2014 McPhee Reservoir irrigation water allocation set

March 20, 2014

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From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir, forecasts full-service users will receive at least 15 inches per allocated acre of the 22 inches of a full contractual amount.

“It is an improvement from our last prediction of 11 inches,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “But we will need additional snowpack in the next 6-10 weeks to fill the reservoir and deliver a full supply.”

Water officials emphasize that the 15 inches is the minimum amount expected to be delivered based on current snowpack levels measured at five different locations in the river basin.

According to a March 7 letter sent to irrigators, “If conditions completely dry out, the worst case works out to 70 percent or 15 inches per allocated acre.”

Late summer monsoon rains that recharged the soil is a major factor for the improved outlook.

Instead of soaking into the ground as it did in Spring 2013 due to a extremely dry 2012, snowmelt this year will reach the reservoir more.

“The improved soil moisture will prevent us from totally cratering like last year,” said Ken Curtis, a DWCD engineer.

Last year, full-service irrigators received just 25 percent of their total allocation, or about 6 inches of water per acre. Instead of three cuttings of alfalfa, most farmers harvested just one.

The latest water news is critical for farmers, who begin ordering fertilizer and seed now for the upcoming growing season. Calculations of how much to plow also depend on estimated water supplies.

“If we get a weather build up, it will just improve from the 15 inches,” Preston said…

If the high country received 4-6 inches of snow each week through April, managers predict the reservoir would reach its full irrigation supply.

On the down side, lower elevation snow is lower than normal. Also, because there is no carryover storage from last year’s dry conditions, McPhee reservoir will end very low and lack carry over storage for a third straight year.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here.


Dolores River: Instream flow right below confluence with the San Miguel River?

February 20, 2014
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

A spirited debate before the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Denver in January featured local officials expressing their opinions about a plan to increase flows on the lower Dolores River.

A live Internet broadcast of the hearing presented views for and against appropriating new minimum in-stream flows on a 34-mile section of the river below the confluence of the San Miguel River.

Representatives from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, in Cortez, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, in Durango, attended the meeting and urged the state board to delay the matter. Local officials say new in-stream flows could threaten agricultural users who depend on McPhee Reservoir, and they want more time for negotiations with local federal agencies about newly implemented river regulations.

But they were rebuffed by the state board and state officials who argued the in-stream flows were a good way to protect struggling native fish and avoid intervention by the federal government moving to list them under the Endangered Species Act…

The proposed in-stream flow on the Dolores is for 900 cfs to flow for 61 days in the summer to aid the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub below the San Miguel confluence.

Eleven organizations commented on the proposed in-stream flow, some for and some against.

Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores district, urged the state board to delay its intent to appropriate the new Dolores in-stream flow.

“These ISFs are intertwined with recent federal actions that add up to create considerable uncertainty and risk for the Dolores Project,” he said. “We ask for the delay to straighten out these issues with federal land agencies.”

The in-stream flow proposal comes on top of recent federal action on the Dolores that elevates two additional native fish, the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers, to a category called Outstanding Remarkable Values.

The values are used to categorize special aspects of rivers like the Dolores that are designated “suitable” for National Wild and Scenic River status.

Creating that official high level of protection would require an act of Congress. But reservoir managers oppose even a hint of Wild and Scenic because if ever designated, those rivers come with a federally reserved water right that could force water from McPhee to be released downstream for the benefit of native fish.

State water board director John McClow said that the in-stream flow was a good solution and questioned why it had so much resistance.

“I’m having a difficult time connecting the dots here,” he said. “We have argued to federal agencies that in-stream flows are a better option than suitability. If we declare intent to appropriate, it lets the federal agencies know that we are serious and are going to do this and provide the protection for these fish.”

After the testimony, the state water board voted unanimously to declare its intent for appropriating the proposed in-stream flows on the Lower Dolores River.

However, to give time for stakeholders to negotiate with the Bureau of Land Management about the possibility of dropping Wild and Scenic suitability, the hearing about the matter was delayed until January 2015.

Here’s a guest column about the proposed instream right and the Dolores Project, written by Mike Preston that’s running in the Cortez Journal:

There is a lot going on these days that could affect the Dolores Project and many recent events have received newspaper coverage. This column is intended to put these events into a broader context that will help those who are interested understand what is going on as this story continues to unfold.

Let’s start with the biggest long term risk to Dolores Project water supplies: A listing of any of the three sensitive native fish species on the Dolores River as Threatened and Endangered. This would put the US Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of the Dolores River resulting in a loss of control by everyone else. What is being done? Local partners including water managers, fishery managers, conservation groups, boaters and county commissioners are working together to put together a science based Native Fish Implementation Plan to evaluate opportunities to address the needs of native fish without putting water supplies as risk.

The next level of risk is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a result of additions to the recently released BLM and Forest Service resource management plans which list the two sensitive native fish as Outstandingly Remarkable Values which Implementation Plan monitoring show to be uncommon and rare above the confluence with the San Miguel River. The federal plans also added flow standards that are unachievable below McPhee Reservoir. What is being done? DWCD and Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD) are actively protesting and appealing these plans with the support of the State of Colorado, Colorado Water Congress, local counties and west slope water entities.

There is also a large instream flow proposed on the Dolores River below the San Miguel confluence. Representatives of DWCD and SWWCD recently appeared before the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and asked that the instream flow proceeding be delayed until risks associated with the federal plans are addressed. The CWCB granted a delay until January of 2015 and pledged State of Colorado support in resolving the federal issues described above. The one year delay also gives local water boards the opportunity to negotiate protections to insure that the instream flow will pose no risks to water stored in McPhee and other water rights within the basin.

Given the need to manage these multiple risks, what can be done to create stability and certainty going into the future? There is a Legislative Subcommittee made up of County Commissioners, Water Managers, and Conservation Groups, grazers and OHV users that is crafting legislation that will eliminate the Wild and Scenic River designation from McPhee Dam to Bedrock, protect water rights and Dolores Project allocations, recognize the Native Fish Implementation Plan as the means of taking care of the fish, while protecting water rights, mineral rights, private property rights and access.

