Navajo Unit

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Navajo Dam is a water storage unit of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP). The CRSP was authorized on April 11, 1956 to regulate the flow of the Colorado River; provide for flood control: provide for storage and delivery of water for irrigation, municipal, industrial, and other beneficial purposes; and generate electrical power. The CRSP also provides for recreation and improves conditions for fish and wildlife. Construction of the CRSP water storage facilities including, Navajo Dam, was critical to the development of the Upper Colorado River Basin’s water resources.

Navajo Dam was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and was dedicated on September 15, 1962. The authorization did not provide for construction of a powerplant at Navajo Dam. However, a powerplant was constructed and is owned and operated by the city of Farmington, New Mexico, under a license issued October 15, 1985 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Operation and maintenance of the dam are performed by employees of the Western Colorado Area Office and are funded from revenues received from the sale of CRSP power.

Operation of Navajo Dam under its original operating criteria focused primarily on meeting irrigation needs and providing flood control. However, the storage and use of water altered natural flow patterns, water temperatures, and water quality of the San Juan River. While non-native fish (trout) populations downstream of the dam flourished, native fish populations and their habitat were modified or adversely affected in part by the construction and subsequent operation of the dam. Over the last decade, the criteria and associated pattern for releasing water from the dam has been modified to accommodate endangered fish research and recovery efforts in the San Juan River through Endangered Species Act consultations under section 7 with the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). Section 7 consultations are intended to ensure federal agency actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

The catalyst for changing the operating criteria for Navajo Dam began with consultation with the Service on the proposed construction of the Animas-La Plata (ALP) Project. On May 7, 1990, the Service issued a draft biological opinion concluding that the ALP Project would jeopardize the continued existence of the Colorado pikeminnow. During this time, new hydrologic investigations suggested that additional flexibility existed in the operation of Navajo Dam which could help offset the negative impacts of the ALP Project’s construction and operation. For example, reducing late fall and winter releases could make water available to increase spring peak flows, returning the San Juan River downstream of Farmington to more natural flow conditions by mimicking pre-dam historic flow patterns. This flexibility in flow patterns would assist in the development of a reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) to the jeopardy biological opinion and allow initial ALP Project construction efforts to move forward. The RPA that was developed required Navajo Dam operations to more closely resemble natural flow conditions for the life of the dam. Because no natural flow patterns were defined or developed for the San Juan River, the RPA also included a commitment to fund approximately seven years of research to determine the flow requirements for the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

This seven-year study was completed in 1997 under the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program (SJRBRIP). In May 1999, the SJRBRIP Biology Committee provided year-round flow recommendations for the San Juan River necessary for the recovery of the two endangered fishes. Reclamation’s implementation of the flow recommendations through modification of the operations decision criteria of Navajo Dam will provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and durations necessary to protect the endangered fish and their designated critical habitat while maintaining the other authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit.

Because the modified operating decision criteria resulting from implementing the flow recommendations differs from historic operations, Reclamation decided to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) covering the flow recommendations implementation. Reclamation initiated the process by filing a notice of intent in the Federal Register on October 1, 1999. The final EIS was released in April 2006 and the Record of Decision (ROD) was signed July 31, 2006. The ROD provides for potential refinement of the flow recommendations based on relevant new information that may be gained over time through an adaptive management process.

Through the adaptive management process and periodic public meetings to discuss operations, consideration is given to a broader range of uses’ including the trout fishery, endangered fish, water quality, irrigation, and flood control.

Related Resources
Navajo Reservoir Operational Data
San Juan Recovery Implementation Program
Colorado River Storage Project
Ashley National Forest

Navajo Dam and ReservoirThe Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) includes many storage facilities constructed on the mainstem of the Colorado River and various tributaries including the Aspinall Unit on the Gunnison River, Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River, and Navajo Dam on the San Juan River. The Navajo Unit of the CRSP consists of a dam and reservoir that is owned, operated, and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). The facility is located on the San Juan River in New Mexico and Colorado and operates as a storage unit of the CRSP, subject to the terms of the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, the Colorado River Storage Project Act of April 11, 1956 (70 Stat.105), and the act of June 13, 1962, authorizing the San Juan-Chama and Navajo Indian Irrigation Projects. The CRSP provides an irrigation and municipal and industrial water supply, flood control, recreation, hydropower, and fish and wildlife benefits.

Construction of the CRSP water storage facilities was critical to the development of the Upper Basin's (Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico) water resources, however, natural riverine habitats were altered due to the variation of natural flow regimes, water quality, and water temperatures. In addition, other urban-development related impacts resulted in a reduction of native fish populations and eventual listing of the Colorado pikeminnow (formerly Colorado squawfish) and razorback sucker as endangered.

