Spring runoff, releases from Navajo Dam create unsafe conditions in and around rivers

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — A child nearly got swept away while swimming in the San Juan River this week, according to San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty.

“It got a little dicey,” Daugherty said during a County Commission meeting on Tuesday in Aztec. “We thought we were going to lose the kid.”

The child made it across the San Juan River and did not attempt to swim back.

San Juan County is urging residents to take caution near the Animas and San Juan rivers as flows are increasing. A press release issued Tuesday evening stated water is running higher and faster than any time in recent memory. These fast flows will make the bank unstable.

Sandbags line the banks of the Animas River, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, at All Veterans Memorial Plaza in Berg Park in Farmington.

High water follows a year of drought

In one day this week, the Animas River rose from 4,200 cubic feet per second to 5,600 cubic feet per second, according to San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas.

“I think people have the tendency to forget how powerful that water is,” Daugherty said. “If you go look at the river today, you’ll see quite a bit of debris coming down. A lot of that’s coming off of the 416 Fire.”

The 416 Fire started a little more than a year ago and burned an area north of Durango, Colorado.

A year ago:416 firefighters hope for rain; Durango-area fire grows 1,710 acres

“It’s pretty ironic in a way what difference a year makes,” Daugherty said as he addressed the County Commission.

He said at this time a year ago he was asking the commission to put a burn ban in place due to dry conditions.

The press release warns people to stay out of the main channels of the rivers while the rivers are flowing fast and high. Inexperienced boaters should not attempt to raft or kayak the rivers and experienced boaters should take caution, according to the press release.

Sandbags line the path, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, along the Animas River in All Veterans Memorial Plaza.

Flows increasing in Animas, San Juan rivers

The flows in the San Juan River are increasing due to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation releasing more water from Navajo Dam. The bureau plans to increase flows to 5,000 cubic feet per second and keep the river flowing at 5,000 cubic feet per second for five days before reducing the flows. This increased flow in the river is intended to flush debris from the river channel and removes silt that has built up on the bottom of the river.

Channel maintenance:What to know about the upcoming Navajo Dam water release

Meanwhile, above normal snowpack in the mountains is leading to increased flow in the Animas River. River gauges reported flows greater than 5,000 cubic feet per second on June 4 in the Animas River. The flow decreased slightly to 4,500 cubic feet per second on June 5, according to a gauge in Aztec. 

The Animas River flows around a tree, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Farmington.

The Animas River will likely have increased flows in the future as more snow melts in the mountains.

The San Juan County Office of Emergency Management has sand and sandbags available for residents who live in flood-prone areas. These sandbags can be filled at 326 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec.

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

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Correction: This story was modified on June 5 to correct the dates that river flow readings were taken on the Animas River.


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