Are we going to be able to succeed in all of these activities designed to protect community water supplies? These efforts are grounded in community level cooperation by representatives of the full range of Dolores Project purposes: irrigation, community water providers, boating, the fishery and the health of the downstream environment. If we all stick together, we will find a way to do what’s right by our community. As this story unfolds we will make every effort to keep you informed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Wild and scenic designation for the Dolores River?

January 14, 2014
Dolores River near Bedrock

Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.

Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.

“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”

The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”

ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.

In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.

The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.

Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.

“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”

Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…

The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.

Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.

Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…

Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…

A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.

“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Increased flows in the Dolores River this summer enable Kokanee spawning

November 10, 2013

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Last year, there was no run because the lake was so low, explained Jim White, a aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In low water years, the river carves a wide channel in the lake bed that is too shallow for the kokanee salmon to make their way to spawning grounds, 5 miles up river at a specially designed fish hatchery.

But deeper water triggered a run this year attracting bald eagles to the valley and a line of people at the traditional November fish giveaway in Dolores…

The kokanee spawning zone on the Dolores River is a system of ponds that drain into a concrete-formed “raceway”, controlled by gates, sieves, and fish cages. The females lay their eggs in the fine gravel, and then go off and die, becoming a meal for eagles, bears, and otters.

Some eggs are harvested by biologists and raised in the Durango fish hatchery to be distributed to other hatcheries and lakes, including back to the Dolores.

From the hatchery, they float down river and into McPhee Reservoir, with most becoming a meal for predator fish. Those that survive, about 5 percent, spend 3 to 4 years maturing and then make their way to where they were born to lay eggs.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

October 31, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Mancos and Dolores projects update — July end of month status

September 17, 2012

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From Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,914 acrefeet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,322 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 52/31 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 69 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 260,582 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 315,968average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,301 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 42,398 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 71/69 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here. More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


McPhee and Jackson Gulch reservoirs status

August 3, 2012

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From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 6,020 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,014 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/51 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 88 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 299,646 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 343,394 average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,120 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 45,079 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 70/57 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

Questions can be directed to the Southern Water Management Group, Resource Management Division of the Western Colorado Area Office, Durango.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here. More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.


Plateau Creek: The Dolores Water Conservancy District is moving on a pumpback hydroelectric project

July 17, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The paperwork filed by the local water district is a competing proposal, a response to a similar application filed by Bellevue, Wash., engineering firm INCA Engineers. DWCD’s permit application, filed on May 10, seeks “municipal preference” for feasibility studies over the out-of-state company, which filed application paperwork with FERC on Nov. 30, 2011.

DWCD hopes its historic water rights and involvement in local water issues will win the day when permits are awarded, according to district manager Mike Preston. “DWCD holds the water rights on McPhee and certainly Plateau Creek is a tributary to McPhee Reservoir,” Preston said. “We want to maintain local control over this issue. We believe we have municipal preference because we are what is call a municipal provider, and we think we are very likely to be granted the permit.”

The local water conservancy district already operates two hydropower plants owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, Preston said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


Cortez: Colorado Water 2012 events include a tour of the water treatment plant

June 4, 2012

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From the City of Cortez:

Through a statewide program called Colorado Water 2012, the Cortez Public Library, in partnership with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, The Colorado State Library, the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Cortez Water Plant are offering this educational opportunity to learn about state and local water. At 10:00 AM on June 28th, there will be a presentation by Mike Preston, of the Dolores Water

Conservancy District and Don Magnuson of Montezuma Valley Irrigation at the overlook at the end of the McPhee campground. Last, on the same day at 1:00 PM, there will be a tour of the Cortez Water Plant, hosted by Bruce Smart. Maps and directions are available at the Library.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


McPhee Reservoir operations update:

May 14, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

“Everybody can rest assured that we’re going to meet all our allocations this year,” said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Due to a good amount of water being stored from last year, Preston is confident there will be enough water for irrigation, drinking and industrial use this year.

Now the focus is shifting to the coming winter and the 2013 water year. Preston said a below average winter this year could lead to shortages next year. An average winter this year would barely meet allocations, while an above average winter would be required for a whitewater boating spill on the lower Dolores River…

As of Thursday, the reservoir elevation stood at nearly 6,915 feet, compared to a full elevation of 6,924 feet. This translates to 190,187 acre feet of active capacity water compared to a maximum active capacity of 229,182 acre feet…

Up-to-date information on reservoir levels, river flows and canal flows is available on DWCD’s website: http://www.doloreswater.com/

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


The Bureau of Reclamation has released end of year operations reports for McPhee and Jackson Gulch reservoirs

April 15, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,703 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 4,492 acre-feet average (1980-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 11/0 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 15 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 289,298 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 270,692 average (1986-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 1,835 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 2,958 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 31/30 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here. More Mancos River watershed coverage here and here.


Dolores: McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operations meeting March 21

March 11, 2012

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From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

The Bureau of Reclamation will host a McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operation meeting on March 21 at the Dolores Community Center at 7 p.m. Topics of discussion will focus on anticipated water releases to the lower Dolores River and an overview of the Dolores Project.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


The Dolores Water Conservancy district reaches the half-century mark November 20

November 11, 2011

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Here’s a report from Shannon Livick writing for the Cortez Journal. Click through for the photos of construction of the tunnel that brings water from the Dolores River watershed into Montezuma and Dolores counties in the San Juan basin. Here’s an excerpt:

The Dolores Water Conservancy District will host a 50th anniversary of the formation of the district and the 25th anniversary of water deliveries to farms and towns from McPhee Reservoir at the Dolores Community Center with a barbecue dinner at noon, followed by a brief recognition ceremony.

The star of the show will be McPhee Reservoir, a project that some say was more than 100 years in the making. “They have been talking about the McPhee dam site since the 1900s,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. It has been said that the McPhee Reservoir site was seen as so ideal for a reservoir that President Teddy Roosevelt chose the site for the dam in 1906 during a hunting trip here.

“The Dolores Water Conservancy District was formed to try to get the dam built,” Preston said. The project was authorized in 1968 and the project began in 1977, after voters in Montezuma and Dolores counties within the Dolores Water Conservancy District approved a repayment contract by a unheard of 95 percent favorable vote. The McPhee Dam project cost an estimated $403 million…

The project doubled the amount of irrigated acreage in the area and gives the towns a 100-year supply of water. “This water project is something most communities would die for,” Preston said.

