Land Use Administrator Lex Nichols said on Monday that the county is working to reestablish a communicative relationship with Division of Water Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers in preparation for the region's flood season. North La Junta is in danger of flooding during a heavy rain event, particularly if Pueblo is affected by the event and its flood pools need to be emptied.
"We are getting ready to start into our flood season. What we've done in the past is work with the Pueblo reservoir," said Nichols.
Nichols said that the county previously took it upon itself to check water gauges, and over time it's been able to figure out how long it takes flood water diverted into the Arkansas River to travel from upstream gauges to North La Junta.
"We have a big rain event, the river's high, we have water running off the prairie," Nichols said. "Every ditch is running. There's nowhere for the river water to go and then Pueblo gets into the flood pool and they kick out six thousand cubic feet per second."
Normally, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Division of Water Resources work to keep local water districts informed of water levels, said Nichols. Bill Tyner, head of the Division of Water Resources, will check with local districts, determine how much water each needs to release into the Arkansas River, and contacts the Bureau of Reclamation to get it done.
But heavy rain events can overwhelm Pueblo's reservoir and flood pools. When that happens, the Army Corps of Engineers steps in, according to Nichols. That's when 6,000 cubic feet of water gets flushed into the river.
In the past, Nichols would coordinate with the Army Corps to release the water in intervals little-by-little, protecting La Junta's waterways from getting overwhelmed. But the engineers that protocol was established with have moved on to different things, said Nichols. The new engineers aren't familiar with North La Junta's predicament.
"We are trying to get with Bill Tyner, set up a meeting with our emergency manager (Danny Chavez) and myself, and get that reestablished with the new people," said Nichols.
"Because what they don't realize -- I mean they may realize it but it affects us differently -- 6,000 CFS at the reservoir is coming down, but if we have a rain event we have to deal with Fountain Creek (and others)."
With additional water being pumped into the Arkansas River, North La Junta is left to weather the water.
"We're just gearing up for that season and I believe it's at about 150 percent snowpack. When we get days like Wednesday, it's supposed to be 86, it's going to be warm up there and it's going to kind of start triggering this," said Nichols.
Otero County does have some flood controls on Dike Road, said Nichols. The county coordinates with Fort Lyon Canal Company to make sure that flood gates are closed when they anticipate flooding waters.
The Lower Water Conservancy District is working on flood mitigation plans of its own, Rocky Ford Daily Gazette Reporter Marty Lee said at Monday's meeting.
Nichols added that the city of La Junta and Otero County pitched in matching funds to the conservancy district's efforts. But "there's so much more that needs to be done," said Nichols.
Nichols said that in an event of a major disaster there are some grant funding abilities from FEMA, but that those are mostly reserved for repetitively flooded areas. Nichols used the example of a Texas town that is battered by hurricanes annually.