Spring Runoff Starting Early In The Valley

The deep snowpack this winter, shown here on Cumbres Pass Feb. 16, is melting quickly. The spring runoff from the melting snow is raising streamflows throughout Northern New Mexico. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Spring Runoff Starting Early In The Valley

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

With streams and rivers flowing well above normal and the snow disappearing from the Truchas Peaks, it’s a sure sign that the spring runoff from this winter’s substantial snowpack is underway.

To go along with the increased runoff, releases of water from below Abiquiu Dam and El Vado Dam on the Chama River are another sign that another irrigation season is underway. The water coming down the Chama is headed for Southern New Mexico, where it will nourish our state’s most famous agricultural product, green chile.

The flow in the Chama below Abiquiu has been increased to a hefty 1,300 cubic feet per second, while below El Vado the flow is 1,000 cubic feet per second. This has put a damper on the fishing at both of these locations, as the heavy flows make fishing difficult.

The Chama flows into the Rio Grande near Chamita, where thanks to an influx of 300 cubic feet per second from the runoff-swollen Rio Ojo Caliente, the Chama is now flowing at a hefty 1,650 cubic feet per second.

The Rio Grande is flowing well above normal by the time it reaches its junction with the Chama. Entering New Mexico from Colorado near Cerro, the Rio Grande is already flowing at over 1,000 cubic feet per second. That’s over twice the average of 500 cubic feet per second for this time of year. At Taos Junction Bridge, the flow has increased to 1,380 cubic feet per second. As it is on the Chama, these heavy flows have made fishing the Rio Grande difficult.

Once the Rio Grande reaches Espanola, the flow has increased to a hefty 2,870 cubic feet per second, over twice the average for this time of year.

The high streamflows are not limited to the larger rivers. The Rio Santa Cruz, which feed Santa Cruz Lake near Chimayo, is flowing at 89 cubic feet per second. Although not impressive when compared to the Rio Grande, the Santa Cruz isflowing at over three times its average for this time of year. There will be plenty of water to irrigate the apple orchards and chile fields of Chimayo.

In addition to the swollen rivers and streams, the heavy runoff could increase water levels in the large reservoirs that make up part of the Chama River drainage. Heron Lake has suffered from low water levels in recent years which led to the closure of the Willow Creek Marina. Once one of the premier lakes for sailboats in New Mexico, it would be great if water levels increased to where the Marina could reopen and sailboats once again moor at Heron. Abiquiu and El Vado Lakes could also see higher water levels.

The current streamflows throughout New Mexico will be found on the United States Geological Survey (USGS)  website://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm


The snowpack that is fueling the heavy spring runoff is still holding up well despite the high streamflows. The snow-water equivalent, which is the amount of water contained in the snowpack if it were melted down, is 124-percent of average in the Chama River Basin and 99-percent of average in the Upper Rio Grande. The news is not as good in the Sangre de Cristo Basin, where it is currently 89-percent of average. The Jemez River drainage currently has a snow-water equivalent of 94-percent of average.

Snow depth at Hopewell Lake which lies between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla, still measured over five feet (61 inches) March 21 at the SNOTEL measuring site. Snow depth at Wolf Creek Summit was 82 inches.

Snow depth, precipitation, and other water supply data for New Mexico can be found at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) website:nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/nm/home