Since the water started to be delivered 25 years ago, the number of irrigated acres in Montezuma and Dolores counties has gone up from 35,000 irrigated acres to 70,000, some of those as far away as south of Towaoc…

The $403 million project also saw the construction of the $11.6 million Dolores tunnel that was dug underneath the landscape for more than one mile. It also saw the construction of pumping plants, numerous canals and two major recreation areas named McPhee and House Creek. It also saw the flooding of the old lumber town, McPhee, and countless archaeology sites, bringing in archaeologists from around the world who excavated the areas. Those artifacts are housed in the Anasazi Heritage Center, also built as part of this project.

More coverage from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

According to information from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, an average of 351,000 acre feet of water flows into the McPhee Reservoir annually. Not including spring spillover, an average of 31,798 acre feet of water is released down the Lower Dolores River.

With a storage capacity of 381,000 acre feet of water, the project essentially doubled the amount of irrigated land in the area and extended the irrigation season for most farmers by nearly three months to mid October — allowing farmers to produce substantially more.

With current crop values, Mike Preston, DWCD general manager, estimates Dolores Project lands will generate $20 million in income for the area this year.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Beyond the obvious recreation benefits of the reservoir, the Dolores Project also provided recreation opportunities through the creation of Joe Rowell Park in Dolores and enhanced flows on the Lower Dolores River, below the McPhee dam.

“The other thing that McPhee provided, is a means of managing the flows below the reservoir,” said Dolores Water Conservation District General Manager Mike Preston. “Usually we were in drought early and the flows would trail off. But now, those flows are managed to provide rafting flows in and around Memorial Day and so on. It gave us the ability to manage recreation opportunities in regards to recreational boating.”

The flows from the reservoir into the Lower Dolores also provide additional fishing opportunities, particularly for those interested in fly fishing.

Additionally, the presence of the reservoir has benefited wildlife. Three native fish species call the Lower Dolores home, including the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub. All three benefit from the managed flows from the reservoir, according to a report from the Lower Dolores Working Group. And according to the bureau of reclamation’s website, land acquired and managed for wildlife conservation has provided habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

“The Anasazi Heritage Center was built by the (U.S.) Bureau of Reclamation as a repository for the artifacts gathered during the DAP,” said center Manager Marietta Eaton. “The Heritage Center is here because of the DAP, and that in and of itself is full of ramifications for the area.”

The Heritage Center’s creation was a unique aspect of the Dolores Archaeological Program. Most archaeological programs see collected artifacts shipped to larger repositories, often far from the actual sites. The creation of a local repository allowed the local community to retain a sense of ownership of their history.

“The fact that the Bureau of Reclamation saw the importance of a local repository is significant,” said Tracy Murphy, assistant curator at the center. “With the presence of the center, the artifacts and research are here for the people of this area.”

More coverage from Dale Shrull writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Finding a good water storage solution for Montezuma County was discussed as far back as the 1880s. Today, looking at the massive McPhee Reservoir, it’s impossible to comprehend a lack of water. But [John Porter] remembers. The 78-year-old Lewis native spent 23 years as the Dolores Water Conservancy general manager, retiring in 2002. “Everyone was looking for more water but there was never enough,” he says. “Every time there was a drought, all people would talk about was we need a dependable supply of water…

Even though a dam on the Dolores was thought to be the solution, Porter wasn’t surprised it took so long to complete. “Anything you do with water, it takes time. There’s regular time and there’s water time. Water time goes very slow,” he says…

As early as 1884, plans were made and projects developed to take water from the Dolores, Porter explains. A tunnel was bored and canals were used to get water to the south, while the Great Cut Dike and canals were developed to flow water to the west. And they sucked the river nearly dry. “Back then, the Dolores River was basically a dry river during the summer,” Porter says. To store water in the early days, three small reservoirs were dug: Groundhog, Totten and Narraguinnep…

Remnants of old wooden flumes, which were used to transport water around the region, can still be spotted around the area. Most of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company canal system are still used today, Porter says…

Porter says he thinks the water rights of the Ute Mountain tribe helped save the project. The tribe needed water and made the argument that future development was dependent on water from the Dolores Project.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here and here.


McPhee Reservoir water year 2011 report: The Dolores Water Conservancy District’s 50th anniversary celebration will be November 12 in Dolores

October 19, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

“We’re in as good of shape as we have ever been,” [Dolores Water Conservancy District] Manager Mike Preston said. “We had 63 percent of active capacity in the reservoir. And that means that we’re carrying a good supply for next year.”

After a relatively dry winter, spring precipitation arrived later than usual, resulting in a full reservoir and prolonged dam spill for recreational boating on the Lower Dolores River. After the spill, a hot and dry summer resulted in heavy irrigation, Preston said, which was alleviated at the end of the irrigation season by fall storms.

As of Wednesday, the McPhee Reservoir stood at an elevation of 6,903.6 feet with an active capacity of 145,045 acre feet of water. The reservoir has a 229,182 acre foot maximum active capacity…

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released the September-end status of Jackson Gulch Jackson Gulch reservoir, which serves Mancos and the surrounding area, at a live content of 3,938 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 4,576 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 43/0 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 29 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

This year marks DWCD’s 50th year in operation. The public is invited to a celebration scheduled for 12 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Dolores Community Center, 400 Riverside Avenue in Dolores. Call 565-7562 to RSVP.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


The Lower Dolorado Working Group plan ‘A Way Forward’ hopes to head off endangered status for native fish in the river

October 2, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

Calling their plan “A Way Forward,” the group is taking the suggestions offered in a recently completed scientific report to find a way to increase habitat and successful reproduction of the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub. The overarching goal is to create a healthy, thriving water source in Southwest Colorado that is protected by local stakeholders, not federal designation. “The work that the Lower Dolores group and its legislative committee has been doing pointed to a need to give the fish some help,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, group facilitator. “We commissioned a group of scientists to study these native fish and tell us what actions we could take. They said that yes, we should pursue this now.”[...]

