Weather changes as new water year starts, but drought remains
Recently completed water year was driest on record
- Recent rains have increased flows in the Animas River.
- Water restrictions remain in place in Farmington and Aztec.
- Chances remain good of El Niño conditions developing.
FARMINGTON — After finishing the water year on Sept. 30 with a record-low amount of precipitation and only a trickle of water in the Animas River in Farmington, the Four Corners has received some much-needed rainfall since the start of October.
A gauge at the Farmington Agricultural Science Center has registered nearly a quarter inch of precipitation since Oct. 1, and a gauge at Aztec Ruins National Monument has registered nearly half an inch, according to the National Weather Service.
That is welcome news, considering the lack of moisture the area saw over the preceding 12 months. The gauge at Aztec Ruins registered only about 2.28 inches of precipitation over the past water year, and the agricultural science center gauge registered 2.9 inches. The previous low took place in the 2001-02 water year when there was 5.45 inches recorded in Aztec and 5.89 inches in Farmington.
In contrast, the 2016-2017 water year recorded 10.4 inches of precipitation at Aztec Ruins and 11.6 inches at the agricultural science center. A water year is a hydrology term referring to the amount of precipitation an area receives from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
This rainfall raised the flow in the Animas River to 159 cubic feet per second today in Farmington and 386 cubic feet per second in Cedar Hill, according to U.S. Geological Survey gauges. According to the USGS, the Animas River flow near Cedar Hill now has increased to what is normally recorded at this time of year.
Prior to the storm, the river was running at a mere 4.38 cubic feet per second in Farmington.
While the river levels have increased with the recent precipitation, the drought conditions remain in the most severe category in both the Palmer Index and National Drought Monitor. Farmington and Aztec remain under water restrictions.
Farmington public works director David Sypher said the city will meet next week to discuss the indicators that led Farmington officials to restrict water use. These indicators include the Palmer Index; the depth of the snowpack near Silverton, Colorado; the level of water in Farmington Lake; and stream flows in the Animas and San Juan rivers, as well as current water usage in Farmington.
Sypher said there have been good signs, such as two weeks of good precipitation in San Juan County that also brought snow to the headwaters of the Animas River near Silverton. However, he said that does not mean the area is moving out of the drought.
He said Farmington officials are cautiously optimistic that El Niño conditions will develop and bring winter storms that will end this year’s drought. The El Niño is a pattern of weather that tends to bring warm, moist conditions to the southwest United States and results from warm ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The National Weather Service has reduced its prediction of the chances of El Niño conditions developing this fall to 60 percent, but it still predicts a 70 percent chance of El Niño conditions emerging this winter.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.