Low river flows trigger drought plan restrictions

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By Josh Pike | Staff Writer

Low river flows in the San Juan river have triggered drought stage 1 for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), according to a June 21 press release from District Manager Justin Ramsey.

Ramsey’s press release continues that entering the drought stage requires a vote of the PAWSD Board of Directors, which is scheduled to come during a 4 p.m. special meeting on Wednesday, June 22.

At the special board meeting “the PAWSD Board of Directors in compliance with the 2020 Drought Management Plan approved the initiation of Stage 1 Drought Restrictions.  These restrictions are to go into effect immediately,” wrote Ramsey in an email to The SUN.

In an interview with The SUN, Ramsey explained that drought stage determinations are based on lake levels at Hatcher Lake, river flow in the San Juan River and the state drought stage, with the variables to weighted to give Hatcher the highest priority, followed by the river flows, followed by the state drought stage.

Ramsey commented that, while Hatcher is “still in good shape,” the median river flow for June 21 is 929 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the flow for that day in 2022 was 250 cfs.

According to the PAWSD drought plan, drought stage 1 restricts irrigation to between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m., and encourages restaurants to only serve water at the request of the customer and hotels to only change towels and bed linens for new guests and at the request of existing ones.

Ramsey explained that the outlook for the implementation of further drought stages is largely dependent on future precipitation. 

“If it starts rainin’ we’ll be OK,” he said. “If it stays dry we’ll continue to go into more and more drought stages. … The fortunate thing we have right now is the lakes still all look good, but that will change fairly quickly.”

According to Ramsey, the drought management plan and further information and updates on drought stages can be found on the PAWSD website at www.pawsd.org.

Ramsey concluded, “We’re just askin’ everybody to conserve what they can. … But it is dry, we’re growing so … we’re producing more water and using more water ‘cause there’s more houses and more people here and we’re not getting any more water from Mother Nature. So, at some point, it’s going to pose a problem.”

Rivers and drought

Stream flow for the San Juan River on June 22 at approximately 9 a.m. was 220 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard.

This is down from a recent peak of 662 cfs at 7:15 p.m. on June 19 and up from last week’s reading of 137 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 15.

According to Ramsey, the rise in river levels is linked to the recent storms in the area.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought.

It notes May 2022 was the 19th driest May in 128 years, with 1.03 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 to date being the sixth driest year in the last 128 years, with 5.22 inches of precipitation less than normal.

The NIDIS also places the entire county in an extreme drought, which may cause pasture conditions to worsen and large fires to develop. 

The NIDIS also notes that an extreme drought can cause extremely low reservoir levels, mandatory water use restrictions and increases in water temperatures.

Water report

According to a June 20 press release from Ramsey, Pagosa and Village lakes are full.

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

Hatcher Lake is currently 4 inches from full.

Lake Forest is 2 inches from full.

Total diversion flows for the district are listed at 6.0 cfs.

The West Fork diversion flow is listed at 3.0 cfs and the San Juan diversion flow is listed at 3.0 cfs. The Four Mile diversion was closed on May 17 according to Ramsey, ahead of the June 14 average.

Water production from June 9 through June 15 was listed at a total of 21.32 million gallons. The Snowball water plant contributed 6.14 million gallons, the Hatcher plant contributed 7.90 million gallons and the San Juan plant contributed 7.28 million gallons.

Last year, total water production was listed at 20.31 million gallons for those dates.

Weather report

According to the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) website, sites in Archuleta County received between 1.96 and 1.19 inches of rain between June 15 and June 22. 

Higher precipitation totals were concentrated in the northern portion of the county, with one site in Mineral County near the Archuleta County line receiving 2.12 inches of precipitation over the period.

According to Shawn Prochaza of Pagosa Weather, prior to the recent storms, the last time the county received more than 0.1 inches of precipitation was on April 4. 

He also commented that the average precipitation for June is 0.93 inches, which the recent storms surpassed.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), showers and thunderstorms are expected across Pagosa Country mainly after noon on Thursday, June 23, with a high of 68 and winds at 5-10 mph.

Mostly cloudy skies are expected Thursday night with a chance of rain and thunderstorms, 5-10 mph winds and a low of 51.

For Friday, June 24, the forecasted high is 69 degrees with partly sunny skies and likely showers and thunderstorms after 9 a.m. Winds are forecasted to be 5-15 mph. The forecasted low is 50 degrees under partly cloudy skies overnight and a chance of rain and thunderstorms before midnight.

For Saturday, June 25, temperatures are forecasted to reach a high of 70 degrees with partly sunny skies and a chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. The forecasted low is 52 degrees with mostly cloudy skies and a chance of showers and thunderstorms.

For Sunday, June 26, the forecasted high is 64 degrees with mostly cloudy skies and chances of thunderstorms and showers through the day. The forecasted low is 51 degrees with mostly cloudy skies and a chance of showers and thunderstorms turning to a chance of showers after midnight.

josh@pagosasun.com