March 1, 2021
In 2020 New Mexico experienced great change to the Land of Enchantment by way of COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a Public Health Emergency, under the Public Health Emergency Response Act, in order to maximize the resources available to the state to fight the potential spread of the virus and minimize public health risks for New Mexicans. Since the March announcement, New Mexicans are experiencing new ways of conducting daily business and personal encounters by way of telephonic/webinar meetings, social distancing protocols and wearing face coverings to minimize risk. Through this season of COVID-19, New Mexico’s water representatives along with many other unsung heroes remain steadfast and dedicated in protecting the public’s health and safety and continue to work diligently to ensure the most basic needs of shelter, food and water are met.
New Mexico began the new year in anticipation of much-needed moisture in the San Juan Basin. The San Juan Basin accumulated near normal amounts of snow that peaked at 95% of average with 19.1 inches of snow water equivalent. Although forecasts showed potential for spring moisture, the total April through July runoff into Navajo Reservoir was 347 kaf, or 47% of average. Very dry soils and a dry spring contributed to the below-average runoff. Rain in late May and early June kept flows elevated longer than expected. Navajo Reservoir peaked at 6062.7 feet on June 9, with flows decreasing rapidly after mid-June. Due to a combination of low precipitation, dry soil conditions and early warm springs temperatures, New Mexico remains in its continuing drought pattern.
The Navajo-Gallup water supply will convey a reliable municipal and industrial water supply from the San Juan River to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, eastern section of the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup. These areas rely on a rapidly depleting groundwater supply that is of poor quality and inadequate to meet current and future demands. The project consists of two separate pipeline systems, which together will include approximately 280 miles of pipeline, multiple pumping plants and two water treatment plants. The two pipelines will ultimately deliver 37,764 acre-feet annually. The project’s eastern branch (Cutter Lateral) will divert approximately 4,645 acre-feet annually. The Cutter Lateral 21 Water Treatment Plant is nearing completion and is undergoing testing and performance verification and once completed, the water treatment plant will provide drinking water to the eastern Navajo Nation and the southwestern corner of the Jicarilla Apache Nation beginning with initial phased deliveries in early fall 2020. The City of Gallup and the Navajo Nation western branch will divert the remaining 33,119 acre-feet of water.
In the 2020 fall season, the Animas La Plata Project’s Lake Nighthorse was at 6,877.95 feet of pool elevation and 109,110 acre-feet of active storage. The Animas Basin snowpack for winter 2019/2020 was 100% of median peak. The April to July 2020 runoff observed totals at the Animas River in Durango, CO was 260,000 acre-feet (69% of median). The Animas Basin snowpack for winter 2019/2020 was 100% of median peak.
There was no water pumped into Lake Nighthorse due to reconstruction of the Intake Structure at the Pumping Plant on the Animas River. Demolition and deconstruction of the Intake Structure has been completed and reconstruction of the intake Structure has begun and will be completed ahead of schedule.
Due to COVID-19, the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program (SJRIP) travel restrictions have delayed most field work on the San Juan River. There was no spring peak release at Navajo Reservoir in 2020 and releases through the summer have been made to retain the minimum target baseflow and ranged between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs. Plans are set for small-bodied monitoring to occur in the fall. This is important because of the expectation of wild razorback sucker recruitment given the low flow year. The fiscal year 2021 work plan was recently approved and decisions are ongoing for funding the San Juan Recovery Implementation Program post-2023. The ultimate result of these decisions will be a report to Congress containing recommendations on the size and funding sources of the programs moving forward.