San Juan #Snowpack 2019: Big, but not the biggest (yet) — Jonathan Thompson (@jonnypeace) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

Photo credit: http://riveroflostsouls.com

Let there be no doubt: It has been a snowy winter in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, along with the rest of the state and much of the nation. Six people have been killed in Colorado avalanches, three of them in the San Juans. The highways leading into Silverton have been closed multiple times this winter due to avalanches, and Red Mountain Pass remains shut and buried with miles of slide debris as I write this early on March 7. Skiing, by all accounts, has been fantastic. If someone were to have gone into hibernation a year ago in the San Juans, and had just woken up today, they’d probably think they had been transported into a completely different world.

A CDOT driver clears debris from the East Riverside slide south of Red Mountain Pass in early March. This slide is the deadliest on Hwy 550 between Durango and Ouray. In the ’60s a reverend and his two daughters were killed here, and plow drivers were killed by the Riverside in ’78 and ’92, not long after the (too-short) snowshed was built. Courtesy Colorado Department of Transportation.

And yet, according to data from a sampling of SNOTEL stations across the San Juans, the March 1 snowpack still did not crack the top three highest levels on record, even though the SNOTEL records only go back less than four decades. Yeah, I know, those of you who have spent much of the winter shoveling out or catching sweet face shots are probably wondering what kind of Bulgarian weed this guy’s smoking. But I’m just the messenger, here, delivering data gathered by remote, automated, and perfectly sober stations, specifically those located near Molas Lake, on Red Mountain Pass, and in Columbus Basin in the La Plata Mountains.

The graphs below show this water year’s snow water equivalent for the first of each month so far, average level for the period of record, 2018 levels, and the two highest snowpacks on March 1 during the period of record.

Red Mountain Pass is so far seeing its 8th heaviest snowpack for 3/1 since 1981.
We’re not sure what’s going on at Molas, where the SNOTEL station showed the March 1 snowpack sitting at average levels. This year is at 14th biggest snows since 1987.
While the snowpack is sitting well above average at Columbus Basin, it remains far below previous years, sitting in sixth place since 1995.

The main takeaways: • The snowpack, i.e. the snow water equivalent, is sitting well above average for the period of record for each station. • The snow water equivalent for each station is currently about two times what it was a year ago. • A lot more snow will have to fall in order to make this the biggest winter on record.

And now for some caveats: • These graphs show snowpack levels at the first of the month, and all three of the sample stations have received two to three more inches of SWE since then in massive early March storms, which could have boosted this year’s ranking a bit. • I chose these three stations because they sit at a high altitude (and had values > 0 last year), and because they are geographically diverse. It’s possible that lower elevation stations have more snow this year than they ever have. I’ll look into that for a future post. • These data are merely for the amount of water in the snow at a specific point of time. They do not necessarily reflect total snow accumulation for the water year. It’s possible that more snow has fallen than in “bigger” years, but that warmer temperatures have melted it. I’ll also look into how this winter’s temperatures compare to previous years in a future post.

Judge denies @EPA motion to dismiss #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss claims brought by state, federal and local governments and private entities related to damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

U.S. District Court Judge William P. Johnson denied the motion on Feb. 28 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its contractors and mining companies…

New Mexico, Navajo Nation and Utah, along with residents in Aztec and on the Navajo Nation, have filed lawsuits for environmental damages and tort claims against the federal agency and its contractors and mining companies since May 2016.

The defendants requested that the court dismiss claims, arguing sovereign immunity barred the litigation.

The two states and the tribe are seeking to recover the costs of their responses to the spill under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

New Mexico officials commended the latest court decision.

James Kenney, secretary for the environment department, said the state will continue to hold the defendants responsible for the environmental and economic harms caused by the spill.

Among damages the state is seeking on its behalf and for agricultural and recreational operations is more than $130 million in lost income, taxes, fees and revenues…

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe is pleased with the judge’s decision.

