

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

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

    The Southwestern Water Conservation District (“District”), based in Durango, Colorado, is seeking candidates for the General Manager position. The District was created by Colorado statute in 1941 to lead in the protection, conservation, use and development of the water of the San Juan and Dolores River basins for the welfare of the District, and to safeguard for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled. The District encompasses all of La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, San Juan, San Miguel and Dolores counties and parts of Montrose, Hinsdale and Mineral counties. The District has a nine-member board of directors with an appointee from each board of county commissioners.

    The General Manager serves as the chief executive and management official of the organization reporting directly to the District’s Board of Directors. The General Manager is responsible for all business operations (administrative, financial, technical and external affairs) and manages a small team of staff and contractors. The General Manager must be able to lead the team, delegate, and play to the strengths of others, and must possess strong oral and written communication skills and be capable of clearly communicating difficult issues with candor. The General Manager works collaboratively to bring together groups of diverse interests in complicated and sometimes contentious matters, and is expected to offer creative solutions to the Board that take into consideration the varying water-related priorities and perspectives of the District’s diverse constituency. The General Manager represents the District’s broad range of constituents and priorities at conferences, speaking engagements and on local, statewide, and national matters, as directed by the Board.

    All application materials should be submitted electronically (PDF preferred) to generalmanager@swwcd.org by Friday, September 25, 2020 at 5:00 PM. Applicants are encouraged to apply promptly and are responsible for ensuring that application materials are received by the District before the closing date and time listed above.

    For more information and full job desctiption go to: https://swwcd.org/about-us/careers/.

    Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District chooses contractor to rebuild Snowball water treatment plant — The Pagosa Springs Sun

    Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons

    From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    At the most recent Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) meeting held on Sept. 10, the board of directors agreed to sign a new contract with SGM, an engineering and consulting firm based out of Durango, regarding the rebuilding of the Snowball water treatment plant.

    Engineer Chad Hill spoke before the board on behalf of SGM. He outlined the company’s plans and ideas for rebuilding the Snowball water treatment plant.

    Part of SGM’s plan includes a pretreatment study of the plant, which is already underway and should be done by the new year, according to Hill. Following the pretreatment phase, SGM will perform a pilot study on the plant. The pilot study is expected to start the last week of April and run through the first week of June or “longer if we need it to,” according to Hill.

    The current Snowball plant was built in 1984 and, according to PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey, is currently functioning properly. However, in a phone interview, Ramsey added that, “its like an old car, at some point we’re going to be spending more money than its worth to keep it running.”

    Ramsey indicated that a main reason for rebuilding the plant is to expand its size.

    At the meeting, Hill reassured board members that the project will be getting the “focus and at- tention that it deserves.”

    Navajo Dam operations update: 1,000 CFS in #SanJuanRiver critical habitat area September 16, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a cool forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Wednesday, September 16th, 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.

    Importance of wetlands to be topic of Audubon Society meeting — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Geothermal sources in Pagosa Springs have created unique, warm-water wetlands and contribute to the rich diversity of birds along the Riverwalk in town. Photo via The Pagosa Springs Sun

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

    Please join the Weminuche Audubon Society on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m. for our monthly chapter meeting.

    This remote meeting will take place on Zoom. Please check the events list on our website, http://www.weminucheaudubon.org, for a link to the online meeting. All interested parties are welcome.

    The topic of this month’s meeting will be the importance of wetlands, particularly those in our Pagosa Springs area. Eighty percent of all wildlife species use wetlands or riparian habitats at some point in their life cycle.
    According to the EPA, “More than half of our original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses.”

    Geothermal sources in Pagosa Springs have created unique, warm-water wetlands and con- tribute to the rich diversity of birds we see along the Riverwalk in town.