A reevaluation of Navajo Dam operations began when Reclamation requested formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) under Section 7, of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)1973, in 1991. The catalyst for operational changes and Section 7 consultation (which ensures federal agency actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species) on Navajo Dam was the proposed construction of the Animas-La Plata (ALP) Project. A draft biological opinion on ALP (May, 7, 1990) concluded that construction of the project would jeopardize the continued existence of the pikeminnow. During this time, new hydrological investigations suggested that additional flexibility which existed in the operation of Navajo Dam could help offset the negative impacts of ALP's construction. A reduction in late fall and winter releases would allow for water availability to increase spring peaks and return the San Juan River to a more natural hydrograph that would mimic pre-dam historic flow conditions. This flexibility in flow patterns would assist in the development of a reasonable and prudent alternative to the jeopardy biological opinion and allow initial ALP construction efforts to move forward. The reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) that was developed required Navajo Dam operations to mimic a natural hydrograph for the life of the dam. Since no natural hydrograph was defined or developed for the San Juan River, the RPA also included a commitment to fund approximately seven years of research to determine the flow requirements for the pikeminnow and razorback sucker. This seven-year study was completed in 1997 under the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program (Program).

Flow Recommendations

In May 1999, the Program's Biology Committee provided year-round flow recommendations for the San Juan River necessary for the recovery of the two endangered fishes. It is anticipated that implementation of the flow recommendations, or reasonable alternative to it, will allow for a non-jeopardy biological opinion to be issued by the Service for the operations of Navajo Dam.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement

The criteria for reservoir operation decisions, that include the needs of the endangered fishes in the San Juan River, are new to the operations decision process for the Navajo Unit. Operations that result from implementing flow recommendations for endangered fishes will be different than historic operations. Reclamation considers it prudent to voluntarily complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) covering the incorporation of recommended flows into the decision criteria for Navajo Dam and Reservoir. Reclamation filed a notice of intent on October 1, 1999, in the Federal Register to initiate the preparation of the draft EIS. As part of this process several public meetings were held to provide information and obtain input from the public. The list of meetings is contained in the October 4, 1999 press release.

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program

The purpose of the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program is to protect and recover endangered fishes in the San Juan River basin while water allowing water development to proceed in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws. The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program was developed as a cooperative effort among agencies of the Department of the Interior, tribes, states, and water development interests including the following: US bureau of Reclamation, US Bureau of Indian Affairs, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Bureau of Land Management, Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Indian Tribe, Navajo Nation, Water Development Interests, and the states of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

Associated Documents
04/2006 Navajo Reservoir Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement HTML
04/2002 Summer Low Flow Test Report PDF 3.58 mb
03/2002 Navajo Operations Environmental Impact Statement Water Quality Report PDF 6.63 mb
06/2001 Final EA: Low-Flow Test, San Juan River PDF
09/2000 Draft Environmental Impact Statement - Navajo Reservoir Ops HTML
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Related Resources
San Juan Recovery Implementation Program
Colorado River Storage Project
Ashley National Forest

Navajo DamThe San Juan River begins on the southern Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains. Navajo Dam is in northeastern New Mexico about 34 miles east of Farmington. The dam is a rolled earthfill embankment containing three "zones" of selected cobbles, gravel, sand and clay, and is nearly three-quarters of mile long. Under normal conditions, water is released into the San Juan River downstream through the outlet works. Water from the river is used for irrigation, municipal and industrial purposes, by oil and gas fields and by thermal powerplants. Water is also released from Navajo Lake through a tunnel into an aqueduct for use on the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project. The Navajo Unit has helped to further manage the water resources of the Upper Colorado River Basin. By providing irrigation waters for lands on the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, the Navajo Unit has helped meet irrigation requirements for the Navajo Nation. In addition, water releases help to maintain a continuous flow of water for power generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

Navajo Dam
Type Zoned earthfill
Construction period July 1958 - Sept. 1962
Location San Juan River, 34 miles east of Farmington, NM
Structural height 402 feet (123 meters)
Crest length 3,648 feet (1,112 meters)
Material used 26 million cubic yards (19.8 million cubic meters)
Spillway width 138 feet (42 meters) [chute section] ; 195 feet (59.4 meters) [stilling basin]
Spillway capacity 34,000 cubic feet per second (254,320 gallons per second)
Navajo Reservoir
Reservoir location 35 miles (56 kilometers) up San Juan River, 13 miles (21 kilometers) up Pine River, 4 miles (6 kilometers) up Piedre River
Surface area when full 15,610 acres (6,317 hectares)
Total capacity at full elevation 1,708,600 acre-feet (2,107 million cubic meters)
Depth of water at dam when full 388 feet (118 meters)
Last Updated: 5/1/17