#AnimasRiver: Sunnyside Gold wants @EPA out of the #GoldKingMine cleanup

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. 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]

Good luck with that.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Is it a conflict of interest for the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for the Gold King Mine spill, to lead the Superfund cleanup of mine pollution around Silverton? The last company to operate a mine in Silverton, which is also possibly on the hook for cleanup costs, seems to think so.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. on Monday sent a letter to the acting inspector general for the EPA, Charles Sheehan, asking the EPA be investigated for its part in the Superfund site and ultimately be recused as the lead agency in the cleanup.

“The conflict of interest is clear,” Kevin Roach, director of reclamation for Sunnyside Gold, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “EPA caused the Gold King spill, which led to the Superfund listing, and resulted in the EPA being a defendant in multiple lawsuits.”

[…]

Roach said the “conflict” has made the EPA incapable of cleaning up the site in an “even-handed” manner.

San Juan Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Following an executive session, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors voted to take action on some water rights issues, as well as a potential contract offering.

The SJWCD board entered one executive session to discuss two separate items. One item dealt with legal advice pertaining to questions involving water rights, district contracts and strategic plan preparation…

Upon returning from extensive executive session and calling the meeting back into public session, Porco noted that no decisions were made in the executive session.

However, Porco then asked for a motion to file a statement of opposition in a water case involving Bootjack Ranch.

That motion was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board. According to Kane in an email to The SUN, in December of 2018, the SJWCD authorized its legal counsel to file a statement of opposition in a water rights case filed by Bootjack Ranch LLC.

According to Kane, Bootjack Ranch is now requesting several new water rights, as well as a plan for augmentation.

This plan involves what Kane referred to as “release water,” which is stored in a pond to replace depletions from its other water rights.

“To have adequate time to evaluate the potential for those water rights and the plan for augmentation and to have standing to protect its water rights from injury, the Board authorized its counsel to file a statement of opposition by the February 28 deadline so that it can be a party to the case,” Kane explained.

“I think it’s needed so that we can protect our water rights,” Pfister said at the meeting.

Also following the executive session, Porco called for a motion to offer a contract to Lewis “and authorize Mr. Pfister to begin ne- gotiations with her.”

That motion was also unanimously approved by the SJWCD board.

Regarding future negotiations with Lewis, Kane explained that SJWCD authorized Pfister to propose a contract that was similar to the original one that had her assisting the SJWCD with its strategic planning.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Another item that required a motion following the executive session pertained to SJWCD’s legal counsel to withdraw a statement of opposition for the Lovato case.

“I move that we authorize legal counsel to file our withdrawal of our statement of opposition in the Lovato case,” Pfister said.

That motion also carried unanimously.

The Lovato case is a case that was filed in the Rio Grande Basin in 2010, Kane explained in the follow- up email.

“The application originally involved use of a water right for a transbasin diversion from a stream tributary to the San Juan River, known as the Treasure Pass Ditch,” Kane wrote.

Initially, the SJWCD filed a statement of opposition in order to gain standing to protect its water rights from injury, Kane further explained.

“In September, the applicant decided to withdraw the claim involving the Treasure Pass Ditch. With that claim removed, the Board decided that it had no further interest in the case, so it authorized its counsel to file a notice of withdrawal so that SJWCD will no longer be a party to that case,” Kane added.

The notice of withdrawal will be filed sometime this week, Kane noted.

Local involvement and input needed for determining water use — Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From the Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:

Local stakeholders participated in the first public meeting for the new Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) in Pagosa Springs on Jan. 10, contributing vital information on how to address concerns and identify opportunities to optimize the region’s water resources in accordance with Colorado water law.

With a focus on creating a community-driven process that incorporates all uses of water — including agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental — a panel of steering committee members from diverse sectors explained the group’s goals and engaged discussions on what values and interests could drive these efforts.

WEP Steering Committee representatives include: local ranchers/managers, ditch company leaders, local outdoor recreation businesses, water districts, local and state government agencies, nonprofits, and private citizens. This partnership hopes to collaborate and build upon the accomplishments of existing cooperative groups within the area, such as Growing Water Smart, the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership and Resilient Archuleta.

Funding for this voluntary initiative comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Southwestern Water Conservation District as part of the Colorado Water Plan to help communities enhance their water resources through cooperative projects. The meeting fulfilled the dual purpose of introducing the WEP and steering committee to the public and gathering critical input from local water users to provide direction and support for potential projects.

