Flood waters beginning to recede

Waters in the Animas River hit their high marks early this week. With river levels tapering off Wednesday, officials breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unlike its neighbors, La Plata County was relatively unscathed by this year’s flood stage run-off.

Waters in the Animas and its tributaries shot up over the weekend courtesy of ample snowpack and high temperatures. The Animas spilled over its banks in many places and hit a high point of more than 8,000 cubic feet per second last Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Butch Knowlton, La Plata County’s director of emergency preparedness, said that water levels were expected to drop.

“The National Weather Service is kind of thinking that today and Wednesday we’re going to see the peak flows for the Animas, and we’ll start seeing a decline over the next few days,” he said.

Even though the water was expected to recede, Knowlton said that high water would be around for some time to come. He also noted that another big temperature spike at high elevations could send the river back up.

“We’re going to see continued high flows for a pretty good time into the future,” Knowlton said. “There’s still a lot of snow above treeline that has to come down. I think we could see the river come back up if it gets really hot again up at high elevations.”

The biggest challenge during the recent event was not on the Animas, but on tributaries like Hermosa and Junction creeks, Knowlton said.

“The biggest concern we’ve had has been bank erosion and debris movement,” he said. “That in turn alters the flows and the currents of the channel. That’s been a big problem for property owners.”

On Junction Creek, the bank beneath several mobile homes was badly eroded early in the week. It had to be reinforced to prevent the homes from dropping into the swollen creek. In Hermosa, measures had to be taken to prevent the creek from taking out Animosa Drive as well as utility lines. Still, La Plata County remained unharmed relative to Archuleta and Montezuma counties.

“We in this county have been very, very fortunate as compared to counties on either side of us where they’ve had things like evacuations and damage to county roads,” Knowlton said. “We’re doing really well here, and kayakers and rafters are really enjoying it.”

During the high water, many eyes were directed at the Animas-La Plata project and the excavation near Santa Rita Park. Ken Beck, A-LP Project Outreach Team Leader, said that the flood caused concerns but that the project was not damaged by the event.

“It’s always given us a little cause for concern,” he said. “We knew with leaving the coffer dam in, we were going to spill over the top of it. It did go over the top on Sunday.”

While water spilled over the short riverside dam, the Bureau of Reclamation had installed gates to keep the spill out of the construction area. On Tuesday, they were functioning properly.

“We saw it coming,” Beck said. “We put gates in, and they’re sealing properly. We don’t want that back in the construction area. There’s probably 10 feet of water up against the gates, but very little seepage. The amount that’s gotten through you could probably take out in a couple garden hoses.”

Project aside, Beck said that the Bureau’s main focus was preventing river users from being harmed or swept into the future intake. To that end, the agency met with the Animas River Taskforce and adopted the group’s suggestions, which included signage and extensively marking the inlet.

“The main concern is public safety with river users,” he said. “We met with the group who could best guide us, and took their recommendations and implemented them.”

BLM resumes sales of wild horses

The Bureau of Land Management has selected sale over slaughter for its management of wild horse herds. The agency

resumed wild horse sales recently after an emergency suspension. Numerous herds of wild horses and burros reside in the Four Corners region.

The BLM suspended the sales last month after an unfortunate discovery. Forty-one animals rounded up from Western rangeland had been sold to an Illinois slaughterhouse and processed for meat.

Last December, Congress authorized the sale of wild horses and burros if they are more than 10 years old or have been unsuccessfully put up for adoption repeatedly. As a result, the BLM has sold about 1,000 horses since that time. In April, the agency discovered that 41 horses in two separate transactions had been sent to the slaughterhouse despite requirements that the animals be treated humanely.

Now, the BLM has decided to impose more stringent requirements on buyers. BLM Director Kathleen Clarke announced, “We are very committed to assuring that the animals affected are placed in good homes that will provide humane, long-term care.”

The Ford Motor Co. also has taken an interest in wild horse welfare. Last month, Ford paid to save 52 horses about to be slaughtered. In addition, Ford will pay to transport up to 2,000 horses to Indian reservations and locations run by nonprofit organizations.

Pertussis continues its local spread

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is continuing its local spread. Three cases of pertussis have appeared at the Durango High School, and the San Juan Basin Health Department is urging local residents to take precautions.

The latest cases occurred in DHS students who participate on the same athletic team.  A letter has been sent to parents of students on this team informing them that their child may have been exposed to pertussis. As a precautionary measure, it was recommended that all athletes on the team, and their coaches, seek a course of antibiotics from their physicians to prevent them from becoming ill.

“What we are trying to do is to keep people who have been exposed to the illness from getting sick,” said Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist. “After completing a five-day course of antibiotics, those who have pertussis are no longer able to spread the disease.”

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that has been on the rise over the past several years. Symptoms may include repeated episodes of uncontrolled coughing. Pertussis is most severe in infants and young children and lasts six to 10 weeks. 

“It is important for people to know that the disease is still in the community, and persons who are coughing can spread it for up to three weeks if they do not receive treatment,” said Deb Banton, director of Personal Health Services.  

For more information on pertussis and immunizations, call San Juan Basin Health Department at 247-5702.

New agency watches power plant

The Navajo Nation is taking over regulation of the Four Corners Power Plant, a notorious source of local pollution.

A voluntary compliance agreement was signed last week by the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona Public Service Co., which owns the Four Corners plant. The agreement lays the groundwork for the Navajo environmental agency to become the sole regulator of the plant’s air quality in place of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency is currently responsible for the regulation of 12 emission sources and should take over at the Four Corners plant in the next six months.

A recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project, a national watchdog group, ranked the Four Corners Power Plant as the single biggest nitrogen oxide polluter in the nation. Nitrogen oxide emissions contribute to high concentrations of atmospheric ozone and reduce and irritate lung function, particularly in children and infirm adults. The plant was ranked 36th in the nation for mercury emission.

– compiled by Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows