Water district requests water conservation

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By Josh Pike | Staff Writer

A May 16 press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) District Manager Justin Ramsey urges residents to reduce water consumption due to worsening drought conditions.

It states, “The NRCS SnoTel station reached a Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) of 0” on May 10th a full three weeks quicker than the median. The median date for reaching a SWE of 0” is May 31st. 

“Per the Districts Drought Management Plan we would have triggered the Voluntary Drought Stage had the SWE occurred 2 days earlier on the 8th of May. 

“Although we are not in a Voluntary Drought Stage, the unseasonably high temperatures and winds will make for a high water use season. Our weekly water use has increased by 2 million gallons over last years weekly usage. 

“The District is requesting everyone conserve water and use outside irrigation sparingly. Please do not water between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day wastes water as a significant portion of the irrigation water evaporates prior to percolating into the soil, wasting not only water but your money. 

“Additionally please fix leaky fixtures and pass this information on to your neighbors and friends. We will all need to work together and be very diligent to assure we have adequate water resources to get us through the upcoming hot dry summer months.”

In a later interview with The SUN, Ramsey commented, “Everybody should be aware of this and although there hasn’t been a call on Four Mile, I would guess it’s gonna be this week or next week and, once that happens, we’ll start seeing lake levels drop, and if we want to keep our lake levels up, we’ll need everybody to be very diligent and try to use their water sparingly.”

He added, “We’re three weeks ahead of schedule already, so … that’s just three more weeks … of the lakes dropping. Hopefully our wind is gone, because when the wind is here that really increases evaporation. … I assume we’re going to have a warm, dry summer, so I just would request, although … we missed going into … official voluntary drought stage by two days … I would still anticipate, as Hatcher starts to drop, that it will push us into some drought stages as we move forward and it would be nice to … have everybody get in the habit early on of conserving water instead of being forced into later in the month of June.”

The PAWSD website also provides additional advice on conserving water.

Drought outlook

Stream flow for the San Juan River on May 18 at approximately 9 a.m. was 1,120 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard, down from a nighttime peak of 1,320 cfs at 2 a.m. 

These numbers are down from May 11, when the river flow was at 1,390 cfs at 9:15 a.m. with a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.

As referenced in Ramsey’s press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report at the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had zero inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18.

The report also notes that the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 4 percent of the May 18 median in terms of snowpack.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought, with April 2022 being the eighth driest April in 128 years with 1.22 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 being the 11th driest year in the last 128 years with 4.15 fewer inches of precipitation than normal.

The NIDIS places the entire county in a severe drought, which the website notes may cause farmers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be extended, among other impacts. 

The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low snowpack and surface water levels and reduced river flow.

The NIDIS also provides an evaporative demand (EDDI) forecast, an experimental tool for predicting drought conditions through measuring atmospheric evaporative demand or the “thirst of the atmosphere.” 

The forecast for the area indicates that in two weeks, the majority of Archuleta County will be experiencing exceptional drought — the worst drought category — which NIDIS notes can cause widespread dust storms and topsoil removal as well as large economic losses for recreation and agriculture. 

The four-week forecast shows the entire county and most of the surrounding area in exceptional drought by that point.

Water report

According to Ramsey’s May 16 press release, Lake Pagosa, Hatcher Lake and Village Lake are full.

Stevens Lake is also estimated to be full, although the report notes the gauge is currently not reporting.

Lake Forest is 3 inches from full, down 1 inch from last week.

Total diversion flows for the district are listed at 9.5 cubic cfs.

The West Fork diversion flow is listed at 2.5 cfs and the Four Mile diversion flow is at 7 cfs.

Water production from April 29 through May 5 was listed at a total of 15.48 million gallons. The Snowball water plant contributed 4.51 million gallons, while the Hatcher plant contributed 10.97 million gallons.

The San Juan plant was shut down for winter on Sept. 30, 2021.

Last year, total water production was listed at 13.85 million gallons for those dates.

In a later interview, Ramsey noted that the Four Mile diversion was closed on May 17, substantially earlier than last year’s date of June 14.

Weather outlook

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), sun is expected across the county on Thursday, May 19, with a high of 71 degrees. Winds are predicted to begin the day at 5-10 mph, growing to 15-20 mph over the morning with gusts as high as 30 mph.

Mostly clear skies are expected Thursday night with a low of 43 and 10-20 mph winds with 30 mph gusts.

A red flag warning is posted for Thursday between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m.

For Friday, May 20, the forecasted high is 63 degrees with mostly sunny skies and a chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Ten to 15 mph winds are expected, increasing to 20-25 mph in the afternoon. The forecasted low is 38 degrees with slight chances of rain and snow overnight and breezy conditions.

For Saturday, May 21, temperatures are forecasted to reach a high of 58 degrees with mostly sunny skies and wind. The forecasted low is 39 degrees with partly cloudy skies and wind overnight.

For Sunday, May 22, the forecasted high is 63 degrees with mostly clear skies and breeze. The forecasted low is 40 degrees with clear skies and wind.

josh@pagosasun.com