Lake levels up, creek floods after rain

QCS photo: Steve Hansen Pajarito Creek, which usually barely dampens its streambed north of Tucumcari, overflowed to major river size Thursday after more than two days of steady rain.

QCS photo: Steve Hansen
Pajarito Creek, which usually barely dampens its streambed north of Tucumcari, overflowed to major river size Thursday after more than two days of steady rain.

By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor

Last week’s three-day soaking of Quay County from Tuesday to Thursday, and more storms Sunday, left total rainfall readings of 4 to 5 inches in some parts of the county, and raised the levels of both Conchas and Ute lakes by several feet.

The rainfall overloaded Pajarito Creek just north of Tucumcari, filling the stream’s floodplain and coming within a few feet of the roadbed on the N.M. 104 bridge over the creek. The flooding attracted spectators all day Thursday. Many long-time residents who saw the creek at the height of its flooding said they had never seen the creek level that high.

Richard Primrose, Quay County manager, said he has owned property along the creek since 1983 and has never seen that much water in the creek.

Since last Tuesday, the level of Conchas Lake has risen nine feet, from 4,164 feet above sea level to 4,173 feet, as of Monday, according to Valerie Mavis, chief natural resources specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of engineers. Since July, the lake level has increased almost 20 feet, Mavis said. That puts the lake level at 30 feet below the floodgates of the Conchas Dam.

At Ute Lake State Park, the water level on Sept. 9 was 3,773 feet above sea level. The level on Monday was 3,777 feet, a rise of almost 4 feet, according to Beth Wojahn of the New Mexico State Parks Department.

On Monday morning, Department of Transportation officials closed N.M. 252 near House due to flooding from Sunday’s storms.

Primrose said the storms produced washouts and damaged culverts and roadbeds on some county roads.

Tucumcari City Manager Doug Powers said there were washouts on city streets, as well, but no major damage.

From Tuesday to Sunday, the New Mexico State University Agricultural Research Center’s rain gauge east of Tucumcari recorded rainfall of 3.87 inches, according to Leonard Lauriault, the research director.

Chuck Jones, senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said Tuesday through Sunday totals from rain gauges whose owners report regularly to the bureau ranged from 2.64 inches 3 miles northeast of Tucumcari, to 4.04 inches at another point northwest of the city. The bureau’s official reporting gauge at Tucumcari Airport reported a total of 3.99 inches, Jones said.

Primrose said a rain gauge in House recorded about 10 inches from Sunday night’s storm alone.

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