New septic system rules for Montezuma County

Septic system

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New septic system regulations under the Montezuma County Health Department kicked in Jan. 1.

Under the Transfer of Title program, when a residential or commercial property meets certain criteria, an inspection of its on-site wastewater septic system will take place when the property is being sold, and repairs or replacement may be required.

The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water resources, said Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist for the health department.

The criteria triggering a septic system inspection when a title is transfered include: Structures older than 1974 that do not have a on-site waste water permit; properties that had a permit issued 20 years ago or longer; properties that have a higher level treatment system; properties that have had a previous septic system failure; properties that have a valid septic permit but no structure.

#Snowpack/#Drought news: Cortez moves above average for snowfall for the year

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 2, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Ten days and several nights of snowstorms in the past 51 days has put Cortez above normal snowfall for the 2018-19 winter season.

But because of an abnormally dry 2017-18 winter, Southwest Colorado remains in the worst drought category of “exceptional,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“We’re off to a good start, but we are still playing catch-up,” said Jim Andrus, local weather observer for the National Weather Service. “It will take more generous months of precipitation to get us out of the exceptional drought.”

Since the beginning of the winter season on Nov. 1, Cortez has received 23.6 inches of snowfall, Andrus said. The average winter snowfall through January is 21.2 inches of snowfall, so Cortez is already at 111 percent of normal as of Jan. 2.

For all of last winter season, Cortez only recorded a total of 8 inches of snowfall, or 22 percent of average…

December 2018 was a very wet month, with total snow water equivalent measured at 1.8 inches, or 207 percent of the average .88 inches, Andrus said…

Precipitation for 2018 was 10.09 inches, or 80 percent of the average of 12.75 inches…

An El Niño weather pattern, indicated by increasing Equatorial Pacific temperatures, is developing and increasing the probability that winter storms will continue to track more south and hit the Four Corners area.

Recent storms have been dipping more southward, an indication the El Niño effect is kicking in, said Kris Sanders, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction…

In the Dolores Basin of the San Juan Mountains, snowpack is at 84 percent of average as of Jan. 2, according to Snotel devices that measure snowfall at different elevations. A dry November contributed to the below-average tally.

Last year at this time, the Dolores Basin snowpack was just 26 percent of average, and ended the winter season at 50 percent of average, according to Snotel reports. Last year was a drier La Niña weather pattern, indicated by cooling Equatorial Pacific temperatures, which increases probability that winter storms will take a more northerly route that miss the Four Corners area.

In the 2016-17 winter, the Dolores Basin snowpack was 124 percent of average for the season, a banner year that filled all the reservoirs and led to an 85-day whitewater boating release in the Dolores River below McPhee Dam…

The Four Corners and Southwest Colorado remain in the worst category of exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest posting, on Dec. 25. But the area of exceptional drought has been shrinking the past two months.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

With consistent snowfall on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, local snowpack levels, as of Jan. 2, have shown an 8 percent increase since last week, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins are currently 71 percent of median, up from 63 percent of median last week.

The Upper Rio Grande Basin has also seen an increase in levels, with a current total of 76 percent of median, compared to last week’s total of 67 percent of median.

Snowpack levels remain the same for the Gunnison River Basin, staying at 91 percent of median.

The Yampa and White River basins saw a drop from last week, going from 110 percent of median to 102 percent of median this week.

Another fall in snowpack levels is recorded at the Laramie and North Platte basins, with current levels sitting at 103 percent of median, compared to last week’s total of 108 percent of median.

For the Upper Colorado River Basin, snowpack levels are 104 percent of median, when last week they were 112 percent of median.

The South Platte River Basin saw a drop in its snowpack levels as well, going from 118 percent of median to 112 percent of median.

Rounding out the snowpack totals, the Arkansas River Basin sits at 114 percent of median, when last week that total was 110 percent of median.

We also see an increase in individual snowpack levels for the Wolf Creek summit. This week, the summit is 74 percent of the Jan. 2 median and 31 percent of the median peak. Last week, the Wolf Creek summit was 66 percent of peak and 25 percent of median peak.

However, locally, the National Weather Service (NWS) does not predict a chance of snow until Sunday, with a “slight chance” of snow showers that day.

For Wolf Creek Pass, the NWS indicates a 20 percent chance of snowfall on Saturday night and a 50 percent chance of snow on Sunday.

