A decision about Lake Nighthorse water release could come later this week

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The San Juan Water Commission continues to monitor conditions around the Animas River, including flow and snowpack, to decide if it will request a release from Lake Nighthorse this month.

San Juan Water Commission Director Aaron Chavez said the decision will likely be made later this week.

Lake Nighthorse is located in Durango, Colorado, and stores Animas-La Plata water for various entities, including the San Juan Water Commission.

The City of Farmington initially requested a possible release from the reservoir as a way to test the water delivery from Lake Nighthorse to entities in San Juan County. The City of Aztec has expressed interest in also taking some of the water released if it does occur.

San Juan County water managers are still deciding whether to seek a release of water from Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado, seen here in a September 2016 file photo.

The release depends on the water levels in the river remaining low because the test release will be a way to gather data for a drought scenario.

The last time the San Juan Water Commission requested a release from Lake Nighthorse, the Animas River had been reduced to just a trickle with puddles in some places by the time it reached the confluences with the San Juan River. That release was canceled when storms recharged the river.

While the commission hopes there will someday be a pipeline to transport water from Lake Nighthorse downstream to Farmington, Aztec and other San Juan County water users, this does not currently exist.

The Animas River, which is flowing at about half its normal seasonal speed, is seen running along one of Farmington's planned trail areas located off of County Road 3000 in east Farmington in this February 2021 file photo.

A test release could help provide data about water loss as the water would flow down the Animas River channel. Because the irrigation ditches are closed for the winter, it would also provide data about water flow and downstream recovery in the river without any of that water being diverted for agriculture.

On the morning of March 8, the Animas River was flowing at 138 cubic feet per second in the Cedar Hill area near the state line, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. A stream gauge in Farmington was registering 175 cubic feet per second. These readings are about half of what would typically be seen on the Animas River in a normal year.

Meanwhile, the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area is scheduled to open on April 2. The lake closes for recreation during the winter to protect critical winter wildlife habitat.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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