Enhancing the health of the fish is necessary to the protection of the river itself and the multiple-use nature of the waters, said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District and member of the working group. “In recent years there has been a great deal more focus on these native fish species,” Preston said. “The concern about these fish centers on the fact that though they are not a listed (species), they are considered a sensitive species. What would be problematic would be if those species got listed as threatened or endangered. We would potentially lose control of the river with a listing, and that would be putting everyone’s water supply at risk if that occurred.”[...]

Preston said the immediate focus of the group is on what actions can be taken within the framework of spill management to impact the health of the native species.

“The discussion has come to a pretty good consensus on most of the issues and really the outstanding issue is the flows,” he said. “In the past the releases were really aimed at rafting and supporting trout fishing 10 to 11 miles below the dam. What we have to figure out is what is going to benefit the native fish. They have become a greater priority, and we need to determine how to manage flows if our objective is to protect native species, as well as allowing opportunities for trout fishing and rafting.”

Preston said a wide range of stakeholders have been pulled together to work on the project, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and The Nature Conservancy.

More Dolores River basin watershed here.


Energy policy — nuclear: Sheep Mountain, et. al., settle with Energy Fuels over water court application for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

September 29, 2011

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beudin):

[Sheep Mountain Alliance], a Telluride-based environmental non-profit, has opposed the planned mill — to be located in Paradox Valley, about 60 miles west of Telluride — at nearly every turn. But last week, Sheep Mountain and others agreed to withdraw their objections regarding water use in exchange for the mining company’s adherence to certain environmental and water supply provisions…

Not so fast, though, says Hilary White, SMA’s executive director. “The stipulation between Sheep Mountain Alliance/Living Rivers and Energy Fuels does not provide Energy Fuels with a water right,” she wrote in an email on Wednesday. “The agreement requires Energy Fuels to obtain all necessary conditions including water from McPhee Reservoir to mitigate impacts from withdrawing groundwater in the Paradox Valley. However, it remains to be seen whether or not Energy Fuels is able to purchase Dolores Project Water and satisfy conditions of [Colorado Water Conservation Board] — the remaining objector.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.


At the end of July McPhee Reservoir storage stood at 348,845 acre-feet while Jackson Gulch Reservoir storage stood at 8,594 acre-feet

August 31, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 8,594 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,306 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 61/49 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 22 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 349,845 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 335,208 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,612 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 47,372 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 82/74 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More San Juan River basin coverage here.


McPhee and Jackson reservoirs end of May status report

June 27, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 9,977 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,296 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 42/0 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 51 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 366,023, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 354,188 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 17,380 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 35,094 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 1,001/51 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here. More San Juan River basin coverage here.


Dolores River watershed: Montezuma Valley Irrigation shareholders decline the opportunity to lease water for lower Dolores River conservation efforts

May 22, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

Stockholders turned out in droves, lining up out the door of the Lewis-Arriola Community Center. A total of 19,566 votes were cast, with 6,052, or 31 percent, votes for the proposed agreement and 13,514, or 69 percent, votes against…

MVI General Manager Don Magnuson told the stockholders before the vote the money could be used to encase MVI canals in pipe – thus reducing the amount of water lost to leaks. Prime candidates were the Garnett Ridge, Goodland Lateral, Big Corkscew, Lower Corkscrew and Lower Arickaree canals. A previous irrigation pipe project saves an estimated 1,500 acre-feet in water annually, Magnuson said. “We’ve got a lot of canals out there that need major work,” he said.

Magnuson told shareholders the impact on their water claims could range from no impact – since shareholders often do not use their entire allocation in a year – to two acre-inches per share annually, even in a time of drought. But after the drought of 2002, which left reservoir levels precariously low, MVIC shareholders – comprising mostly farmers and ranchers – expressed a reluctance to part with their water during a May 5 meeting. They also feared any revenues gained from the agreement would be lost to bureaucracy or loan debt.

The company holds senior water rights in McPhee, Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs, and manages irrigation water for much of Montezuma and Dolores counties.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


Not every Montezuma Valley Irrigation shareholder is on board with the proposed lease for instream flows below McPhee Reservoir

May 13, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

MVI shareholder Drew Gordanier said Monday he thinks it is unfortunate that the proposal has created “animosity among friends” within the organization. Gordanier said he personally would support the lease if it were for local agriculture instead of environmental groups. He said he does blame the MVI board for its efforts to seek additional income. “I have nothing against them. I just think they should seek other revenue sources,” he said.

Meanwhile, the water conservation board is silent on how it and supporting organizations would fund the proposed $500,000 annual lease. Linda Bassi, chief of stream and lake operations for the organization, said more details will be released if the project moves forward…

In addition, he worries that if the water is leased to environmental groups, they might be able to seize control of the water permanently. “My biggest concern is them leasing the water to the environmental groups,” Gordanier said. “If you lease that water, they can prove that you can live without it.”

MVI officials approached their shareholders Thursday with a proposal to lease some of their water to a group of organizations for wildlife and environmental efforts on the Lower Dolores River. At the time, [MVI General Manager Don Magnuson] said the need for water on the Lower Dolores River is well documented and he believes MVI has enough water to provide for the need. Under the proposal, which is still under negotiation, MVI would lease a maximum of 6,000 acre-feet of water a year to organizations spearheaded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The water would be used during three years of need sometime in the next decade. The water conservation board would be able to use the water for a maximum of 120 days during the irrigation season – which usually goes from May 15 to Oct. 15…

Although the price is still under negotiation, MVI is currently asking $500,000 per year, or $1.5 million for the three years of water. MVI hopes to use the money for capital improvement projects, such as putting ditches into pipe, which reduce the amount of water lost to leaks. A recent irrigation pipe project saves an estimated 1,500 acre-feet in water annually, Magnuson said.

But after the drought of 2002, which left reservoir levels precariously low, MVI shareholders – comprising mostly farmers and ranchers – expressed a reluctance to part with their water during Thursday’s meeting. They also feared any revenues gained from the agreement would be lost to bureaucracy or loan debt.