    Our presenter for the evening will be Randy McCormick. Prior to moving to Pagosa Springs, McCormick served as environmental manager at the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples, Fla., mandated to protect 110,000 acres of coastal wetlands in the western Everglades. He is a board member of the Weminuche Audubon Society and an active member in Pagosa Wetland Partners, a group of citizens committed to preserving important area wetlands habitats. Find out how you can be involved in this mission.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump down to 800 CFS September 12, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to a cooler forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Saturday, September 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

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

    #Farmington residents urged to conserve water during ongoing drought conditions — The Farmington Daily Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    Farmington residents are being asked to voluntarily cut back on their water usage by 10% amid ongoing drought conditions.

    The Farmington City Council approved a resolution enacting a stage one water shortage advisory on a 3-0 vote. The meeting was broadcast on Zoom and a recording will be available online at http://fmtn.org/AgendaCenter.

    Community Works Director David Sypher said the city has struggled to keep Lake Farmington full.

    “We are taking keeping our lake 100% full a little more seriously than we have in the past,” he said, explaining that the city not only provides water to its residents but also delivers water to other water systems.

    Lake Farmington was approximately 98% full on Sept. 3, but has been dropping at a rate of 0.15 to 0.3% daily and, as of the meeting on Sept. 8, Sypher said the lake was 97.15% full.

    A storm brought precipitation to the region as the City Council discussed the water shortage advisory, but Sypher said current forecasts are calling for 30 to 50% of normal precipitation in the upcoming months and the most liberal projections are anticipating moderate drought.

    West Drought Monitor September 1, 2020.

    When the river dries, a struggle to stay afloat — The #Taos News #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:

    A severe, prolonged drought is reducing the river’s flows to the lowest levels in decades, affecting cities’ drinking water supplies and compelling farmers to adjust how they water their fields.

    [Glen] Duggins grows chile peppers, alfalfa and corn on his 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a tiny community north of Socorro. He already faces the prospect of restaurants buying fewer goods from him during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, when their operations have been limited by the state’s public heath orders. Now he’s also seeing higher costs to produce his crops due to pumping.

    But he is fortunate, he said, because many farmers in the Middle Río Grande Valley don’t have water pumps and must shut down when the river gets low…

    A thin mountain snowpack, recent heat wave and light monsoon have depleted water levels from the Colorado River Basin to the Chama River to the Río Grande. It’s perhaps the most arid year in a two-decade dry period in New Mexico, making climate scientists and water managers wonder whether this is the start of an even drier time that will demand a new, long-term approach to urban planning and water use.

    Locally, the prolonged drought can be seen in cottonwoods’ foliage turning yellow six weeks early along a parched stretch of the Santa Fe River and the likelihood of the Buckman Direct Diversion — which pulls Río Grande flows for city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County water users — suspending operations for the first time in its 10-year history.

    Everyone must prepare for how a warmer climate will diminish water supplies and put more stress on humans and the ecosystem, said Dave DuBois, a state climatologist at New Mexico State University.

    “We need to address climate change and adapt to it,” DuBois said. “Not just in the here and now, but the next 20, 30 years.”

    #SanJuanRiver streamflow report #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

    As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a flow of 41.6 cfs, well below the average for Sept. 2 of 136 cfs, according to the U.S. Geologi- cal Survey.

    Based on 84 years of water re- cord, the San Juan River had the lowest flow total for Sept. 2 back in 2002, when the river had a flow of 8.40 cfs.

    The highest flow total came in 1999, when the San Juan River had a flow of 983 cfs.

    How municipal water #conservation is keeping the #RioGrande through #Albuquerque from going dry — @JFleck

    New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

    From InkStain (John Fleck):

    One of the traditional “tragedy narratives” of western water is the idea that thirsty cities are draining our rivers. But in two of the last three years, precisely the opposite has happened here in Albuquerque.

    We’ve been limping along on a very bad year on the Rio Grande, with some of the lowest flows through Albuquerque that we’ve seen in a while. And the limping will continue. But with irrigation water in storage just about gone, an agreement is taking shape that will use an unused chunk of Albuquerque’s imported Colorado River water to keep the Rio Grande from drying through Albuquerque in coming months.

