Local governments take new steps to address impact of drought

San Juan County Commission will consider disaster declaration

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
With conditions throughout Farmington and San Juan County become increasingly dry, local governments are taking additional steps to prepare.
  • The Farmington City Council passed a resolution on June 8 urging citizens to exercise caution and avoid using high-risk fire sources.
  • The resolution specifically lists open burning, improperly extinguished cigarettes and fireworks as examples.
  • The City Council voted May 25 to enact a stage one water shortage advisory in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — As the drought deepens in San Juan County, local government officials continue to take steps to prepare for the impact of the extraordinarily dry conditions that have plagued the area for approximately a year and a half.

The Farmington City Council passed a resolution on June 8 urging citizens to exercise caution and avoid using high-risk fire sources. The resolution specifically lists open burning, improperly extinguished cigarettes and fireworks as examples, and cites the danger such activities or materials can pose in these kinds of conditions.

The resolution also calls on police officers and firefighters enforcing fireworks laws to issue and prosecute citations against fireworks offenders rather than issuing them warnings.

Additionally, the council approved a proclamation that restricts the use of otherwise legal fireworks to areas that are paved or barren, or that have an easily accessible source of water. Such fireworks include cone fountains, crackling devices, flitter sparklers, ground spinners, illuminating torches, toy smoking devices and wheels.

The proclamation remains in effect for 30 days, but a press release from the city indicated it could be extended if conditions warrant.

Fireworks such as aerial spinners, helicopters, mines, missile-type rockets, Roman candles, shells, stick-type rockets with a tube less than a quarter-inch inside diameter and ground audible devices such as chasers and firecrackers already are restricted inside the city limits on a year-round basis.

The proclamations do not include any new restrictions on fire or water use. The City Council voted May 25 to enact a stage one water shortage advisory in Farmington, a measure that urges residents to reduce their water use by 10%. That measure has been in effect since June 1.

County prepares to take action

The San Juan County Commission will consider a proposal during its meeting at 4 p.m. on June 15 at county headquarters at 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec to officially declare a drought in San Juan County.

County emergency manager Mike Mestas will deliver a presentation on the measure. County spokesman Devin Neeley said the declaration is largely a procedural move and does not call for any new fire-related restrictions to be enacted.

But if it is approved, it would provide the county and some of its residents with the ability to apply for disaster aid from state and federal sources, should funding of that nature become available. Neeley said such funding has been offered to farmers and ranchers in the past during similar conditions.

"It's a certification by the County Commission that conditions have been met to consider this area as a disaster," he said.

More:Farmington City, San Juan County will stop issuing burn permits as drought deepens

The city and the county stopped issuing burn permits on May 15, which are required for open burning. City officials said then further restrictions are likely to be adopted if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Conditions throughout the county are grim as the heat of summer approaches. The snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, San Miguel and Animas river basins on June 4 was down to 32% of normal and 14% of average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Snowtel website.

More than half of San Juan County is classified as being in extreme drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center and drought.gov, which is the driest category under the agency's five-tier system for quantifying drought. The rest of the county is characterized as being in extreme, the second-worst category, or severe drought, the third-worst category.

More:NWS forecast leans toward drier, hotter monsoon season this summer

The prospects of the county seeing significant relief from monsoon season later this summer do not appear to be good. The National Weather Service office in Albuquerque issued a forecast in early June that indicated there is a likelihood of below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures for the region in July, August and September.

According to the weather service, the last two monsoon seasons in San Juan County have been among the driest since record keeping began in 1942. The last time the Four Corners saw plentiful monsoon rain was in 2013, according to the agency.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.