Water would come from Groundhog Reservoir, and would be released through the Upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir into the Lower Dolores River.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


Dolores River: The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company is considering leasing water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow program

May 3, 2011

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From The Durango Herald (Dan Randolph):

A common understanding of the science and the issues is one thing. Coming up with real solutions is altogether more difficult. Yet a new option has developed. The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which supplies water to a large area around Cortez and Dolores, is now considering leasing water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to increase flows downstream of McPhee on a short-term, trial basis.

The lease would be paid for by private interests, conservation organizations and other nongovernmental sources. It would supply up to 6,000 acre feet of water in three out of 10 years, to be released from McPhee. The water would come from Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. water held in Groundhog Reservoir, above Dolores. The company is currently asking its stockholders whether to go forward with the lease.

More instream flow coverage here.


Bureau of Reclamation: March status report for Jackson Gulch and McPhee reservoirs

April 28, 2011

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FromFrom the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 5,496 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 5,008 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end of month content. At Jackson Gulch, no water was released into the Mancos River, and monthly total volume of 10 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 273,370 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 305,506 acre-feet average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 1,807 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 740 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 30/34 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More San Juan River basin coverage here.


Dolores River: Reclamation hopes for a 10 day boating season downstream of McPhee Reservoir this year, Dolores River Dialogue meeting April 28

April 21, 2011

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From The Durango Telegraph (Missy Votel):

“The spring wind and weather has been eating it up,” said Vern Harrell, Bureau of Reclamation liaison for the Dolores River Project, of the region’s snowpack. “This year we don’t even know if we’ll fill the reservoir.” The reservoir, which was a capacity of 229,000 acre-feet is expected to receive 225,000 acre-feet of runoff this spring. With the latest prediction, this would make for a 10-day spill of about 800 cfs in order to stretch the flows out as long as possible. However, when and if this happens is anybody’s educated guess. While the BuRec ideally shoots for Memorial Day Weekend, sudden temperature or precipitation spikes could influence it either way. “We’ll know more the week after the reservoir starts to fill, depending on weather and storm forecasts,” said Harrell. He said flows will most likely not be significant enough for commercial rafting companies to plan trips, but savvy local boaters at the ready could luck out with some careful monitoring of the BuRec’s web site at http://www.doloreswater.com. “That’s the best information out there,” said Harrell of the site, which is updated twice a week. In targeting Memorial Day Weekend, May 28-30, the spill will be held back until May 20, if possible. However, in 2009 McPhee filled early pushing up the release start date to May 11. Last year, cold weather caused the reservoir to fill slowly, holding back the spill until May 24…

A steering committee for the Dolores River Dialogue, a varied group of user interests which has been meeting since 2004, will be revealing two proposals to benefit the Dolores’ downstream fisheries next week. The flow from McPhee was originally conceived with the nonnative, cold-water trout sport fishery in mind, but the objective has since grown to include the warm-water fishery of native species such as suckers, chubs and pike minnows. There is also concern over the health of the river’s riparian zone as well as the geomorphology of the riverbed, including sediment build up and flow.

The steering committee’s first proposal looks at the use of “selective level outlet works,” which would basically allow water to be pulled from various elevations within the reservoir for release. “In the past, we have only pulled water from the bottom, because that’s the coldest water for the trout, but we can get better water quality for the native fish with warmer water higher up,” Harrell said.

The second proposal from the group calls for the Montezuma Irrigation Co. to lease 6,000 acre feet of water from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for downstream flows. The water would actually come from Groundhog Reservoir, north of Dolores, and flow through McPhee, which is overallocated as is. The lease would be for any three years out of a 10-year span, although the sequence of those three years remains to be seen. “We will have to develop that concept, but details still aren’t here yet,” Harrell said.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and the Dolores Water Conservancy District settle lawsuit

February 8, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

“We can now work with the district with everything on the table,” said MVI President Randy Carver. “There’s no confusion on our water rights. … Both MVI and the district are in a position now to where we can work together, which is absolutely critical to managing the water supply.”

DWCD General Manager Mike Preston agreed. “I think we’ve got agreements in place that should provide the basis for resolving issues that arise in the future,” Preston said.

The settlement clarifies that MVIC has no set water allocation from the reservoir, but has an allocation that may be revised over the course of each year depending on the flow of the Dolores River. It further requires DWCD to release an accounting of water released from the reservoir. Lastly, it provides a dispute resolution process.

MVIC filed the lawsuit in June 2009, against the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for allegedly not meeting water requirements agreed to in 1977 contracts of the Dolores Project.

More Montezuma County coverage here.


USGS: Characterization of Hydrology and Salinity in the Dolores Project Area, McElmo Creek Region, Southwest Colorado, Water Years 1978—2006

January 15, 2011

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Here’s the abstract from the report [Richards, R.J., and Leib, K.J., 2011, Characterization of hydrology and salinity in the Dolores project area, McElmo Creek Region, southwest Colorado, 1978—2006: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5218, 38 p.].

Increasing salinity loading in the Colorado River has become a major concern for agricultural and municipal water supplies. The Colorado Salinity Control Act was implemented in 1974 to protect and enhance the quality of water in the Colorado River Basin. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River Salinity Control Forum, summarized salinity reductions in the McElmo Creek basin in southwest Colorado as a result of salinity-control modifications and flow-regime changes that result from the Dolores Project, which consists of the construction of McPhee reservoir on the Dolores River and salinity control modifications along the irrigation water delivery system.

Flow-adjusted salinity trends using S-LOADEST estimations for a streamgage on McElmo Creek (site 1), that represents outflow from the basin, indicates a decrease in salinity load by 39,800 tons from water year 1978 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 1,370 tons per year for the 29-year period. Annual-load calculations for a streamgage on Mud Creek (site 6), that represents outflow from a tributary basin, indicate a decrease of 7,300 tons from water year 1982 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 292 tons per year for the 25-year period. The streamgage Dolores River at Dolores, CO (site 17) was chosen to represent a background site that is not affected by the Dolores Project. Annual load calculations for site 17 estimated a decrease of about 8,600 tons from water year 1978 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 297 tons per year for the 29-year period. The trend in salinity load at site 17 was considered to be representative of a natural trend in the region.