    This is possible because Albuquerque’s water conservation success has left it with more water rights than it currently needs, including water we import through the San Juan-Chama project, a transbasin diversion that brings Colorado River water through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. Some of that, now sitting in storage in reservoirs up on the Chama, will be released in coming weeks to maintain flows in the river here in town.

    A similar deal in the very dry summer of 2018 also used some of Albuquerque’s unused Colorado River apportionment to keep the Rio Grande wet.

    To be clear, this isn’t a charitable contribution on Albuquerque’s part. As I understand the deal, three government agencies with a shared interest in keeping the river wet – the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – are paying the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority for the water…

    But it’s intriguing to see the traditional narrative turned on its head – water available for the environment because a city has more than it needs.

    Navajo Dam operations update

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a warmer and dryer forecast weather pattern, Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 950 cfs on Thursday, September 3rd, 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This 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: Turning down to 850 CFS, August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Monday, August 31st, starting at 12:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to turn down to 900 CFS August 29, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Marc Miller):

    In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Saturday, August 29th, 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 1,000 CFS August 14, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a continued dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,000 cfs on Friday, August 14th, starting at 5:00 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This 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: 900 CFS in the #SanJuanRiver below the dam, August 12, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, 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 Wednesday, August 12th, starting at 5:00 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 has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

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

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to be increased to 800 CFS on August 11, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, 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 Tuesday, August 11th, 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 has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    #SanJuanRiver report: Streamflow = 40.6 CFS, median for day = 137 CFS #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    River report

    As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 43.5 cfs. This is below the average for Aug. 5 of 214 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The highest flow for Aug, 5 came in 1999 when the San Juan River had a flow of 1,050 cfs. The lowest came in 2002 when the San Juan had a flow of 18.2 cfs.

    The #GoldKingMine spill 5 years on

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    For a few days in August 2015, invisible mining pollutants could be seen by the world

    Five years ago today, a breach at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton sent a deluge of water loaded with heavy metals into the Animas River, turning the waterway an electric-orange hue that caught the nation’s attention.

    But five years later, and four years into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program, there has yet to be meaningful improvements to water quality and aquatic life.

    Dan Wall, with the EPA’s Superfund program, said most of the focus since the Bonita Peaking Mining District Superfund site was declared in fall 2016 has been on studying the watershed and the multitude of mines impacting water quality.

    The EPA is still in that effort, Wall said, and there’s no time frame for when the agency will present its final work plan for a comprehensive cleanup in the Animas River basin.

    The EPA has spent more than $75 million on the site to date.

    “It may be slower than what people want,” Wall said. “But we want to make sure our remedy selection is based on science … so the money won’t be wasted and we can be confident to see improvements based on the work we take.”

    […]

    The stretch of the Animas River between Silverton and Bakers Bridge, about 15 miles north of Durango, is virtually devoid of aquatic life. Fish populations in the river through Durango are unable to reproduce, in part because of heavy metal contamination. And, years ago, the city of Durango switched its main source of water to the Florida River because of quality issues in the Animas.

    The Animas River Stakeholders Group formed in 1994 and brought together a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested people, who sought to improve the health of the river amid heavy metal loading from legacy mines.

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

    Despite the many Stakeholders Group successes, water quality in the Animas River in recent years has diminished, mainly from the mines leaching into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek.

    In 2014, the EPA decided pollution had gotten so bad that it stepped in with a $1.5 million cleanup project of its own…

    Despite millions of dollars in claims, no one was reimbursed for their losses after the EPA claimed governmental immunity. A lawsuit still lingers in the federal courts from those seeking to recoup costs.

    But ultimately, the Animas River did not appear to be too adversely impacted – the spill did not cause a die-off of fish, and long-term studies have shown little to no effect on aquatic life or the waterway…

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

    What the spill did accomplish was to highlight the legacy of mines chronically contaminating the Animas River: The amount of metals released from the Gold King Mine spill is equal to that released every 300 days from all the mines around Silverton.