The meeting encouraged the group to discuss issues, opportunities, knowledge gaps, partners to involve, and geographic scope of this initiative to identify common interests and priorities for future steps.

Preliminary meeting results, breakout sessions and surveys revealed an interest to focus on the Upper San Juan, Navajo and Blanco watersheds initially, with the potential to expand efforts into other watersheds in the future. Discussions during the breakout sessions provided critical feedback on local issues of balancing all water uses, drought planning, education and communication needs, and watershed/forest health. Conversations on opportunities focused on creating collaborative, mutually beneficial projects for all water uses in hopes of efficiently using and conserving water resources in preparation for a drier and warmer climate.

Suggestions on what additional information to gather, priority issues and opportunities, and new partners to involve ensure this process aligns with the community’s needs and goals. The WEP will analyze this information over the coming months to further refine cooperative project progress and potential options, like improving irrigation infrastructure or river bank restoration, to discuss with interested stakeholders. Similar projects have been funded and implemented in the past throughout the San Juan River Basin. We are requesting your input and/or involvement in these future efforts.

The WEP Steering Committee strongly encourages all community members to continue submitting input via the online survey. More community input will greatly assist us in implementing projects that benefit all water users, regardless of how you use water resources — be it for rafting, fishing, drinking water, irrigating, or as a water right owner.
With only 31 responses as of Feb. 4, results are showing drought, water quantity, water quality, forest health and soil erosion as the top five concerns, while values aligned with water use rank environmental, agriculture and recreation above municipal/industrial and other uses.

The WEP is seeking an accurate and greater representation of community values and priorities, so please help this process by taking the short (less than five minutes) survey and learn how to be involved in the process at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan.

If you have additional questions, please call Al at (970) 985-5764.

The Southwestern Water Conservation District’s Annual Water Seminar, April 5, 2019

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Register here.

Since 1981, the Southwestern Water Conservation District has coordinated the Annual Water Seminar to bring together individuals who are passionate about water resources to hear expert speakers from around the state and region. Mark your calendars for this year’s event: Friday, April 5 in Durango…

Excited? You can reserve your seat early. Registration includes catered breakfast and lunch. Click the button below or call 970-247-1302.

Dry Gulch? West Fork? Water rights issues discussed by SJWCD — The Pagosa Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

During a strategic planning session held on Monday, the San Juan Water Conservancy Dis- trict (SJWCD) board of directors brought a familiar reservoir project back into the public eye.

That reservoir, known as Dry Gulch or the San Juan River Head- waters Project, was seen by voters on the November 2017 ballot as Ballot Issue 5A.

The SJWCD’s request for that ballot was specifically an increase to 1 mill to help with land acquisi- tion for the Dry Gulch project.

However, local voters were against this ballot issue, with 75.44 percent of voters being against the measure (2,697 votes), while only 878 voters, or 24.56 percent, were in favor.

During the work session on Monday, the SJWCD board of di-rectors came together in hopes of getting together a framework for a strategic plan that will guide the board in the future.

At one point in the meeting, the board of directors, under the guidance of volunteer consultant Renee Lewis, discussed some potential goals to include in that strategic plan.

Not every SJWCD board member may agree that the board needs to proceed with building a reservoir, Lewis stated.

“But, you also have to keep in mind that you’re still contractually obligated with CWCB [Colorado Water Conservation Board] to be the lead manager of that project,” Lewis said.

Legally, SJWCD is still the manager of that project, and also, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is no longer involved in this deal, Lewis noted.

The only things asked of PAWSD is to not inhibit SJWCD from accomplishing its goal and to help the district with water rights in any way that it can, she added.

Those water rights, according to SJWCD Chairman John Porco, are an asset of the district and are “virtually, entirely, keyed” to the eventual construction of a reservoir.

“That, I think, has to be in the plan, that it’s not off the table,” Porco said.

If the reservoir is somehow not involved in the strategic plan, Porco cited that legal repercussions could be incurred by the district that were “significant.”

