Drought could lead to fireworks, water restrictions

U.S. Drought Monitor shows county is in exceptional drought

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
The confluence of the Animas River, left, and the San Juan River are pictured in Farmington on Friday.
  • The Farmington City Council will discuss water restrictions during its Tuesday meeting.
  • The San Juan County Commission will consider fireworks restrictions during its Tuesday meeting.
  • The Animas River is flowing at just 2 percent of its normal volume in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Local government officials are growing increasingly concerned about drought conditions in San Juan County and are proposing some restrictions.

Farmington may enter stage one of its drought management plan, and San Juan County could restrict fireworks use.

The Farmington City Council and the San Juan County Commission will discuss the restrictions during their meetings on Tuesday. The City Council will meet at 9 a.m. at City Hall, 800 N. Municipal Drive, and the County Commission will meet at 4 p.m. at the county offices at 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec.

Almost all of San Juan County is in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Exceptional drought is the worst category of drought on the drought monitor.

The state Office of the Engineer sent a letter April 19 to ditch officials regarding the drought. The letter can be viewed online at aztecnm.gov. The letter details a ditch rotation schedule that will be implemented if conditions do not improve.

When the city of Farmington released its Water Tip Wednesday — a weekly conservation tip the city releases online and through social media — the Animas River was flowing at 14.1 cubic feet per second, less than 2 percent of normal. Snow pack in the mountains was 36 percent of normal.

With the Colorado snowpack at far below normal this spring, runoff into the Animas River, left, and the San Juan River is lacking this year.

Farmington Public Works director David Sypher said those two indicators prompted the city to consider entering stage one of the drought management plan, which calls for voluntary conservation to reduce water use by 10 percent.

Sypher said the city has a 90-day supply of water in Farmington Lake, which is currently filled to capacity, even if it is unable to draw any more water out of the Animas River.

Sypher said the snowmelt in the mountains has begun and will likely cause the river level to rise in the upcoming weeks.

Sypher said he believes people are more aware about conservation now than they have been in the past. He said people are also conserving electricity more than in the past.

“It’s not just a philosophy,” he said. “It’s also a money-wise thing.”

A trickle of water is seen in the bed of the Animas River Friday along the Among the Waters river trail in Farmington.

Navajo Lake was at 73 percent of capacity at the start of the month. The Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing between 500 cubic feet per second and 700 cubic feet per second from the reservoir since the beginning of April.

San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said conditions do not look like they will improve. The fire season already has been bad, Daugherty said. He said the fire department has seen more property loss, including outbuildings, houses and cars, than it normally does during April.

The drought also has caused the county to consider restricting fireworks to prevent fires. Farmington officials also are considering restricting their use.

“We will be proposing the highest firework restrictions allowed under state law,” City Manager Rob Mayes stated in a text message.

Reeds grow along the banks of the San Juan River Friday near the Among the Waters river trail in Farmington.

He said that proposal will go before the City Council at a future meeting, but it likely will not be discussed at Tuesday's meeting. That meeting will focus on the drought management plan.

Jeanene Valdes, a member of River Reach Foundation, said she and other officials of the nonprofit organization that stages the RiverFest celebration each Memorial Day weekend are concerned about the low level of the rivers. She said the organization is still planning on offering raft trips down the Animas River during the festival, but that could change. She said organizers could opt for inner tubes floating on the river rather than rafts if the water level remains low.

“We’re still going to have a party,” Valdes said.

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