Farmington, San Juan County prepare for a dry summer

City may implement mandatory water restrictions in June

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Despite worsening drought conditions in the county, the flow of water in the Animas River is expected to remain strong through early June, a city official says.
  • Farmington could have surcharges and credits during stage 3 restrictions.
  • County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty says vegetation, both alive and dead, is drier than typically seen at this time of year.
  • Daugherty said one concern for firefighters is the cotton from cottonwood trees.

FARMINGTON — With drought conditions worsening in San Juan County, local officials are looking at ways to save water and prevent fires.

The San Juan County Commission approved a ban on outside burning during its Tuesday meeting, and the Farmington City Council is amending the surcharges that would be implemented if the city goes into its stage 3 water restrictions.

The council voted in favor of publishing the amendment to the ordinance during its Tuesday meeting, which was streamed online at

“The fact of the matter is that the drought conditions have continued to get worse, and they have continued to get worse at a faster pace than we had even projected back when we did the original amendment,” City Manager Rob Mayes said.

The city amended the plan earlier this year. The council approved the amendment to the ordinance in early April.

The city of Farmington has already implemented a ban on burning and is currently in stage 1 of its water restrictions, which calls for voluntary water conservation.

County bans burning until further notice

County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty told the County Commission that vegetation, both alive and dead, is drier than typically seen at this time of year.

“We’re about two to three weeks ahead of where we normally are in our fire season,” Daugherty said.

The burn ban includes nine types of burning:

  • Agricultural and trash burning.
  • Campfires. People will be allowed to use charcoal for cooking purposes in residential yards, but the charcoal must be cool enough to be handled with a bare hand before people dispose of it.
  • Smoking cigarettes or cigars with some exceptions in location. The cigarette or cigar butts must be disposed of in an ash tray.
  • Using an internal combustion engine without a proper spark arrester installed or parking hot vehicles on flammable vegetation. Daugherty said the spark arresters come standard in most internal combustion engines.
  • Welding and using torches with open flames within 10 feet of vegetation and without having a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Discharging, using or possessing any combustible or explosive composition. Daugherty said that includes exploding targets or dynamite. He said the county fire department can work with people who need to use explosives for their job.
  • Operating a chainsaw without a spark arrester. Daugherty said the spark arresters come standard on most chainsaws. He said sometimes people remove them to enhance performance.
  • Burning of rubbish.

The ban originally included a ban on flaring from natural gas wells on county lands, but that was removed during the commission meeting.

Daugherty said the ban on flaring would have almost no impact on natural gas operators because there are not any current wells that would be impacted on county lands. He said the majority of wells are on federal lands and would be subject to any restrictions the Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office may choose to implement.

Daugherty said one concern for firefighters is the cotton from cottonwood trees.

“The cotton’s starting to fly, and that cotton’s highly flammable,” he said. “We always have issues with that when folks start to do their burning. It burns so quick and so hot that a lot of times you can’t even see the flame. It’s almost like an alcohol flame. It’s a very blue flame, so you don’t even see it burning or smoking it burns so hot.”

Farmington concerned about worsening drought conditions

The city of Farmington will consider implementing stage 2 water restrictions during the June 12 council meeting. Stage 2 would include mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering, such as only allowing people to water their yards three days a week.

The amendment discussed during Tuesday's council meeting would only impact customers during stage 3 restrictions. It would give credits to customers who use 6,000 gallons or less, which is the average household water use without outdoor watering, according to Mayes.

Under the amended ordinance, people who use more than 6,000 gallons will see a surcharge on their bills. That would be $15 per 1,000 gallons for people who use between 6,000 and 20,000 gallons. People who use between 20,000 and 40,000 gallons could face a $22.50-per-1,000-gallons surcharge.

Mayes said if people follow the stage 2 water restrictions, the city likely will not go into stage 3.

“If we do go to stage 3, it’s because the public didn’t pay attention to stage 2,” he said.

Since the city implemented a stage 1 water advisory, the average water use has been about 33 percent more than last year’s water use. Public Works director David Sypher said last year was cooler and had more precipitation. A graphic on the city’s website measures where water use is currently and shows the levels that the city would like to conserve.

Sypher said projections show the Animas River flow remaining at about 200 cubic feet per second through June 5, which should help the city keep Farmington Lake full through mid-June.

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