“I feel better, absolutely. But, we’re still not where we want to be,” NRCS District Conservationist Jerry Archuleta explained.

Pagosa Springs: Public meeting set to address future of water resources in the #SanJuan River watershed, January 10, 2019

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

From the The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:

The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) is coordinating an effort to identify opportunities to optimize the use of our water resources in the face of a drier and warmer climate.

Rivers and streams provide a bounty of beneficial uses — agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental. The WEP’s goal is to promote cooperative efforts to ensure that all uses are met.

The geographic area of focus includes the Upper San Juan River watershed, to include the San Juan, Piedra, Navajo and Chama rivers and their tributaries.

The WEP wants to work with all water users to identify opportunities for cooperative projects that will enhance our ability to use our water resources in recognition of the “prior appropriation doctrine” of water use in Colorado. This is a locally driven effort supported by funding from the Colorado Water Plan.

Over the past few months, the WEP has formed a steering committee comprised of representatives from the agricultural, municipal and industrial, recreational and environmental communities. The committee has developed a proposed framework for moving forward. Goals and objectives have been drafted and are awaiting stakeholder input, involvement and refinement. More details can be found at

We want to secure input from the public to make sure our efforts adequately address the concerns of the community. A public meeting will be held with the goal of informing all stakeholders interested in the future of our water resources. The meeting is Jan. 10, 2019, at the CSU Extension Office from 6 to 8 p.m. Light snacks will be provided.

The group is also offering the opportunity to offer input through a survey. You can find it on the website. We hope you can attend and provide your input on this important topic for our community.

The San Juan Water conservancy district approves budget for 2019

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

The San Juan Water Conser- vancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors formally approved its budget for 2019 at a meeting on Dec. 12. The budget shows a beginning balance of $150,659 for 2019 and that revenues will be $78,775, with total available resources being $229,434.

As of Dec. 12, total revenues for 2018 were listed at $77,456, and that amount is expected to remain the same at year-end.

The district is anticipated to have $250,708 on hand at the end of 2018. Within the revenue section, the largest total within the 2019 budget falls under the general property taxes section. That line item totals $70,789, which is a slight increase over 2018’s amount of $68,041.

The majority of line-item ex- penses for SJWCD do not total over $5,000. Those that do include $7,000 for audit expenses, $12,000 for legal and $12,000 for support services.

Anticipated 2018 year-end ex- penses for an audit total $2,656, while year-end expenses for legal fees are $33,375. Year-end expenses for support services total $13,696.

Total expenditures budgeted for 2019 come in at $78,775, while anticipated year-end expenditures for 2018 total $99,739.

There will be a rate hike in 2019.

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District approves 2019 budget

Photo credit:

From The Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

At its meeting on Dec. 13, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved the district’s 2019 budget.

The three members of the board present — Jim Smith, Glenn Walsh and Gordon McIver — unanimously approved the document.

“The Final Budget, presented for discussion, meets debt service requirements; projects improved but moderate growth and reflects the increased service charges prescribed by the Stantec Rate Study,” an agenda summary sheet on the budget states.

“It’s a great budget,” Walsh said, adding later, “Great job.”

For the General Fund, the bud- get estimates revenues totaling $1,953,015 and expenditures of $1,117,436.

For the Debt Service Fund, esti- mated revenues are $1,213,490 and expenditures are $1,182,826.

For the Water Enterprise Fund, budgeted revenues are $11,876,559, while budgeted expenditures are $5,922,874.

For the Wastewater Enterprise Fund, estimated revenues total $5,527,668, while estimated expen- ditures total $2,434,229.

Before its approval, Comptroller Aaron Burns outlined the changes in the budget since the draft was presented in the fall:

• The San Juan water treatment plant’s UV project, at a cost of $706,000, is completely funded without debt.
• The budget for line replacement increased to $350,000.
• There was a $7,000 decrease to the budget for large maintenance
• The budget for capital decreased by $14,000.
• Water rate revenues were brought more in line with history since 2018 was a drought year.

Walsh also pointed out that the deficit is down in the General Fund, as well as the fact that there are no cost-of-living adjustments, fewer employees and merit-based in- creases.

According to the agenda summary sheet, the operating budget includes 27 full-time equivalents for 2019.