Typically, salinity concentrations at outflow sites decreased from the pre-Dolores Project period (water years 1978—1984) to the post-Dolores Project period (water years 2000—2006). The median salinity concentration for site 1 (main basin outflow) decreased from 2,210 milligrams per liter per day in the preperiod to 2,110 milligrams per liter per day in the postperiod. The median salinity concentration for site 6 (tributary outflow) increased from 3,370 milligrams per liter per day in the preperiod to 3,710 milligrams per liter per day in the postperiod. Salinity concentrations typically increased at inflow sites from the preperiod to the postperiod. Salinity concentrations increased from 178 milligrams per liter per day during the preperiod at Main Canal #1 (site 16) to 227 milligrams per liter per day during the postperiod at the Dolores Tunnel Outlet near Dolores, CO (site 15).

Calculation of the historical flow regime in McElmo Creek was done using a water-budget analysis of the basin. During water years 2000—2006, an estimated 845,000 acre-feet of water was consumed by crops and did not return to the creek as streamflow. The remaining 76,000 acre-feet, or 10,900 acre-feet per year for the 7-year postperiod, was assumed to represent a historical flow condition. The historical flow of 10,900 acre-feet per year is equivalent to 15.1 cubic feet per second.

Average total dissolved solids concentrations for water in each type of sedimentary rock were used to estimate natural salinity loads. Most surface-water sites used to fit the criteria needed to achieve a natural TDS concentration were springs. An average spring TDS value for sandstones geology in the basin was 350 milligrams per liter, and the average value for Mancos Shale geology was 4,000 milligrams per liter. The natural salinity loads in McElmo Creek were estimated to be 29,100 tons per year, which is 43 percent of the salinity load that was calculated for the postperiod.

More San Juan River basin coverage here. More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


Montezuma County: Don Magnuson takes the reins at the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company

December 31, 2010

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

Formerly of Eaton, Colo., Magnuson served as superintendant of The New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Co. north of Greeley…

Magnuson said he had a huge learning curve to learn about local irrigation system, which differs from the Cache La Poudre. “They’re exactly alike and completely different,” he said…

MVIC oversees a vast network of reservoirs, canals and irrigation pipelines responsible for providing water to a majority of Montezuma County. “Without MVIC we would have no Cortez,” [MVIC President Randy Carver] said.

More Montezuma County coverage here.


Cortez micro-hydroelectric plant update

August 26, 2010

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

The aim of the facility is to utilize energy from a McPhee Reservoir pipeline from which Cortez draws its drinking water to be sold to local power companies.

It is estimated that there are up to 5,000 megawatts of untapped small-scale electricity in the U.S., Nickerson said.

The Cortez facility has been operational since May 1. Workers are installing a filter to better harmonize the facility’s electricity with the public power grid, Nickerson said. In addition, dampening devices are being installed to muffle noise generated by the facility, which is located near the city water treatment plant off County Road N.

Although the project will not turn a profit for another 20 years, it is designed to last 100 years, Nickerson said. Water flows through the generator before entering the water treatment plant. The generator is lubricated monthly using food-grade vegetable oil to prevent drinking water contamination. The generator belt is checked annually, and the bearings are replaced every 10 years at a cost of $100,000.

“We designed this for very little maintenance,” [Cortez Public Works Director Jack Nickerson] said…

The facility is monitored remotely from the water treatment plant, where city workers are already on duty.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


Runoff news: The Dolores Water Conservancy District says that McPhee Reservoir started spilling Monday — get your raft out

May 28, 2010

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The spill, which began at low levels Monday, was expected to reach raftable flows near 800 cubic feet per second by noon Wednesday. “The reservoir is near full,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy. “We are on for rafting flows of 800 cfs through Friday. We’re anticipating that we are going to be able to extend rafting into the weekend, although we may have to start ramping down flow Sunday night or some point during the weekend.”[...]

“For a while the irrigation demand had overtaken the inflow of the river, but now that we are near full and warming up we are going to have some water to spill. We just don’t know how much.”[...]

“We started with a reservoir elevation that was lower by over 30,000 feet as compared to last year,” Preston said. “We were filling a bigger hole, and we didn’t have the early warm weather. Fierce winds during the past few weeks also impacted river flows. High winds speed the evaporation of high altitude snow and dry the soil, forcing water into the ground rather than rivers. “Every year is different,” Preston said. “That is what I’m learning. In the good year, like 2008, we’re going to be spilling over a long period of time. A year like this, we don’t know what is up there and how fast it is going to come down.” The Upper Dolores is flowing above 1,500 cfs into McPhee. Upper flows should continue into early June. Up-to-date release information is available at http://www.doloreswater.com/releases.htm.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Meanwhile, the Avon whitewater park is open according to a report from the Snowmass Sun. From the article:

Avon’s whitewater park is open and the rapids are flowing perfectly for surfing and play time. The Eagle River is currently flowing at approximately 1,080 cfs.

More whitewater coverage here.

From Steamboat Today (Mike Lawrence):

The city of Steamboat Springs’ Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department has closed some sections of the Yampa River Core Trail because of seasonal high water. As runoff-fueled flows surge and abate in local waterways, additional closures and trail detours could occur.


Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company faces off in court with the Dolores Water Conservancy District

March 6, 2010

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict/Steve Grazier):

MVIC filed a lawsuit June 5, 2009, against the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for allegedly not meeting water requirements agreed to in 1977 contracts of the Dolores Project. “MVIC has lost the ability to exercise its full water rights because of actions taken by DWCD,” said MVIC Manager Jim Siscoe. “They are not allowing us to use our water right how we choose.” The lawsuit states that the district “improperly charged and assessed ‘delivery’ of Dolores Project water in the amount of 29,658 acre-feet despite (MVI’s) direct-flow rights in the Dolores River (that) have produced 100 percent of MVI’s demand.”[...]

