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Water in the News

New Snow Science Site Comes to SJWCD

Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) has identified a snowtography location on Jackson Mountain in San Juan Water Conservancy District. The installation is planned for September 25 through 28. Volunteers are encouraged to help. Connect here to learn more: 

According to MSI, there’s an emerging snowtography network that’s happening in Colorado and across the West. Snowtography will inform decisions on how to manage forests and answer questions such as how the amount and location of trees impacts snow accumulation, retention, and ablation (melting/sublimating). With a changing climate, measuring and modeling the amount of snow we receive can support decisions to ensure water resources and ecosystem health, and in turn, our health. Eventually, data gleaned from snowtology can help determine how we approach forest health, wildfire mitigation, and riparian restoration. Contact to learn more and volunteer.

WIP Interviews SJWCD

Water Information Partner Spotlight

Q&A with Joe Tedder, Treasurer, and Al Pfister, President

San Juan Water Conservancy District

The Water Information Program (WIP) spoke with Joe Tedder – Treasurer, and Al Pfister – President, with the San Juan Water Conservancy District.

For those who aren’t familiar with the San Juan Water Conservancy District, tell us a bit more about your organization:

The SJWCD was created in 1987 in accordance with the Water Conservancy Act.  The District is located at the headwaters of the San Juan River and encompasses all of the town of Pagosa Springs and most of Archuleta County.  Our District has transitioned over the last fifty years to a tourism-based economy with many of our visitors enjoying river recreation including fishing, rafting, and tubing and San Juan Forest oriented activities including hiking, mountain biking, camping and winter activities.

The primary focus of the SJWCD during its 36 years of existence has been managing water rights ceded to the District at its formation and exploring water storage options for the Upper San Juan River Basin.  Our nine Board Directors are judicially appointed and serve on a volunteer basis.

What is the role or mission of SJWCD?

The role of the SJWCD is to provide active leadership in our community on all issues that impact the supply, use, and management of the water resources of the Upper San Juan River.  There are numerous governmental and non-governmental entities in our community with some degree of interest in water resource issues, and the SJWCD seeks to build and/or support collaborative partnerships among these groups.  As the imbalance between water supply and the agricultural, municipal, recreational, and environmental demands grows, the SJWCD is devoting increasing resources to the education of our community on all matters impacting water availability and use.  Our goal is to be a responsible and valued source of information on water issues facing our community.

You are working on your updated strategic plan, what are some of the goals or projects you are working on that you would like to share with the public:

The SJWCD Board presented its first Strategic Plan at the end of 2020.  The often painstaking effort proved invaluable as it gave us a platform to discuss our mission, values, history, and objectives for the future and a dynamic document that can be updated as circumstances warrant.  As might be expected, our first Strategic Plan was very ambitious in our objectives.  Our 2022 update was more realistic with three objectives replacing the previous six with dedicated Board subcommittees focused on Action Plans developed around each objective.  Briefly, the three objectives are focused on

  • Identifying potential partners to participate in the design and development of a water storage facility to be located on the Dry Gulch property currently owned jointly by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, and the SJWCD;
  • Exploring alternatives to water storage to meet the agricultural, municipal, environmental, and recreational water needs of the SJWCD community; and
  • Educating the SJWCD community about the water resources of the Upper San Juan River Basin and related issues, including water resource planning, water conservation, and the work of the SJWCD.


What are the biggest water challenges facing southwest Colorado? 

The growing imbalance between supply and demand for the Colorado River has received much deserved press over the last couple years.  But we are a people with often short memories and even shorter planning cycles, and the heavy snowfalls of the 2022-23 winter have already changed the tone of reporting for many.  While we can’t see very far into the future, our view of the most likely future scenarios based on history and models portends a much warmer and drier southwest Colorado.  We will certainly face some very difficult lifestyle changes over the coming years, and educating our communities about their role in facilitating these changes will become more and more critical.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when it appears most issues immediately create a 50:50 divide.  Education across the divide will require some creative approaches when trust of information and data are at times limited.

What are three aspects of southwest Colorado’s watersheds that you find unique/intriguing?

  • Our snowpack serves as the best, and primary, water storage means available, but the earlier snow melt complicates water availability for all users. Reservoirs in basins like the Upper San Juan cannot completely mitigate the inevitable reduction in stream flows during our summers, but can be a tool in managing water availability in a drying and warming climate.
  • Intuitively, the healthier our forests are, the more water that can be retained in the soil. Thankfully, more and more research is being done to identify the most productive ways to slow the water flow through our watersheds to encourage water permeation into our natural underground storage.
  • The ability of process-based methodologies to aid in meeting the water needs of all users needs to be relayed to our community.


Why does the San Juan Water Conservancy District value water education, and what new water education program are you working on?

