Gauges in rivers show levels are flowing below average

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is releasing additional water from Navajo Dam to protect critical endangered fish habitat

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
The San Juan River is pictured, Monday, June 25, 2018 at Nizhoni Park in Shiprock.
  • Official: While water levels may be lower this year, people should not swim or play in ditches.
  • Average streamflow for this time of year in the Animas River at Cedar Hill is 2,530 cubic feet per second.
  • The Animas River at Cedar Hill is flowing at 270 cubic feet per second.
  • Monsoon season could alleviate drought conditions.

FARMINGTON — While the rains last week helped with flows in the Animas and San Juan rivers, the levels are once again dropping. Both rivers are flowing much below average for this time of year, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

If levels in the Animas River continue to drop, ditches could struggle to pump water, according to Office of the State Engineer District Supervisor Blaine Watson.

“It hasn’t rained much and the rivers are reflecting that,” Watson said.

A river gauge on the Animas River near Cedar Hill registered 270 cubic feet per second Monday while a gauge in the San Juan River in Shiprock registered 444 cubic feet per second, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Watson said all the ditches that rely on the Animas River are currently able to divert enough water, but if the flow continues to drop there could be challenges.

He said ditches could struggle to pump water if the gauge at Cedar Hill registers flows of 200 to 250 cubic feet per second or less.

Watson said the river flow peaked on June 18 and the rain last week helped keep the river levels from dropping as quickly.

“The rain really helped out, I think, with extending the hydrograph out a little further,” he said.

Conditions mirror the drought of 2002

Cedar Hill’s gauge has 83 years of recorded streamflow readings. The lowest flow it has recorded for June 24 was 217 cubic feet per second in 2002, which was considered an extremely dry year.

The average flow recorded at this time of year has been about 2,530 cubic feet per second.

Watson said the water conditions this year are similar to the conditions seen in 2002. He said the monsoon season of 2002 alleviated many of the drought problems.

Current predictions show the upcoming monsoon season could bring relief and replenish water in the rivers.

While the water levels are dropping, the National Weather Service’s climate forecast anticipates a hot, wet monsoon season. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts normal to above normal precipitation and temperatures this fall.

If those monsoons do not come, or if ditches along the Animas River start struggling to divert water, the Office of the State Engineer has proposed a rotation plan.

Watson said the rotation plan is an alternative to more drastic measures, such as implementing a priority-based water use system that would prioritize older water rights.

Navajo Dam water release helps levels in San Juan River

Shiprock’s gauge sees an average reading of 4,250 cubic feet per second at this time of year. The lowest flow it has recorded on June 24 was 100 cubic feet per second in 1977.

The flow in the San Juan River increased slightly at the Shiprock gauge from 397 cubic feet per second Sunday to 444 cubic feet per second Monday.

This increase followed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increasing the amount of water it releases from Navajo Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation sent out a notice stating it would increase the release from 650 cubic feet per second to 750 cubic feet per second starting at 1 a.m. Sunday.

The increased release was done to protect habitat for endangered fish in the San Juan River. The Bureau of Reclamation tries to keep the river at 500 cubic feet per second to 1,000 cubic feet per second in the critical habitat between Farmington and Lake Powell, according to the notice. According to the notice, the target of 500 to 1,000 cubic feet per second is the average flow at all the gauges along the San Juan River between Farmington and Lake Powell over the course of a week.

Ditch safety remains important

While the levels of water in the ditches and rivers may be lower this year, Watson said people should still practice ditch safety.

“It’s a good idea to stay out of the ditches in general,” Watson said.

He said flash flooding can impact the ditches in a similar way that it impacts the arroyos. Watson warned that conditions in the ditches can change rapidly during storms.

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