Runoff Still Strong Along The Rio Grande

by Staff Reporter / May 23, 2017 / 0 comments
The streamflow in The Rio Grande, shown here from Fairview Bridge, is well above average at about 4,000 cubic-feet-per-second. The river is running bank-to bank and measure 4,390 cubi-feet-per-second at Otowi Bridge below Española. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Runoff Still Strong Along The Rio Grande

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Streamflows in Northern New Mexico remain strong, but are slowly receding and except where influenced by releases from dams below reservoirs are nearing normal levels. Rio Arriba County falls within the Rio Grande Basin, which includes the Rio Chama and smaller tributaries originating in the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Originating in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado, the Rio Grande undergoes several transformations due to the influence of water withdrawn for irrigation and by municipalities along the river for drinking water before reaching Elephant Butte Reservoir in Southern New Mexico.

The streamflows along the Rio Grande are monitored and measured by the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Near the headwaters of the Rio Grande at Wagon Wheel Gap below Creede, Colo. the Rio Grande’s flow is currently a healthy 1,540 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs). By the time it reaches Del Norte and with an influx of water from the South Fork of the Rio Grande that originates at Wolf Creek Pass, the river has swollen to 2,470 cfs.

The streamflow below Abiquiu Dam was 1,800 cubic-feet-per-second Monday. That was well above the average of 1,100 cubi-feet-per-second. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Between Del Norte and Monte Vista, water is diverted from the Rio Grande to irrigate potato, barley and other agricultural crops grown in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. At Monte Vista the flow is 1,130 cfs. At Lobatos, just before the Rio Grande crosses the state line into New Mexico, the flow is currently 1020 cfs.

Upon entering New Mexico, the flow in the river at Cerro is measured by the USGS at 1,010 cfs, which is slightly above normal. From Cerro, the Rio Grande flows through the rugged Rio Grande Gorge. The river receives additional water from tributaries, like the Red River, Rio Hondo and Rio Pueblo de Taos that originate in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The flows in these tributaries is currently near to slightly below normal.

This year has been a banner season for rafting along the Rio Grande due to the high streamflows.

At the next USGS measuring station at Taos Junction Bridge, the flow has increased to 1,770 cfs, which is somewhat below the normal flow of 1,970 cfs. The next measuring station at Embudo measures 1,990 cfs due to an influx of water from Embudo Creek.

At Velarde, substantial amounts of water are diverted from the Rio Grande to irrigate agricultural fields and fruit orchards. Despite some close calls with late spring frosts, it looks like a good year for fruit crops.

At Chamita, below Velarde and above Española, the Rio Chama enters the Rio Grande. A major tributary of the Rio Grande, the Rio Chama exerts a dramatic change in the streamflow of the Rio Grande. Unlike the Rio Grande, which has yet to flow through a large reservoir and dam project, the streamflows in the Rio Chama are heavily influenced by two major dams.

The Rio Chama originates in Colorado, but with the exception of its very headwater, flows most of its length through Rio Arriba County. Because of a well-above-average amount of snowfall during the winter, streamflows in the Rio Chama are still well above average.

The streamflow on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam was 1,800 cubic-feet-per-second Monday. The well-above-average flow raises the level of the Rio Grande in Espanola. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

At La Puente, the streamflow in the Rio Chama measures 2,120 cfs, above the average of 1,820 cfs. The river enters El Vado Reservoir. Below El Vado Dam, the streamflow released from the reservoir is currently 1,960 cfs, well above the average of 1,600 cfs.

Below El Vado, the river flows through the spectacular Chama Canyon Wilderness before entering the second big reservoir along its length- Abiquiu Reservoir. Below Abiquiu Dam, the flow being released from the reservoir is currently at 1,800 cfs, which is well above the average of 1,130 cfs. By the time the Rio Chama reaches Chamita, where it flows into the Rio Grande, the Rio Chama is flowing at a healthy 1,970 cfs thanks to an influx of water from the Rio Ojo Caliente.

Through Española the streamflows in the Rio Grande have now doubled to about 4,000 cfs thanks to the influx from the Rio Chama. At Otowi Bridge below Española, the streamflow is now 4,120 cfs.

After flowing through White Rock Canyon, the Rio Grande enters Cochiti Reservoir. The flow below Cochiti Reservoir is a healthy 4,650 cfs at San Felipe Pueblo. This is well above the average of 3,250 cfs.

Through Albuquerque, the flows in the Rio Grande are well-above-average. Despite being tapped for irrigation water by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy irrigation district, the healthy flows continue along the river. At State Highway 346 near Bosque below Albuquerque, the streamflow in the Rio Grande is now more than double the average of 1,710 cfs at 5,080 cfs.

By the time it reaches the Narrows at Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Rio Grande is still flowing at a healthy 4,210 cfs, which is over triple and nearly quadruple the average of 1,160 cfs. “The Butte” has been suffering from low water in the reservoir recently. With releases below Elephant Butte Dam only at 1,540  cfs, the water level in the reservoir is rising rapidly.

Below Elephant Butte, the Rio Grande irrigates thousands of acres of rich agricultural land. This includes the famous green chile crops of Hatch. It still has a long ways to go before reaching its final destination -the Gulf of Mexico.