Our District is located in a tourism-based economy.  While many of our visitors come to the area to enjoy water and snow-based recreation, most come from locales that rarely see water shortages.  Many of these visitors buy property and build homes in our District, and bring their engrained ideas on water use including planting landscapes that utilize non-native vegetation and require more regular irrigation.  Our education program must address the need for water conservation by all agricultural and municipal users.

Much of our population lives in an area known as Pagosa Lakes.  In fact, the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association is the second largest property owners association in Colorado after Highlands Ranch, a south Denver suburb.  When the area was built starting in the 1970’s, natural streams were diverted and dredged to form a series of lakes that pull water from the Upper San Juan Basin watershed.  These lakes provide a source of water for our municipal demand and provide opportunities for recreation including rafting, kayaking, fishing and boating.  Our community has been taught over the years that these lakes are our insurance policy against drought, and if the lakes are full, everyone is happy and comfortable.  Unfortunately, as the Plumtaw Fire last May showed, our watershed is quite vulnerable. Vulnerability to fire in our watershed, especially with a warming and drying climate, puts the water supply to these lakes in jeopardy. Our education program must teach lessons about where the water at the faucet comes from and the potential threats to those sources.  The knowledge about our watershed in our community is frankly very limited.

We recognize that people learn in different ways.  With that in mind, we are developing a water education platform that will utilize interactive storyboards and present water data in informative and hopefully eye-catching graphical representations.  We will also develop a “Your Water” presentation that we will deliver to various community organizations with an interest in water.  Lastly, this platform will include one or more field trips to our watershed for these organizations, with the general public invited as well.

What question do you wish we had asked you?

How is the SJWCD funded?

Our funding is limited to a mill levy from our community that provides approximately $100,000 per year. This limited funding emphasizes the need for us to work with Federal, State and local partners to find additional, significant funding in order to meet the water needs of our agricultural, environmental, municipal, and recreational water users.



Water Fluency 101: Developing a Water-Fluent Community

San Juan Water Conservancy District invites you to a public presentation featuring Josh Kurz

with a water supply analysis and interactive infographic.

October 5: Lifelong Learning Series – Ruby Sisson Library at 6:00 pm

When you turn on a faucet in your home, where does the water come from? As a science teacher, I challenge my students to answer this question by tracing their drinking water back to the source, but they have to discuss all of the detours and stops along the way.

Since we live in the headwaters of the San Juan River, we can see our wilderness watersheds from our windshields and we are fortunate to be the first water users in its journey downstream. Our drinking water may have been frozen in a snowfield on Saddle Mountain, plunged over Treasure Falls, or paused for a few days in Fourmile Lake.

Like the Ancient Puebloans, we collect, divert, and store water to sustain us, but on a much larger scale. But unlike the Ancient Puebloans, our modern society might not realize how living on the edge of a desert is a precarious endeavor, subject to the whims of the weather. Our flowing faucets may cause us to take clean water for granted (although members of our community that haul water or use groundwater tend to be exceptions).

Many residents in our community can receive water from an elaborate storage and distribution system that was planned, built, and maintained by previous generations. But how does our local municipal and agricultural water system work, what are the threats to our water supply, and is our current water supply adequate to meet the needs of future generations?

The San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) has a mission to secure a sustainable water future for the District that encompasses all of Pagosa Springs and much of Archuleta County. Whereas the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) focuses solely on municipal water supply and demand, the SJWCD’s mission includes all demands on our water including agricultural, recreational, environmental, as well as municipal. They also seek to educate the public about water-related issues impacting all demands on our water supply and promote water conservation. As a watershed scientist and educator who is passionate about water, I’ve partnered with the SJWCD to improve our community’s water fluency and inspire water conservation.

To boost our community’s water fluency, I’ve scheduled three water talks to unveil a water infographic that I created. The infographic spatially depicts our local municipal water storage and distribution system and condenses a host of water supply indicators into one location. Ultimately, I hope that our community embraces the infographic as a way to visualize, understand, and communicate the factors that influence the quality, quantity, and future of our municipal water supply.

And since I’m an educator, I created a water quiz (insert link) so you can test your water knowledge. But don’t worry, it’s open-note (hint: use the water infographic) and I won’t send the results to your parents. Instead, I will be explaining the water infographic and answering any questions that you still have with the help of the SJWCD at the following public meeting:

October 5: Lifelong Learning Series – Ruby Sisson Library at 6:00 pm

I will base my effectiveness as an educator on whether you can casually use acronyms like cfs, SWE, and MGD in conversations with your friends and neighbors, and your ability to trace your water back to your favorite mountains on the horizon. And maybe you’ll use less water too! I hope to see you at one of the water talks.