Sending water to #LakePowell may, or may not, benefit boaters on Green, Gunnison, #ColoradoRiver and San Juan rivers — @AspenJournalism

A boater, John Dufficy, makes his way down the lower end of the San Juan River toward the take-out, in 2014. Low flows on the San Juan can make exiting the river a tricky proposition due to the growing sandbars, but it’s not clear if potential releases of water from Navajo Reservoir to boost flows in Lake Powell will do much to change that. Photo Credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Tell experienced river runners that 2 million acre-feet of water — as much water as in 20 Ruedi Reservoirs — is going to be released from reservoirs and sent down the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers to boost falling water levels in Lake Powell, and they will likely have some good questions.

Will peak spring releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River turn Hell’s Half Mile in the Gates of Lodore into a raging maelstrom?

Will early-spring and late-summer releases out of Navajo Reservoir on the upper San Juan River make it easier to float over the growing sandbars in the river below Grand Gulch?

Will releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir run down the Gunnison River and into the Colorado River and make it likelier that flows past Skull Rapid in Westwater will stay longer in the “terrible teens,” or at flows over 13,000 cubic feet per second?

For now, there are no definitive answers to such questions, but one federal official suggests boaters may hardly notice the release of water from the three reservoirs.

An agreement was approved last week in Las Vegas by the Upper Colorado River Commission that sets up a process for Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, to develop a plan to release about two million acre-feet of water from the three reservoirs, but it is, at this point, only an agreement to make a “drought operations” plan, when necessary.

“The agreement, importantly, doesn’t itself include a plan. Rather, it sets forth a process for establishing a plan based on modeling projections of Powell elevations,” Amy Haas, the director of the UCRC said during a presentation here last week at a meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association.

Still, boaters want to know, where might the water come from under such a plan. When it will come? And will it make a difference on the river?

The answer to the last question, at least, is something akin to “no, not really.”

“I really don’t think it is going to be noticeable, because we see quite a bit of fluctuation in the upper basin in all of these systems, when we have abundance and when we have drought, and this fits within those bands,” said Brent Rhees, the regional director in the upper Colorado River basin for the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, as well as Lake Powell.

It also says water will be released from all three reservoirs, though not necessarily at the same time, and an effort will also be made to balance hydropower needs.

The agreement gives regional water managers “sufficient flexibility to begin, end or adjust operations as needed based on actual hydrologic conditions” and retains Reclamation’s current authority to release water as it sees fit, within existing approvals, if there is an “imminent need to protect the target elevation at Lake Powell.”

(Also, please see related agreements on demand management storage in Lake Powell, a “companion agreement” to an a drought contingency plan agreement in the lower basin, and Exhibit 1 to that agreement).

A boater, Steve Skinner, makes his way toward Skull Rapid in Westwater Canyon. Future potential releases of water from Blue Mesa Reservoir down the Gunnison River and into the Colorado River could alter flows in Westwater, and boost water levels in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

Back-up buckets

Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Blue Mesa reservoirs were built, in large part, to serve as backup buckets to Lake Powell, but they have yet to be called upon for such duty.

Of the three reservoirs, Flaming Gorge is the largest, with a capacity to hold 3.8 million acre-feet of water behind its dam, which is in Utah near the Wyoming border.

Navajo Reservoir, which is in northern New Mexico, on the San Juan River, holds 1.7 million acre-feet.

And Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of three dams on the Gunnison River that make up what’s called the Aspinall Unit, holds 940,800 acre-feet.

Of course, before water can be released from reservoirs, they must have water in them — and that’s no longer a given.

Today, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, Blue Mesa is only 30 percent full, holding 248,220 acre-feet of water; Navajo is 52 percent full, holding 883,737 acre-feet; and Flaming Gorge is 88 percent full, holding 3.3 million acre-feet. (Please see “teacup” graphic, with current reservoir levels).

The water to be released, if needed, from the three reservoirs is meant to help maintain a target elevation for the surface of Lake Powell — as measured at the upstream face of Glen Canyon Dam — of 3,525 feet above sea level.

Today, Lake Powell is at 3,584 feet, or 59 feet above the target elevation. A year ago, the lake was at 3,623 feet, or 39 feet higher than it is today. (Lake Powell is 42 percent full, holding about 10.4 million acre-feet of water.)

So, if very dry conditions persist in the upper basin and the reservoir level keeps falling more than 30 feet a year, it’s possible that the critical elevation of 3,525 could be reached within two dry years.

