Nov.’s Animas flow lowest on record

Water engineer says it’s too early to call it a dry winter

It’s no wonder the Animas River looks like a trickle.

The total flow in the Animas through Durango during November was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest in 102 years of records, Rege Leach, the state Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Thursday.

The second-lowest flow in the Animas was in 1934, when 9,374 acre-feet flowed through Durango, Leach said.

Other area rivers didn’t fare much better, Leach said. The November flow in the La Plata River was the fourth lowest in 103 years of record keeping, and the Dolores River carried its third-lowest flow in 96 years of records.

A story Thursday in the Summit Daily News reported that the Blue River nearly dried up Tuesday in an area of downtown Breckenridge. The smell of dead fish was pervasive, the story said.

Breckenridge Ski Resort officials said the low flow can’t be attributed to its snowmaking. A spokeswoman said the resort makes sure its diversion of water doesn’t affect minimum flows.

A Denver Post story Thursday cited a study that says global warming could reduce mountain snowpacks, costing winter tourism up to $2 billion a season.

The Natural Resources Defense Council study said the skiing and snowmobiling industries are a $12.2 billion industry that already have felt the effect of warming temperatures. The study also was researched by Protect Our Winter.

Climate change could bring further problems, the study said. Winter temperatures across the United States have increased 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895.

Despite the gloom, the water year can’t be written off, even with the current snowpacks, Leach said.

“It’s too early to tell because SNOTEL sites in the San Juan and Dolores basins don’t tell that much right now,” Leach said. “If we get a couple of good storms in the next weeks, we can be back to an average snowpack.

“You can’t say it’s going to be a dry winter now,” Leach said. “But if we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying.”

Reservoir levels are low, too, Leach said.

In 49 years, Lemon Reservoir has had less water in only five years; Vallecito Reservoir has recorded a lower water level in only 14 of 72 years; McPhee Reservoir has had only four years with less water in 29 years; and Navajo Reservoir, in 51 years, has had less water in only eight years.

“Reservoirs are drawn down because we had a dry summer,” Leach said. “Now, we’re going into a dry winter.”

Ryan Christianson, group chief of the Southern Water Management Group of the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango, said Vallecito Reservoir is 30 percent full; Lemon is 19 percent full; McPhee, 51 percent; Navajo, 57 percent; and Lake Nighthorse, 94 percent.

Lake Nighthorse was filled from the Animas River earlier this year.

daler@durangoherald.com