    After years of the possibility of the EPA’s Superfund program stepping in, it became official in fall 2016, with the agency singling out 48 mining-related sites set for some degree of cleanup…

    Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

    Immediately after the Gold King Mine spill, the EPA built a $1.5 million temporary water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the mine and removes metals, which costs about $2.4 million to $3.3 million a year to operate.

    But other than some minor projects around the basin, the EPA has focused on studies to better understand the complex mining district, and evaluate what long-term options would be best for cleanup.

    The EPA is set, remedial project manager Robert Parker said, to make stronger headway on a quick action plan to address about 23 mining sites over the next few years while longer-term solutions are being examined.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 700 CFS August 7, 2020 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Piute Farms waterfall. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a hot and dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Friday, August 7th, 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 has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. 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 600 CFS August 3, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, 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, August 3rd, 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 has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    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

    Partners Protect Banded Peak Ranch from Development, Completing 30-Year Effort to Conserve 65,000 Acres in Southwest Colorado — Colorado State Forest Service

    Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

    [On July 28, 2020], The Conservation Fund, Colorado State Forest Service and USDA Forest Service announced the permanent protection of the 16,723-acre Banded Peak Ranch in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains. The protected land will connect a largely undisturbed forest landscape, prevent development in critical wildlife corridors and conserve an essential watershed that provides water to Colorado and New Mexico communities downstream. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund played a critical role to permanently safeguard these private forestlands from the threat of development.

    Banded Peak Ranch. Photo credit: Christine Quinlan via the Colorado State Forest Service

    The completion of a conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch is the final phase of a 30-year effort by The Conservation Fund in the Navajo River Watershed – protecting a total of 65,000 acres that connect wilderness ranches in the upper reaches of the watershed to conserved working ranches at lower elevations on the Navajo, Little Navajo and East Fork of the San Juan rivers. Permanent protection of these lands is the product of public-private partnerships involving 10 different ranches. Over the years, the Navajo River watershed project area has attracted $37 million from federal, state and private partners, including private foundations, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the federal Forest Legacy Program, which is managed in Colorado by the Colorado State Forest Service, and private landowner donations.

    These privately owned lands are surrounded by some of the most remote, expansive and undisturbed national forest and wilderness lands in Colorado. As the last, large unprotected property in the upper Navajo River watershed, Banded Peak Ranch completes the protection of a wilderness watershed and preserves one of the most important wildlife migration corridors for mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain region.

    “The headwaters of the Navajo River is one of the wildest and most pristine landscapes we have protected in Colorado. It is a majestic place that has inspired many others to join us in the effort,” said Tom Macy, Western Representative of The Conservation Fund. “If we are going to see grizzlies return to Colorado, it is likely to be here.”

    Critical Water Supply, Wildlife Habitat, Working Forests

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The watershed has critically important benefits for downstream users in Colorado and New Mexico, providing irrigation and drinking water for 1 million people in New Mexico, including 90 percent of Albuquerque’s surface water supply. Protecting Banded Peak safeguards 33 miles of streams on the ranch, including a 5-mile stretch of the Navajo River, along with 850 acres of riparian and wetland habitat.

    Banded Peak Ranch – roughly 20 miles southeast of Pagosa Springs – hosts a premier deer and elk hunting program that provides stimulus to the regional economy, while the carefully managed timber operation supports regional wood processing mills. The ranch has been an active participant in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Ag program for two decades and manages its forests with the guidance of a management plan written in conjunction with the agency.

    “Our family has been dedicated to land conservation and land stewardship in Colorado and elsewhere for many years,” said Karin Griscom, the family’s representative. “We were privileged to partner with The Conservation Fund, which has diligently worked with us to protect strategic lands and wildlife corridors in the Upper Navajo River watershed over the last 20 years. We also greatly appreciate the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, elected officials and especially the Wyss Foundation that were all instrumental in the protection of this legacy ranch.”