A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

Scary hydrology

The most recent 24-month forecast — issued by the Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday — “projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2019 (at the end of September) near 3,571.23 feet with approximately 9.21 million acre-feet in storage,” or at 38 percent of capacity.

That means by October, Lake Powell is already projected to be 13 feet lower than it is today and only 46 feet above the target elevation of 3,525 feet.

Nothing physically occurs at Glen Canyon Dam at 3,525 feet, but it’s seen by regional water managers as an alarm bell on the way to the reservoir falling to 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, which is when water can no longer be sent down intake tubes to the turbines in the dam.

At elevations below 3,490, when the reservoir is heading toward “dead pool,” it becomes ever harder to release water downstream through the dam’s outlets, which could mean the upper-basin states would fail to meet their collective obligation to send enough water to the lower-basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Although violating the compact was once seen as a far-off, distant possibility, it’s not seen that way anymore.

“In water year 2018, unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 4.6 million acre-feet (43 percent of average), the third-driest year on record above 2002 and 1977,” says the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest forecast, issued Wednesday.

It also says that inflows into Lake Powell have been above average in only four of the past 19 years.

“The latest hydrology is sobering,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said last week during remarks at the water conference. “It is time for us to pay attention. We are quickly running out of time.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018.

#AnimasRiver: No immediate long-term effects from #GoldKingMine spill according to @EPA

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary

In response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) release on August 5, 2015, EPA mobilized field crews to sample water, sediment, and biological data from river segments impacted by the plume. Rivers downstream of the GKM release included the Animas River near Silverton, CO to its confluence with the San Juan River in Farmington NM, and the San Juan River from the Animas confluence to Lake Powell in Utah. A detailed examination of the water chemistry and sediment data collected from the Animas and San Juan rivers is presented in the EPA ORD report Analysis of the Transport and Fate of Metals Released from the Gold King Mine in the Animas and San Juan Rivers (EPA/600/R-16/296).
In this report, EPA presents its analysis of available biological data collected from the Animas and San Juan rivers to assess how the aquatic life responded to the GKM release. Biological communities provide a measure of water quality and aquatic habitat quality by responding to extreme events, such as the GKM release, and integrating stressors over time. Data gathered for this analysis include the EPA near-term (post-GKM release fall 2015) and long-term (fall 2016) biological monitoring of 30 locations, as well as biological data collected by federal, state, and tribal partners. The sampling and analysis approach was designed to evaluate potential changes in the species compositions, population abundance, and the concentration of metals in the tissue by comparing the post-GKM release data to the pre- release conditions.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

The upper Animas River immediately below the confluence with Cement Creek experienced the highest metal concentrations, the greatest number of water quality standards excursions, and the greatest deposition of GKM sediment, during and immediately following the GKM release. A significant increase in copper and decreases in manganese concentration were observed in benthic macroinvertebrate tissue in the near-term 2015 samples. Although these conditions existed, the pre- and post-GKM release analyses did not reveal any clear changes in the aquatic community. The lack of a biological response is largely because the aquatic life in this section of the river has been impacted for decades by legacy contamination from historic mine ore processing and ongoing acid mine drainage contamination. The sensitive macroinvertebrate and fish species that would be expected to respond to the GKM release were already extirpated from the upper reaches of the Animas River.

In the middle Animas River, we also did not observe a clear loss of, or change in the more sensitive macroinvertebrate and fish taxa that start to appear as one moves away from the concentrated historic mining operations in the headwaters. Our review of the Animas River adult fish population data collected by Colorado Parks and Wildlife near Durango agrees with existing state analyses, reports, and press releases that concluded fish were not exposed to acutely toxic concentrations in 2015. Naturally reproducing fish species (suckers and sculpin) and trout fry continue to be found in the Animas River at pre-release abundance levels weeks after and a year following the GKM release, however small bluehead suckers less than <200 mm were not observed in the 2016 data. The lack of a substantial biological response in this section of the river can be attributed to dilution of the plume, the dominant form of the metals was particulate rather than dissolved, and exposure duration was short, which resulted in fewer excursions of water quality standards.

