The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), in collaboration with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (OSE), has released the 2018 Draft New Mexico State Water Plan.
The State Water Plan provides important information about the state’s water resources and strategiesto plan for the state’s water future. The plan has three parts: Policies: Provides descriptions of proposed water resource management policies. Technical Report: Provides foundational technical information about water resource conditions, including supply, demand, and strategies proposedby stakeholders to address key issues. Legal Landmarks: Provides summary information about historic decisions in New Mexico water law establishing the legal structure for water resource administration. Also, many state agencies have participated in the review of the draft plan and provided valuable input. The ISC also has been active in conducting tribal consultation to ensuretribal concerns have been incorporated in the State Water Plan.
In 2018 the Animas La Plata Project’s Lake Night horse was at 6,882 feet of pool elevation and 115,075 AF of live storage by the end of May. Pumping began at the Durango Pumping Plant on April 25, 2018 and was completed on May 30, 2018. The average pumping rate over that time period was 63 cubic feet per second. Total volume pumped was 4,500 AF. The Animas River in New Mexico experienced its third lowest peak flow in more than 100 years of recorded history. The low snowpack melted off early, and the Animas River peaked on May 11th at just over 2000 cfs. In July, the US Geological Survey gauge on the Animas River in Aztec, NM was measured at 11 cfs, Farmington, NM was measured at 5 cfs. The Animas River ran slowly reaching its confluence with the San Juan River in New Mexico. With little snowpack and ongoing drought, the San Juan River Basin may experience one of the driest years in its 120 years of record-keeping history.
The 416 Fire started on June 1, 2018, approximately 10 miles north of Durango, Colorado, west of Highway 550. hotter than average temperatures and increased drought conditions created additional challenges as firefighters worked to contain the fire using ground crews and aerial support. On June 18, rain washed down ash and debris from the 416 Fire burn area into the Animas River, degrading water quality. Fish and other aquatic life, already stressed from low flows and higher water temperatures, received an additional setback when the ash runoff from the 416 Fire burn scar entered the Animas River north of Durango, Colorado and traveled down into New Mexico. The fire conditions led to Stage 3 fire restrictions and shut down the San Juan National Forest. On July 5, the 416 Fire had expanded to 54,129 acres and was 45% contained. By July 10, the fire that had burned for more than a month was no longer considered a threat as rain helped tame the 85-square-mile fire. Rainfall and the success of dedicated firefighters prompted officials to declare the 416 Fire 100% contained on July 31, 2018.
As a result of the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill in Silverton, Colorado into the Animas River in New Mexico, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton, Colorado one of its top priorities among Superfund sites across the country to receive immediate and intense attention. The Bonita Mining District Superfund site is comprised of 48 mining-related sites around Silverton, identified as major contributors to contamination and degrading water quality in the Animas River. The Proposed Plan for Interim Response Actions is based on a focused feasibility study, and identifies preferred options for interim remedial actions at 26 sources at the Bonita Peak Mining District site. Once public comments have been received and considered, EPA will prepare an interim Record of Decision for these interim actions. On June 21, EPA presented a Proposed Plan for Interim Response Actions at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site. The proposed plan addresses five different contaminant migration issues: 1. Mine portal mininginfluenced water (MIW) discharge 2. Mining-related sources/stormwater interactions 3. Mine portal pond sediments 4. In-stream mine wastes 5. Mining-impacted recreational staging areas.
During winter 2018, releases in Navajo Dam were periodically decreased to save water as snowpack and other hydrologic inputs failed to materialize. Navajo Dam lost storage throughout the winter and early spring due to low inflows into the reservoir and dry weather. Reclamation did not conduct a spring peak release from Navajo Dam during the 2018 water year. A short two (2) hour peak release of 2,000 cfs was conducted in June for sediment transport and aid. The final April-July modified unregulated inflow into Navajo Reservoir totaled 155,000 AF, which was 21 percent of average.
As of September 2018, Navajo Reservoir’s elevation is 6026.97 feet (58 percent of capacity), with expectation of ending the year at 6020.78 feet. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the San Juan River Basin is currently experiencing extreme drought.
New Mexico was instrumental in the development and organization of the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program to recover the endangered species and continue water development and use. The program is a nationally recognized program moving toward both goals, often cited by both the environmental and development communities as the correct strategy. The San Juan Recovery Program provides Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for approximately 351 agricultural, municipal, industrial and tribal water projects in New, Mexico, Colorado and Utah, depleting approximately 881,055 AF per year (New Mexico depleting approximately 653,758 AF per year). ESA compliance is provided for every Bureau of Reclamation project upstream of Lake Powell in the three states. No lawsuits have been filed in any project provided with ESA compliance by the Recovery Program.
The San Juan Recovery Program operates in compliance with state water law, interstate compacts approved by Congress and Bureau of Reclamation project authorizations by Congress. In March 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a 5-year status review of the humpback chub that recommends downlisting from endangered to threatened. USFWS will prepare a downlisting proposal for publication in the Federal Register, likely in early Fiscal Year 2019.