With water coming down the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam at 5,000 cubic feet per second — which is roughly equivalent to 5,000 basketballs being released each second — it’s hard not to notice that 2019 seems a bit wetter than usual.
However, with a good snow pack like this year, it isn’t that unusual, said David Gensler, the hydrologist for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.
“We actually had higher water in 2017,” Gensler said. “The thing that is different this year and is going to make the runoff last longer, is the snow pack has been very interesting this year.”
What happened two years ago, and most years, is the run off peaks and then, when temperatures turn warmer in April and early May, the snow melt is done.
“We have a good increase to flows down the river for two or three weeks, but that’s it,” he said. “What’s really interesting this year is a few inches melt and then another storm comes and puts it back, which is unusual. There is a huge amount of water yet to come.”
The snow report from the Cumbres Trestle in Colorado reported a little more than 30 inches in late March into early April, Gensler said.
The water flows in the river are likely to stay at the current 5,000 cfs for the next few months, the hydrologist said.
“This is replenishing our reservoirs that have been badly drained and is tremendously good for the floodways,” Gensler said. “This sustained flush is moving debris and sand out of the channel, which is necessary for the health of the bosque.”
While the flora and fauna of the bosque are being refreshed, human users of bosque trails are limited in activity for the foreseeable future.
Pat Jaramillo, the open space supervisor for the village of Los Lunas, said pretty much all of the bosque trails in the village’s bosque preserve open space have been flooded.
“Especially on the (Riverside Park) side; those are under water and are going to be for who knows how long,” Jaramillo said.
Even though the trails are flooded, the park is still open, but Jaramillo strongly encouraged visitors to steer clear of the water.
“We encourage people to stay out of the river. It’s not illegal, just not encouraged,” the supervisor said. “We advise people to stay on the ditchbanks if they want to be in there.”
Jaramillo said if people want to swim in or float on the Rio Grande, they need to take precautions, such as making sure they have a phone with them and wear life vests.
“Don’t take off rafting an hour before dark and expect to get from Los Lunas to Belen,” he said. “Really let people know exactly when and where you plan to stop. Also, (inflatable devices) made for swimming pools won’t survive in the bosque. Take something that was meant for out there.”
Jaramillo said there have been reports of water rising in low-lying areas of the village, such as Carson Park.
“It’s groundwater starting to rise and people think it’s flooding coming from over the ditches,” he said. “There’s not a lot that can be done about that. You can pump it, but it’s going to continue to seep up.
“We live next to a river and, every now and then, it’s going to flood. We just have to be cautious. The conservancy is working hard to stay on top of things.”
Gensler said the MRGCD is keeping a close eye on its irrigation system and the levies, administering “first aid” to structures but not seeing major problems.
There is a huge amount of flood control capacity upstream, Gensler said, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulating the flow coming out of Cochiti Lake.
“Even if the flows get extremely high, they will store in Cochiti. They aren’t going to just let it go through the valley,” he said.
Calling this year the best run off since 2005, Gensler said farmers and growers within the district are very happy.
In addition to the MRGCD and Corps, agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and local municipalities are watching the rivers and ditches.
“The main thing we want to tell people is not to panic. There is not an emergency at this time,” said Bosque Farms Clerk/Administrator Gayle Jones. “We have been meeting and monitoring along with everybody else.”
Village of Bosque Farms officials have been meeting frequently with emergency personnel for the town of Peralta, said Peralta Clerk Kori Taylor.
“Bosque Farms and Peralta have been getting together weekly and going over emergency plans,” Taylor said. “We are working with the fire departments and police department. We’ve met with the Corps and (Valencia County) as well.”
Sarah Gillen, the emergency manager for Valencia County, said they are in “wait and watch” mode.
“The MRGCD has control of the wetlands and the Army Corps control our clear-water ditches,” Gillen said. “We are pre-planning as much as we can.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.