Our analysis of fish tissue data collected by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish showed that many metals were significantly elevated in bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker liver and speckled dace muscle tissue samples collected in weeks after the GKM release in the lower Animas River. The degree of metal accumulation in liver differed by species, sampling location, and among the metals, with aluminum, cadmium, lead and manganese exhibiting the greatest concentrations. Cadmium and mercury in liver tissue and selenium in muscle were greater in the San Juan than in the Animas. When fish were sampled the following spring and fall in 2016, the concentration of metals in muscle/filet samples were similar to pre- release concentrations and were low throughout both rivers. For the most part, the elevated liver concentrations in 2015 did not translate to elevated muscle concentrations. Metal concentrations in muscle tissue never triggered human health consumption advisories. There were no fish population data available from this section of the Animas River to help us understand if the metal concentrations in fish tissue were sufficiently high to adversely affect the fish populations.

By the time the GKM plume reached its confluence with the San Juan River, total metal concentrations had declined by three orders of magnitude from what they were when the plume entered the Animas because of the combined effects of the dilution, chemical reactions, and deposition. The excursions of aquatic life water quality criteria in the San Juan were limited to metals that are also naturally high in the sediment and water.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish population data for the San Juan River show that fish abundance in 2015 and 2016 was generally within pre-release levels. The exception to this was the abundance of bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker, and speckled dace in the middle reaches of the San Juan River. These species had historically low abundance in this area in both 2015 and 2016. The razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and channel catfish, however, had high abundance in 2015 and 2016, which are potential predator/competitor species. We cannot conclude that changes in the physical (i.e., release from the Navajo dam resulting in a short duration of increased flow) and chemical conditions in the San Juan River during and after the plume contributed to changes in species abundance as, the aquatic life water quality criteria excursions were limited and the flow increase was similar to a moderate-sized storm event. It is as plausible that a combination of ecological (increase of predator/competitor species) and physical interactions, and/or fisheries management actions (stocking of razorback and pikeminnow), contributed to the observed changes.

With respect to metals accumulated in biota one-year post-GKM release, metal concentrations measured in benthic macroinvertebrate tissue and fish tissue generally track the gradient of concentrations measured in sediment and water through the watershed. The highest metal concentrations in tissue were typically observed in the upper Animas and the lowest concentrations were observed in the San Juan. Localized high metal concentrations were observed in the post-release tissue data; however, the location at which the high concentrations were observed was not consistent among years highlighting the high intra- and inter- site variability in tissue concentrations. In fall 2016, many metals were elevated in benthic macroinvertebrate tissue when compared to the pre-release concentration; however, the high concentrations were also observed in the upstream and tributary samples suggesting that something other than the GKM release contributed to the concentration change. Likely explanations include differences in sample collection methodologies between years and taxonomic differences between sampling locations. A comparison of pre- and post-GKM fish muscle data among data provider showed similar concentrations that did not exceed human health consumption screening advisory levels.

The EPA 2016 sampling was the first effort to obtain biological data that covered the entire Animas and San Juan rivers in a single sampling event with consistent sampling methods. Our ability to conduct a watershed-scale analysis of data collected by all partners was limited by the different sampling and analytical methods and revealed the need for a consistent sampling approach. This was especially true for studies focusing on bioaccumulation of metals. Future watershed-scale monitoring efforts should include the development of consistent sampling methods when an objective is to compare results to data collected from other areas of the watershed.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The EPA last week released a “Biological Response Report” that shows the agency’s analysis of the Gold King Mine spill…

Based on data from before and after the spill, the EPA “concluded there was no measurable changes to fish populations and bottom-dwelling organisms” after the Gold King Mine blowout.

The EPA said aquatic life in the river near Silverton had already been killed off from decades of legacy contamination from historic mine ore processing and ongoing acid mine drainage contamination.

In Durango, where aquatic life does exist, populations were not affected because the spill had been diluted, the metals were not toxic and the time of exposure was relatively short, the EPA said.

The EPA said that while some fish accumulated metals after the mine release, water quality returned to normal when samples were taken the next spring.

The study highlights what many researchers in the watershed have known for some time: The Gold King Mine spill’s tangible effect on the environment has been relatively small.

Just days after the Aug. 5, 2015, spill, Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed more than 100 hatchery fish along the Animas River. None of the fish died.

In August, San Juan Basin Public Health released the results of a three-year water-quality study, also finding the Gold King Mine spill had no lasting impacts.

Mountain Studies Institute, which has extensively monitored the river since the spill, has long maintained aquatic life had not been seriously affected. Recently, the group released a study that showed the 416 Fire runoff was by far more impactful.

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]