Historic Photo Retake: San Juan River near Bluff, 1925

Image courtesy of the United States Geological Survey. W.T. Lee photographer, 1925.
Retake April 15, 2019. Photo by Brandt Hart.

By Brandt Hart

This set of photographs was taken just west of Bluff. They clearly illustrate a lesson in changing vegetation and river ecology. In the top 1925 image, the San Juan River flows freely. The river then, for the most part, was unencumbered by dams and diversions upriver which allowed massive floods to routinely scour the floodplain. Riverside vegetation was sparse to say the least.

Fast forward to the dam building era of the 1950-60s which brought numerous large scale dam projects to the San Juan basin such as the Navajo Dam, which was completed in 1962 near Bloomfield, New Mexico. While some native Cottonwoods have flourished since the dam was built, the altered river ecology has also allowed nonnative bank-stabilizing trees such as Russian olive and tamarisk to grow in abundance.

As water demands continue to increase on the San Juan River, I can’t help wondering what the river will look like in another 100 years.

– Brandt Hart has been living in Bluff and the surrounding area since 2004. In his free time, he contemplates why he gardens in Bluff and ponders the future lives of stray cats left at Sand Island.

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