    ‘Myriad of Ecological Values’

    Navajo River Watershed map via the Colorado State Forest Service

    The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs along the eastern border of the family’s properties for approximately 10 miles. Almost completely surrounded by 3.75 million acres of the San Juan National Forest, South San Juan Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest, protection of the Banded Peak Ranch enhances the adjacent public lands by maintaining healthy forests, critical wetland and riparian areas, and crucial wildlife corridors. Fire modeling shows this ranch is the first line of defense in the watershed for reducing the risk and cost of wildfire.

    The conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch will be held by the Colorado State Forest Service. The two adjacent ranches – Catspaw and Navajo Headwaters – are owned by members of the same family and protected through a series of conservation easements held by the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Open Lands. These perpetual easements ensure that the natural richness and ruggedness of these lands will remain largely undisturbed, allowing ranch operations to continue while eliminating future subdivision for residential or commercial development.

    “We’re proud to partner with The Conservation Fund, USDA Forest Service and owners of Banded Peak Ranch to conserve the myriad of ecological values on the ranch,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “By protecting Banded Peak and its forests from future development, we’re ensuring the public benefits that these forests provide – from clean air and water to habitat for our iconic wildlife – persist in Colorado for generations to come.”

    Support from Colorado’s Congressional Delegation

    The protection of Banded Peak Ranch was made possible by $7 million from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF uses offshore drilling revenue – not taxpayer dollars – to fund conservation projects across the country. The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that has passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the President’s desk for signature, provides full and permanent funding for LWCF and future conservation victories like this one. Colorado’s Congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, is united in its support for this program and for the protection of the Banded Peak Ranch.

    “The conservation of Banded Peak Ranch is excellent news for southwestern Colorado and a testament to the work of local leaders and landowners, The Conservation Fund, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this decades-long effort, the Navajo River Watershed, and its valuable wildlife habitat, will now be protected for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. I’m glad to have supported this project throughout the process, and to have secured full funding for LWCF, so that Colorado can continue to invest in public lands, wildlife habitat and our economy.”

    “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs and has played a critical role in protecting public lands in Colorado and across the nation,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. “Protecting the Banded Peak Ranch completes 65,000 acres of protected wilderness and watershed which will help wildlife in the area flourish. Additionally, preserving the streams at Banded Peak Ranch ensures that communities downstream, including areas in southwest Colorado, have access to clean water for drinking and irrigation.”

    “The addition of the Banded Peak Conservation Easement is a welcome expansion to safeguard critical wildlife habitats in southwestern Colorado,” said U.S. Representative Scott Tipton. “I am proud to have worked to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that important projects like this will continue benefitting communities in Colorado for years to come.”

    Iconic Wildlife

    Realizing the opportunity to protect this last piece of the headwaters of the Navajo River, the Wyss Foundation has played an essential role in the Banded Peak Ranch project, providing funds to match the LWCF dollars.

    “Thanks to the determination of The Conservation Fund and support from Coloradans demanding more protections for their lands and waters, Banded Peak Ranch will be preserved forever,” said Wyss Foundation President Molly McUsic. “Collectively we must continue taking every opportunity to accelerate our conservation efforts, to safeguard imperiled wildlife and to ameliorate the worst impacts of a changing climate.”

    Most of the wildlife species found along southern Colorado’s Continental Divide inhabit the Banded Peak Ranch. Elk, black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, bighorn sheep and many others thrive in the area. Federally threatened Canada lynx also live on the property. The streams on Banded Peak Ranch support the recovery of the San Juan strain of the Colorado cutthroat trout, which was presumed extinct for 100 years, until it was rediscovered on the ranch in 2018. Grizzly bears were once present in this remote wilderness area until the late 1970s. In fact, this was the last place in Colorado to host the iconic and threatened species. Two books were written about the grizzly bears’ presence in this watershed, including Ghost Grizzlies: Does the Great Bear Still Haunt Colorado by David Petersen, and The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado by Rick Bass.