Animas hits 4th lowest flow in 100 years

Measurement was 164 cfs on Sunday, compared with 172 cfs during Missionary Ridge Fire

A century of water records show that 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire, was the driest in Southwest Colorado.

But 2012 is close behind, in fourth place.

Officials have 99 years of flow records for the Animas River, Rege Leach, the Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Friday. There are 95 years of records for the La Plata River and 101 years for the Dolores River.

“They all show the same trend,” Leach said. “The year 2002 was the driest, followed by 1934, 1977 and 2012.”

The Animas River at Durango on Sunday was flowing at 164 cubic feet per second, lower than the 172 cfs registered at the end of June 2002, the month that the Missionary Ridge Fire was burning 72,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains.

The flow in the Animas went lower that year, reaching 129 cfs on Sept. 7, 2002.

Leach said the Animas at Cedar Hill on Friday was carrying 121 cfs. Cedar Hill is just north of the New Mexico line.

Other drainages are in no better condition.

The La Plata River, with half of its flow at Hesperus required to be delivered to New Mexico, is hurting, Leach said.

Barely 1 cubic foot a second of flow is reaching the state line from the Long Hollow area, also just north of the state line, he said.

Except for holders of senior water rights, ditches off the Florida River have been closed.

Ryan Christianson, the water management group leader at the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango, said the San Juan Water Commission in New Mexico, a partner in the Animas-La Plata Project, has not asked for water from Lake Nighthorse.

Although the project is not officially completed, the commission could request water, he said.

Lake Nighthorse is a reservoir southwest of Durango that stores potable water for three Native American tribes and nontribal entities, including the city of Durango.

Water for New Mexico will be released from Lake Nighthorse into the Animas and taken out in New Mexico.

“There’s been no request that I know of,” Christianson said.

Leach knows of no crises caused by low flow in the Animas River.

“There’s a potential, of course, but we haven’t heard of any,” Leach said.

Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, said the flow of water into Lake Powell mirrors the woes of Southwest Colorado.

Lake Powell is set this year to get 48 percent of its normal flow, the third lowest ever, he said.

But, go figure, Whitehead said. Last year, Lake Powell received 142 percent of normal flow.

A water year covers Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

“This has been a difficult water year,” Whitehead said. “It’s not one we want to visit often.”

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