San Juan River level will begin decreasing

Hannah Grover
The level of the San Juan River will decline over the next several days as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation releases less water from the Navajo Dam.

FARMINGTON — Residents may soon see the water level in the San Juan River fall.

The river has been running high since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began its spring peak release in May. The bureau began ramping down the release today.

That process will take approximately 12 days, according to a project notice released Thursday. After the bureau has completed ramping down the release, about 500 cubic feet of water per second will be released from the dam.

The release has caused property damage and delayed outdoor activities as higher-than-average water flows filled the river channel. Susan Behery, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management requested that the bureau not release the full 5,000 cubic feet per second due to concerns about public safety and property damage. Instead, the bureau extended its release by a few days. Behery said the maximum amount that the bureau released this year was 4,500 cubic feet per second.

This was the first time since 2012 that the spring peak release has been necessary, and in 2012, the release only lasted one week before the ramping-down process began.

The spring water release from the Navajo Dam into the San Juan River reached the peak level this year for the first time since 2012.

The release has two purposes — helping environmental conditions for aquatic life and maintaining the river channel.

Behery said the bureau needs to release the 5,000 cubic feet per second each year to maintain the normal river channel. She said there are concerns that there could be property damage in the event that the bureau needed to release water to prevent flooding.

Because drought conditions have prevented spring peak releases in the past few years, sediment has built up in the channel and actually changed the course of the river, Behery said.

"Channels move, channels migrate, especially in New Mexico," Behery said.

Because the channel had changed course, it moved closer to a property near Bloomfield, and an empty trailer slid into the river in May.

The high water has also affected fly fishing on the San Juan River. Bob Fitz, who organizes the Bob Gerding Youth Fly Fishing Adventure, said organizers have twice had to postpone the annual event that introduces local young people to angling.

The San Juan River is pictured Friday from the Among the Waters trail in Farmington.

The fly fishing classes for children were initially planned for early June but were postponed to July 9. On Thursday, Fitz decided the river still was running too high, and he delayed the event again. Now Fitz hopes the fly fishing adventure will take place Aug. 6. The San Juan River flow on Thursday was 4,320 cubic feet per second, according to data from the U.S. Geological Service.

“When the releases are that high, and the river is that high, it’s too dangerous for kids to wade,” Fitz said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.