“If we were to simply discard those, I would think that con- stituents could, if they chose to, question our serving the fiduciary rights of the district,” Porco said, “because we have, in essence, given away a compensation. We have given away a major asset of the district.”

The SJWCD as a whole should think “long and hard” about not including the potential construc- tion of Dry Gulch in its strategic plan, Porco added.

SJWCD board member Al Pfister later questioned whether or not the water has to be specifically put in Dry Gulch, or be put in another res- ervoir for the same beneficial use.

At the time of the meeting, Porco did not know the answer to Pfister’s question and suggested contacting the board’s legal counsel.

“I agree that we should not just be giving our water rights away. That to me would be negligence on our part,” Pfister said.

The Dry Gulch project should not just be abandoned, Pfister noted, but there should also be an alternative for those water rights.

Per Porco’s estimation, in talks with former legal counsel, he was informed that those water rights were for a specific use.

Another issue under the surface

Later in the discussion, SJWCD board member Bill Hudson pointed out that the district has 24,000 acre feet (AF) of conditional water rights for a reservoir at West Fork.

The SJWCD has had these water rights since 1967, Hudson noted.

According to Hudson, the district needs to file a point of diversion (POD) change on those water rights before 2021.

In addition to the POD, the SJWCD has to define a location of storage for the water, Hudson added later.

“And we haven’t even started that process. This is a 24,000 acre-foot conditional right, and that seems like a very critical piece compared to Dry Gulch, which we’ve already gone through our due diligence on Dry Gulch in 2017,” Hudson said. “But, this is in two years. We’re going to lose 24,000 acre feet of water rights if we don’t fulfill this obligation.”

As part of the strategic planning he district’s current legal coun- sel on these issues.

“Should we talk about it eventually? Yes.” Pfister said.

Amidst more discussion about whether or not this topic should be discussed, SJWCD board member Doug Secrist noted that all of these things should be included in the strategic plan.

“We are not in a position here today to settle those and to decide what we’re going to do specifically because we still have a lot of re- search to do,” Secrist said.

The West Fork water rights are a big issue and due diligence should be exercised on it, but the SJWCD needs to find out how exactly to first proceed, Secrist added later.

“Every six years the water district has gone through due diligence, gotten that right reconfirmed as conditional. We still intend to build a reservoir at the West Fork, not at Dry Gulch, at the West Fork,” Hud- son said.

In order to shed some light on this topic for the district, Lewis, who had been involved in the his- tory, offered some background.

After the local drought of 2002, reservoir discussions took place, and West Fork was listed as one of the site locations, Lewis explained.

Lewis explained that, at the time, that’s why PAWSD and SJWCD went into this deal together and then PAWSD eventually deeded its share of 10,000 AF to SJWCD.

Due to this deeding of 10,000 AF, SJWCD has been paying for the due diligence on it.

“This location was obviously abandoned once the purchase of Running Iron Ranch went through,” Lewis said.

The SUN reported in May of 2014 that Running Iron Ranch was purchased to support the original 35,000 AF reservoir plan; however, that plan eventually got reduced to the 11,000 AF plan we know today.

“It’s always been understood, whether it’s ever been written down anywhere, that at least, to my knowledge, that that is not a viable reservoir location. At least as of when the Running Iron Ranch was purchased,” Lewis explained. “So, we’re still hanging on to that right. It was always my understanding that the intent was to move that right to potentially the Running Iron Ranch location.”

Later, Lewis explained that there is a legal doctrine titled the collec- tive system theory, which is still ac- cepted in water court in Colorado.
What this doctrine means is if the SJWCD is still filing diligence on its Dry Gulch water rights and the district is still making efforts toward that project, the water court will approve its collective system water rights, Lewis explained.

A conclusion?

After more brief discussion about the various water rights issue, Porco again suggested ta- bling the discussion in order to do more research and consult legal counsel.

However, Hudson responded by pointing out that the West Fork water rights are two times bigger than the Dry Gulch ones and something needs to be done on the West Fork rights in two years.

“What we’ve established is that these water rights are married together, and so that they both need to be addressed as we move forward with the strategic plan,” Secrist said.