Southeast Water Conservancy District board member Kevin Karney attended the April 22 Otero Board of County Commissioners meeting to discuss the summer's projected water levels and the potential for flooding in North La Junta. Land Use Administrator Lex Nichols previously addressed the issue of flooding at a BOCC meeting on March 25.
The water collected in the Pueblo Reservoir and travels through the Lower Arkansas River is controlled by multiple entities, including the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Whenever levels approach the reservoir's capacity, the Army Corps of Engineers will release some water into the Arkansas River to prevent over-spill. However, as that water travels downstream, it can collect in North La Junta. If too much water is sent downstream at once, North La Junta cannot bear the load and tends to flood.
Karney attended the BOCC meeting to reiterate the threat posed to North La Junta and to share the Southeast Water Conservancy District's projected water imports.
When water enters the Pueblo Reservoir flood pool, the Army Corps of Engineers takes over to empty it, said Karney.
The Corps doesn't technically have any obligation to Otero County to watch how much water they release or how fast they release, Nichols said, but the county had a working relationship with the officials who formerly monitored the Pueblo Reservoir's flood pool. The problem for Otero County is that those employees have since moved on, and the new crew isn't savvy to North La Junta's issue.
Karney encouraged the county to re-establish a working relationship with the new officials to ensure they are aware of North La Junta's predicament. He indicated it is important to establish that relationship quickly because Southeast Water Conservancy District projections indicate that the county will be receiving higher than average water levels this summer.
In a series of Southeast Water Conservancy District graphics distributed at the BOCC meeting by Karney, the Fryingpan-Arkansas collection basin, as of March, the snowpack levels are at 162 percent above the median.
The historic median for the snow water equivalent of imported water in the Fryingpan-Arkansas collection basin is just over 10 inches for the month of March. In March of this year, however, the collection basin has experienced nearly 20 inches in imported water.
The Upper Arkansas Basin similarly experienced a 143 percent of median in imported water.
The historical median is just below 15 inches of water, while 2019 projections place water import into the Upper Arkansas Basin at 20 inches of water.
Karney and Nichols indicated that higher imports of water upstream will translate to more water headed downstream.
In another Southeast Water Conservancy District document provided by Karney, it's shown that Pueblo Reservoir, as of April 18, contains 242,849 acre-feet of water out of a maximum available capacity of 245,373 acre-feet.
"There's available 2,524 acre-feet of space before it gets into flood pool," said Karney.
"We're going to be running water soon. And a lot of it," said Commissioner Jim Baldwin.
The total amount of water expected to be pumped down the Lower Arkansas River in the coming months is approximately 90,500 acre-feet of water, it was stated at the meeting. On average, Otero County sees about 50,000 acre-feet of water over the summer.
Commissioner Keith Goodwin asked Karney if the Southeast Water Conservancy District should be assisting the county with how to deal with the projected influx of river water.
"Southeast District responsibility is to bring transmountain water," said Karney, who reiterated that the Army Corps of Engineers, the Division of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation are the agencies the county needs to consult with regarding timed releases of Pueblo Reservoir's flood pool.
"We've been trying to get the word out so that North La Junta's aware that this activity is going on," said Goodwin. "What we need to do is be proactive on this."
In 1995, flooding of the Lower Arkansas River impacted North La Junta.
"We're at their mercy, basically," Nichols said of the Army Corps of Engineers. "We're just trying to set up communications like we had before. ..."
A resolution sponsored by state Senator Larry Crowder to dredge part of the Lower Arkansas River was mentioned by a meeting attendee.
The resolution, signed by Crowder and others earlier this year, urges Congress to pass legislation to dredge a portion of the Lower Arkansas River.
"The resolution passed at the state," responded Karney. "But a resolution, all it does is state a position saying that we're really in support of the Corps and dredging. There's no appropriation."