The assertion on the part of MVIC is that 20 years of confusion regarding contract language has led to a misunderstanding on the part of DWCD’s board regarding the allocation of water from McPhee. The 1977 contracts of the Dolores Project charged DWCD, formed in 1961, with the task of accounting for water flows in and out of McPhee. District representatives disagree with MVIC’s claims that their accounting practices are faulty. “We have two major responsibilities,” said Mike Preston, DWCD manger. “We are responsible for seeing everyone gets their entitled share of project water – no more, no less. As a part of that responsibility, we have to account for every acre foot of water that comes into McPhee Reservoir and every acre foot that goes out of McPhee Reservoir.”

Water from McPhee is the lifeblood of Montezuma County. The reservoir supports 28,500 acres of full service irrigation land from Yellow Jacket to Dove Creek, served by DWCD, 7,600 acres of Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands, rural water users in Montezuma County, the fishery below the McPhee dam, and the municipalities of Dove Creek, Cortez and Towaoc, according to Preston.

MVIC was formed in 1920, and through individual shareholders it irrigates roughly 37,500 acres in the Montezuma Valley. In addition to water from the Dolores Project, MVIC holds historic Dolores River direct flow water rights. “Because we are a privately held company and we hold private property rights, we have in McPhee Reservoir two distinct buckets of water,” Siscoe said. “We have the largest direct flow water right in this basin. That water comes in and passes through McPhee.” In 1977 MVIC willingly surrendered half of its direct flow rights to aid in the creation of the reservoir. In exchange, the irrigation company was guaranteed use of storage water to fulfill its obligations…

In drought years, MVIC’s direct flow rights on the Dolores River superceed Dolores Project rights. In extremely dry years, such as 2002, MVIC’s pull from the river leaves little water for reservoir storage. The irrigation company claims that 10,000 acre-feet of water stored in McPhee has been seized by DWCD, leading to a potential loss of $60,000,000 for the company, according to Siscoe. “They have misinterpreted the contracts, they have usurped their authority over us,” Carver said. “Our shareholders never intended that to happen.” MVIC says the impacts of the disagreement were felt last year when their irrigation season was shortened. “Last year I had to curtail delivery of water to our shareholders as a direct result of the district’s actions,” Siscoe said. “It puts me in a terrible position because how do I explain to somebody that they have paid for their water but this company called DWCD won’t open the headgate to allow me to deliver it?”[...]

“You’ve got two water rights involved here,” Preston said. “One is MVIC’s direct flow water right, then you’ve got Dolores Project storage rights in McPhee. When the (Dolores) river is producing less water and there is irrigation demand they are entitled to a share of Dolores Project storage. “The crux of the lawsuit is that they want a change in the accounting rules that would give them more water out of storage than they are entitled to.”[...]

Settlement talks between the two organizations, mediated by a magistrate in Durango, broke down in December when MVIC decided to seek new representation. Shortly after that, the case was given to a magistrate in Grand Junction.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado Water Congress 52nd Annual Convention: Eric Wilkinson — ‘I guess one word strikes me, storage’

January 30, 2010

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Here’s a recap of the session, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Averages are not a real tool for development,” [Eric Wilkinson, director of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District] said. “These numbers need to be used for planning purposes and for compact compliance discussions. I guess one word strikes me: storage.”

Wilkinson, whose northern district is trying to get approval for building two new reservoirs and firming yield from current import diversions, explained that storage is the best way for Colorado to balance the unknowns of nature. Water users need to be ready for both wet and dry scenarios, Wilkinson said. “If there’s nothing left (of the compact entitlement), a curtailment would hurt us,” he said. “If there’s water to be developed, we’ll push to get water development.”

If enough water is stored in wet years, it is easier to make it through the droughts, he said. “We need to have our eyes wide open,” Wilkinson added. “Colorado owes it to itself to explore all opportunities to use the Colorado River, but we don’t want to get ourselves into a hole.”[...]

The CWCB this week also agreed to enter into a basinwide study with the other six states in the Colorado River Compact (Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). That study will use the information Colorado has spent the past two years gathering. At the same time, the state will be applying parts of the study to its other water planning efforts from decision support models to floodplain mapping. The study itself will enter another phase that will look at the potential for changing uses or climate conditions, Gimbel said. “We will get more information as we are planning for the future,” Gimbel said. “We also need to look at storage strategically and use it for our advantage.”

More coverage of the availability study from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board Tuesday reviewed Phase I of Colorado River Availability study, and learned there are more questions than answers when it comes to things like climate change, future demand and changed uses of water. The report will be released for public review in February. “The Colorado River is one of the most important sources of water supply for the state,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the CWCB. “Colorado needs solid information in order to make smart decisions about future water development.”

The assessment, funded by $1 million from the state Legislature in 2007, is the most comprehensive to date on Colorado River supplies. It will be used within nearly every other water planning effort in Colorado. “This study rolls into every hallway at the CWCB,” Gimbel said…

All models show the Colorado River basin will be warmer, with more precipitation in winter and less in summer. Growing seasons will be longer, and runoff earlier, meaning a net gain in agricultural water use and more draw-down on reservoirs, said Ben Harding, a CWCB engineering consultant. “One dry year is not going to do us in. We got through 1977 and 2002,” Harding said. “The sequence of years is important.”[...]

The models are drawn from both historical data from 1950-2005 and extrapolations using tree rings to look at conditions back to 1500. Looking ahead, engineers selected five models out of more than 100 available data sets to project what would happen in 2040 and 2070. Some of the models actually show increases in water availability, but all anticipate that increased demand by agriculture — which uses 85 percent of water — would soak up any gain. The 500-year trend surprisingly indicates that the past 50 years were wetter than average, because of unusual clusters of wet years in the 1980s and 1990s. There were also greater extremes in the types of wet and dry years. Models for the future shuffled both types of years to forecast various scenarios. The difference between 2040 and 2070 would not be as great as originally thought, Harding explained…

It is also unclear whether the assessment opens or closes any doors for transmountain water increases, either through existing projects or new proposals. Nearly 500,000 acre-feet annually comes across the Continental Divide to serve needs in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins. Cities are looking for future supplies. At the same time, water is used on the Western Slope to serve the needs of endangered species, and more could be needed for growth and energy development. “It’s a good first step,” said Eric Kuhn, executive director of the Colorado River Conservation District. “It’s pretty clear that there is probably a limit to what we can do. From the river district’s perspective, our approach will be wait and see.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Lower Dolores River Plan Working Group meeting December 14

December 12, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The Lower Dolores River Plan Working Group will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center, 21176 County Road S, to kick-off the recommendation and brainstorming phase. The group will meet again Jan. 19, Feb. 16 and March 15. The intention is to hand recommendations to the Dolores Public Lands Office in April.

