Farmington officials taking precautions to protect Animas River parks from rising water

Sandbag barriers placed at low-lying levels in three locations

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A barrier of sandbags protects All Veterans Memorial Plaza from the rising waters of the Animas River near Berg Park on Monday, April 17.
  • Hundreds of sandbags have been placed between the river and All Veterans Memorial Plaza on the northwest bank of the river between Animas and Boyd parks.
  • They also have been placed in a low-lying area just north of Cottonwood Landing just upstream from the plaza and around a ditch just downstream from the plaza.
  • River Reach Foundation officials are considering alternate sites for some Riverfest events.

FARMINGTON — With the water level in the Animas River seemingly rising by the day as the weather warms, Farmington officials have taken the precaution of installing walls of sandbags at a handful of locations in the river parks to protect vulnerable areas from flooding.

Robert Sterrett, chief of the Farmington Fire Department, said the installation of the sandbags by employees in the city’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Department is not something the city does every year. But with this year’s runoff from the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains expected to be significant, that seemed like a worthwhile precaution to take, he said.

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“We wanted to protect the infrastructure while time is on our side,” he said, explaining that workers wanted to get the sandbag barriers in place before the water level was still relatively low.

“We’re at the mercy of what Mother Nature throws at us and how fast the snow melts,” he said.

Hundreds of sandbags have been placed between the river and All Veterans Memorial Plaza on the northwest bank of the river between Animas and Boyd parks. They also have been placed in a low-lying area just north of Cottonwood Landing just upstream from the plaza and around a ditch just downstream from the plaza.

Sterrett said a water feature in All Veterans Memorial Plaza would be especially vulnerable to damage if it gets flooded, explaining that it has a pump that could be filled with silt.

This water feature in All Veterans Memorial Plaza in Farmington would be especially vulnerable to damage from the rising waters of the Animas River, Farmington Fire Chief Robert Sterrett says.

“That’s why it was one of the first areas we protected on the river,” he said.

The Animas River was flowing at approximately 2,000 cubic feet per second late last week, Sterrett said, which is nowhere near the peak flow of 6,800 cfs it reached in the spring of 2019, the last time there was a big snowpack in the San Juans. Even so, the river’s water level already had reached to within a few feet of the base of the flagpoles that separate the plaza from the riverbank by Monday, April 17, demonstrating the likelihood of the river swelling beyond its banks in the weeks ahead.

Although the Animas River is nowhere near peak flow, its rising water level already was just a few feet from the base of the flagpoles at All Veterans Memorial Plaza on Monday, April 17 in Farmington.

Sterrett said city officials are keeping an eye on the entire river corridor for locations where rising waters could cause problems. For now, he said, they believe they have addressed the issue adequately, explaining that the Along the Waters Trail downstream from Animas and Boys parks probably is high enough above the river to avoid the possibility of flooding.

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The best scenario for keeping the flow of the Animas River at a manageable level, he said, is for Farmington to experience a relatively cool spring to allow the snowpack to melt at a slower rate. He was pleased to note that after the 70-degree temperatures Farmington was experiencing early in the week passed, temperatures were expected to cool into the 50s and 60s by the weekend.

“If it keeps that up, that would be amazing,” he said. “That would be a best-case scenario.”

Farmington residents who are worried about flooding on their property can help themselves to free sand and sandbags from the City of Farmington, Sterrett said. They are available at a location behind the Farmington Recreation Center, 1101 Fairgrounds Road, at the southwest side of the parking lot off Vine Road, according to the fire department’s Facebook page.

Residents are advised to bring their own shovel. A blue bin at the site contains sandbags, and if the bin runs empty, residents are advised to call 505-320-2993 to have more delivered to the site.

Meanwhile, officials at the River Reach Foundation — the nonprofit organization that stages the Riverfest celebration each Memorial Day weekend in the river parks — also are taking precautions as they monitor the water level.

River Reach Foundation President D'Ann Waters says the organization is considering relocating some of the Riverfest attractions planned for Rocky Reach Landing to other sites along the Animas River because of a strong possibility of flooding during the Memorial Day weekend event.

D’Ann Waters, the president of the River Reach Foundation board, said the board was going to meet April 18 to discuss alternative locations for some of its events that are planned for low-lying or vulnerable areas. She acknowledged that, over the past several years, her organization typically has been more worried about there not being enough water in the Animas River, rather than too much.

“This year is a whole different ballgame,” she said. “ … It’s not a matter of if the river is going to flood, it’s a matter of when.”

Waters said festival organizers already have decided to move the car show from its traditional location at Cottonwood Landing to a new location near Boyd Park.

And they are worried that the Rocky Reach Landing — a relatively low-lying, large gathering spot on the southeast side of the river across from Cottonwood Landing — will be unable to serve as the host site for one of the two live music stages and food concession sites at the festival. So they are exploring the idea of moving some of those attractions and activities to the Harvest Grove Barn in Animas Park — commonly known as the Red Barn — although that facility would need to be cleaned out, and precautions would need to be taken to keep festival-goers from stepping into prairie dog holes on the east side of the building, she said.

The Red Barn in Animas Park in Farmington could serve as the host site for some Riverfest music events this year because of anticipated flooding along the river, River Reach President D'Ann Waters says.

“We have to look at the safety of the public,” Waters said, explaining the rationale behind the possible moves. “We also want to take care of the vendors and the bands that have committed to coming here.”

Waters said the Rocky Reach Terrace in Boyd Park downstream from Cottonwood Landing and Rocky Reach Landing likely is safe from flooding, given how high above the riverbank it is. But she said there is little, if any, unused space there, so the idea of moving additional attractions there probably is a nonstarter. But other locations in Boyd Park probably could be put to use, she said.

“We’re worried, but it’s up to nature,” she said. “We’re just trying to have our plan in place.”

The good news, she said, is that the whitewater rafting experience on the river during this runoff season should be exceptional.

“So that’s worked out very well,” she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610

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