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Animas River, once again, sets record low flow

After breaking record in December, waterway drops even lower
The Animas River shattered a record low flow this past December. The record was broken again last week, highlighting prolonged drought in the region.

Once again, the Animas River has recorded a record low flow, according to a gauge in Durango with more than a century worth of data collecting.

Before this winter, the previous low flow at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water gauge behind the Powerhouse Science Center was on March 2, 1913, when the Animas River was running at 94 cubic feet per second.

But on Christmas Day this winter, the Animas tallied a new low when the gauge showed water levels at 79.6 cfs, breaking the previous record, which has 110 years’ worth of data.

For reference, 1 cfs equals about 7.5 gallons flowing by a particular point in one second.

But it appears that new record low didn’t last long.

On Wednesday, water levels started to dip below 100 cfs, which used to be a rare occurrence in itself.

The next day, the Animas dropped to 71.4 cfs, setting the new milestone. It has since returned to about 110 cfs, still about half the amount of what is typical for this day in history, based the gauge’s average.

“I think we all know the West is going through a drought right now,” said Steve Anders, Western Colorado data section chief for USGS.

Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, speculated that last week’s cold snap resulted in less water melting into the Animas, causing levels to drop.

“It made sense,” he said.

Durango’s main water source is the Florida River, but the city has the ability to draw from the Animas if needed. Biggs said so far this winter, the city has not had to draw from the Animas.

“If we had to turn on the pumps, we could, and that’s comforting,” he said. “But the Florida continues to be our workhorse.”

After a slow start to the winter, snowpack in Southwest Colorado has been steadily climbing after a recent series of storms.

Federal records show Southwest Colorado – which includes the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan river basins – is at 86% of historic averages, based on the past 30 years.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists La Plata County in some form of drought.


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