New Mexico

River Stakeholders

Colorado River Water Use Highlights:

From the 2023 Annual Report – View Full Report Here ⟶

January 2023 started the year with flows into New Mexico in the San Juan, Animas, and La Plata Rivers that ranged from 27 % to 133% of the historic average.

Navajo Reservoir started the year at 52% of full capacity. Spring flows into New Mexico in the San Juan, Animas, and La Plata Rivers from March through May 2023 ranged from 32% to 334% of the historic average. The runoff season began with periods of below-normal temperatures, with small snow events, offering a period of increased flows. Navajo Reservoir concluded the spring season at 80% full. Early summer flows to into New Mexico from the San Juan Basin, ranged from 51% to 139% of the historic average. The San Juan Rivers, Animas, and La Plata Rivers were near average flows, while Navajo Reservoir has peaked in elevation, and is 78% full. Despite the cooler spring earlier in the year, hot and dry conditions have persisted, and will likely continue into the fall. As of early September, El Nino conditions are observed and an El Nino Advisory is currently present. Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are above average across most of the Pacific Ocean. El Niño conditions are expected at a 95% chance for the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2023-24.

The San Juan Basin Recovery Implementation Program and the Upper Colorado River Basin Program have achieved great success benefiting the fish, the partners, and the basins. Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basin Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Reauthorization Act of 2023 reauthorizes these programs for 15 years, providing long-term certainty for program partners and consistent benefits for the four threatened and endangered fish species – the humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, and bonytail. In November 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the humpback chub from “endangered” to “threatened.” The razorback sucker has also been proposed for downlisting. The programs provide compliance for over 2,500 water projects—totaling more than 3.7 million acre-feet of water use per year—including major water reservoirs, agricultural water use, ski areas, and more. Engage in Partnerships for Funding and Implementation: States, Tribes, water users, conservation groups, and hydropower interests work collaboratively to fund and implement science-based recovery actions – from coordinating flows through key habitat reaches during dry summer months when fish need it most, to funding habitat restoration, to removing nonnative species. Non-federal partners propose to commit nearly $200 million in water, cash, and in-kind contributions throughout the 15-year extension. The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basin Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Reauthorization Act of 2023 will extend the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Recovery Programs for 15 years, providing certainty for water use in the Upper Colorado River Basin and fulfilling the federal government’s trust responsibility to Tribes in the Upper Basin. Ensure continued ESA compliance for 2,500 federal, Tribal, and non-federal water projects in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River basins, including every Bureau of Reclamation project upstream of Lake Powell. Authorize up to $165 million for the Bureau of Reclamation to continue annual cost-shared funding for program implementation, continuing work to stock the threatened and endangered fish species, conducting research and monitoring, managing habitat and river flows, combat nonnative species, and operating fish passages and hatcheries through fiscal year 2038. Add up $100 million to the authorization ceiling for capital projects, which will fund infrastructure improvements essential to the recovery of the endangered and threatened fish over the next 15 years. Enable program partners to deploy their own commitments, enlisting the Upper Basin states, Tribes, and non-federal partners to provide their own contributions to meet shared species recovery goals.

On April 25, 2023, the NMISC submitted a Revised Notice to Take Delivery for Calendar Year 2023 to the Jicarilla Apache Nation (Nation), pursuant to the January 2022 Water Supply Agreement between the NMISC, the Nation, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). In this revised notice, the NMISC formally informed the Nation that it has decided to apply the 20,000 acre-feet of water leased from the Nation to the spring release that Reclamation is planning to conduct this year.

On June 9, 2023, the New Mexico State Engineer, Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, and New Mexico Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez joined Navajo Nation, State, and local leaders at the Navajo- Gallup Water Supply Project (NGWSP) Reservoir Transfer Ceremony. The event commemorated the transfer of the San Juan Generating Station facilities ownership from PNM to Reclamation, including the PNM reservoir. The NGWSP will benefit greatly from the off-river storage that diminished turbidity resulting from sediment settling out of the water that is stored in that reservoir. The storage in this reservoir offers the ability to shut down the river intake and continue water deliveries in the event of another Gold King Mine Spill until the river quality improves. During the ceremony, Reclamation and Navajo Nation leadership unveiled a new name for the former San Juan Generating Station Reservoir. The reservoir is now named after Frank Chee Willetto, a member of the Navajo Nation who proudly served as a Navajo Code Talker during World War II.

On July 11, 2023, Senators Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Romney (R-UT) co-sponsored a bill to reauthorize Reclamation to provide cost-shared funding to implement the two endangered and threatened fish recovery programs (Upper Colorado, SJRIP).

On July 12, 2023, the NMISC submitted a letter signed by the Chairman in support of this piece of legislation. In addition, the NMISC comments to the SJRIP Program Office on needed updates to the Program Document for the post-2023 reauthorization period. The NMISC also continues to discuss with the SJRIP partners the Cooperative Agreement that will be needed for the post- 2023 reauthorization period.

To help address the ongoing drought, water shortages, aging infrastructure, and multiple forest fires, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham authorized the State Engineer to form a Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force of water and natural resources experts, senior state agency staff, and stakeholders from around New Mexico to study the problems and recommend actions the state can take. Working together, the 29 Water Task Force members, representing diverse expertise, geographies, and community interests, examined New Mexico’s water management and governance challenges. Members of the Water Task Force will work closely with the Legislature and the Executive in the hopes that a transformative approach in solving the problems will coalesce as we approach the 2023 session and beyond. The Water Task Force membership is also serving as Water Ambassadors to their regions, legislators and constituents and will certainly continue promoting the outcome of these efforts beyond the conclusion of the Water Task Force’s work.

In the early months of 2023, positive results from the Task Force’s work had already begun to emerge. Seventeen legislative bills and memorials were introduced that were either inspired by, or directly adapted from, the Task Force’s recommendations, with another four bills indirectly related to the recommendations. Action on the issues raised by the Task Force will be necessary to build the resilience of New Mexico’s water system in the face of climate change.

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.

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