Otero County Emergency Manager Danny Chavez said at last week's Board of County Commissioner's meeting that he's made contact with the Pueblo Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the potential for flooding along the Arkansas River, particularly around the lowland North La Junta area.
"Daily, they send us updates on what they're doing: how much water they're letting out, how much they're cutting back when they do cut back," said Chavez. "Their goal is to keep the gauge at Avondale at 6,000 (cubic feet per second)."
The Army Corps of Engineers' primary concern is keeping water levels from breaching the Pueblo Dam, Chavez and Commissioner Keith Goodman said at Monday's meeting.
The problem is that when rain events and snowmelt overrun Fountain Creek, that same water enters the Arkansas River at its confluence, which can affect the Pueblo Reservoir's water levels, prompting them to divert water from the reservoir into the lower Arkansas River.
If more than 6,000 cfs of water is sent down the Arkansas River at once, North La Junta becomes in danger of being flooded, especially if rain events have filled local canals.
In previous years, Otero County and the Corps would communicate before the Corps would release any water. If possible, water would be released into the river at such a rate that North La Junta would not be overwhelmed. At the least, the county received warning that enough water to potentially flood portions of North La Junta was headed its way.
But much like a winding river, with the flow of time comes change.
The previous personnel at the Corps have moved on to different things. A new crew has stepped in to replace them, Land Use Administrator Lex Nichols said at a previous BOCC meeting, and the county is concerned they aren't privy to North La Junta's precarious predicament.
And that's why Chavez made it a priority to contact the Corps and other water entities to communicate North La Junta's situation and to establish a point of regular contact in case of an emergency, Goodman said.
The Otero County Sheriff's Office, through social media, on Tuesday warned residents to stay out of the Arkansas River following severe thunderstorms over Pueblo, La Junta and the surrounding areas.
"We are starting to see some minor flooding (water outside of normal river channel) in low lying areas along the Arkansas River near La Junta, as of (Tuesday) at 10:30 a.m. the gauge height at La Junta was 10.39 feet at 1870 cfs," the OCSO said in the post.
"With the increased flow rate and depth, please stay out of the river for your own safety."