Water commission director cautions members about drought

Mountain snowpack at approximately 50 percent of normal

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Canada geese swim across the Animas River Wednesday behind the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park in Farmington.
  • The Animas River is flowing at 47.2 cubic feet per second in Farmington.
  • The San Juan Water Commission has approved a $3.2 million budget.

FARMINGTON — San Juan Water Commission Director Aaron Chavez has warned commission members that the region could experience extreme drought this year.

The water commission, which met Wednesday, is made up of representatives of San Juan County, Farmington, Bloomfield, Aztec and rural water users. Chavez told its members the regional snowpack is down this year to approximately 50 percent of normal.

The mountains that feed the Animas River are at 47 percent of normal snowpack, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The San Juan River watershed is in slightly better condition at 53 percent.

“Start thinking ... that really means extreme drought,” Chavez said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which is run by the University of Nebraska, has classified all of San Juan County as being in extreme drought. The Palmer Drought Severity Index, which the city of Farmington uses to gauge drought conditions, has San Juan County in a moderate drought.

In addition to the low snowpack, the river levels are also lower than normal. The U.S. Geological Survey stream flow gauges are showing the Animas River at 29 percent of the average flow for this time of year in Cedar Hill.  In Farmington, the stream flow in the Animas River was down to 47.2 cubic feet per second, which is less than 10 percent of normal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The stream flow on the Animas River through Farmington is running at less than 10 percent of normal for this time of year.

Chevez said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing water from Navajo Dam to increase the flow in the San Juan River from 400 cubic feet per second to 500 cubic feet per second.

During its meeting Wednesday, the San Juan Water Commission unanimously approved its budget for fiscal year 2019, which starts July 1.

The budget is about $58,000 less than this fiscal year, which is approximately a 3 percent decrease.

The decrease includes a reduction in project contributions, which have been used for control of aquatic invasive species. The commission is decreasing expenditures for project contributions by $35,000. Part of the reduction is because the commission likely will not be partnering with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for a boat inspection station at Navajo Lake, according to Chavez.

“They do inspect, but not to the extent that they were going to,” he said.

The commission’s budget calls for about $3.2 million in expenditures.

Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the budget will ultimately have to be approved by the San Juan County Commission.

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