More from the article:

Created to examine alternatives to a Wild and Scenic River designation for the Dolores River, the group spent the past year identifying and brainstorming around the plethora of issues involved in river protection. “What we have done the last year is a really intensive education process with the group around the whole area,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, facilitator of the Dolores River Dialogue. “If we are going to ask people to come up with recommendations for the future, we felt it was important that they were really steeped in knowledge.”

The group focused on the five primary reaches of the Dolores River covered by the planning area and then examined the “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” within each reach. “Through a grant that we have, we had a person gather every conceivable piece of information related to the ORV in each reach,” Porter-Norton said. “We looked at it from a 20,000 foot level and then from the ground level.” The identified ORVs along the Lower Dolores include archaeology/cultural resources, scenery, geology, hiking in Bull Canyon and Coyote Wash, rafting, roundtail chub, plants, and the canyon treefrog. The Dolores Public Lands Office posed a series of questions to the group relating to each ORV. The group was then divided into small groups that brainstormed tools, strategies and recommendations for each question. Some issues have garnered a good deal of consensus, and others have been harder to address. “Nothing in this process is easy,” Porter-Norton said. “We are taking some of the issues where I think there is a good amount of consensus and starting there. For the next six months we are going to delve into the landscape and water protection issues. That is where the alternative to the Wild and Scenic designation comes in.” The group has been charged with the task of determining if the river and surrounding area should keep the Wild and Scenic designation or if there is an alternative protection mechanism…

The working group comprises 58 members who represent a wide range of stakeholder positions. From public land managers to property owners, water managers to rafters and rafting companies, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officers to oil and gas company representatives, the group has a diverse range of values. Despite that, the group has not allowed differing opinions to stand in the way of progress, Porter-Norton said. “I have to say, speaking very personally, this group is fabulous,” she said. “You have people who have very different views, in some cases, who have been willing and able to engage in learning. They are really able to talk about things and disagree in a very productive way.”


Summit Ridge Water District to consolidate with Montezuma Water District?

October 17, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The Summit Ridge Water District board of directors will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to discuss a proposed consolidation with Montezuma Water Company. The possible consolidation comes at a point when the Summit board believes the two organizations have become redundant. “The board feels as though the district has outlived its usefulness,” said board member Mark Tuttle. “We’ve accomplished what was necessary in the beginning.” The water district, created about twenty years ago, currently serves 540 active taps and has roughly 630 members, according to Tuttle. The district’s original purpose was to provide water to the Summit Ridge area, a task larger companies did not find appealing.

More Montezuma County coverage here.


Montezuma County: Montezuma Valley Irrigation vs. Dolores Water Conservancy and Reclamation

October 6, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal (Steve Grazier/Joe Hanel):

Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. filed a lawsuit June 5 in U.S. District Court against the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for allegedly not meeting water requirements agreed to in a 1977 pact via the Dolores Project…

MVI attorney Kelly McCabe said Monday discussions on a possible case settlement have been ongoing between himself and conservancy district attorney Barry Spear, of the Durango firm Maynes, Bradford, Shipps & Sheftel. “Our settlement conferences with the U.S. magistrate are continuing. We’re still working and expect to be through this month,” said McCabe, who noted that a status conference is set today in Durango’s U.S. District Court…

According to the MVI lawsuit, the irrigation company “has been improperly charged (or billed) and assessed ‘delivery’ of Dolores Project water in the amount of 29,658 acre-feet despite MVI’s direct-flow rights in the Dolores River have produced 100 percent of MVI’s demand. The District (also) unilaterally determined and assessed an 8,000 acre-foot deficit against MVI to commence the 2009 irrigation season.”[...]

MVI is requesting that the federal court declare a judgment that Dolores Project water deliveries to MVI shall not … be charged to the irrigation company until all irrigation requirements are met by the conservancy. In addition, MVI is asking for “other relief” that the court deems appropriate. MVI’s case was assigned to federal court because one of the defendants – the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – is a federal agency…

MVI was formed in 1920. The water company began receiving irrigation water in 1986 via the Dolores Project, which is managed by the conservancy district and overseen by reclamation, along with other project users.

More Montezuma County coverage here.


Lower Dolores Plan Working Group: Issue fact sheets

August 2, 2009

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Here’s the link to the Dolores River Dialogue’s Lower Dolores Plan Working Group set of issue fact sheets. Here’s a report from the Cortez Journal. From the article:

The goal is to gather information, identify values worthy of protection in the planning area, formulate ideas for protection of the values, and make recommendations to the Dolores Public Lands Office – the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Once the Lower Dolores Management Plan Working Group makes its recommendations, the public lands office will initiate a formal environmental assessment process, conduct public involvement, and issue a decision notice.

More Coyote Gulch Dolores River coverage here.


Precipitation (storage) news: San Juan River seeing increased flows

July 13, 2009

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From The Durango Herald:

[Wednesday, July 8] Declining river flows in the San Juan Basin are leading the Bureau of Reclamation to increase water releases from Navajo Reservoir to 800 cubic feet per second…The increase goes into effect today at 4 a.m…”We’re releasing what’s required for irrigation,” about 610 cubic feet per second, [Vallecito Reservoir Superintendent Hal Pierce] said. Lemon Reservoir was releasing water at 175 cubic feet per second Tuesday.

From the Cortez Journal (Kristen Plank):

McPhee Reservoir is sitting at an active capacity of 217,000 acre-feet, with a maximum capacity of 229,000 acre-feet. The result is an approximate 12,000 acre-feet decrease, or an almost 3-foot drop in elevation, said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District…

In June, McPhee sat completely full until the 10th. Last year, the reservoir stayed full until July 19. “The reservoir did not stay full as long (this year) because we didn’t have the snowpack that we did in 2008,” Preston said. “But since the water usage was more moderate because of the cool, cloudy weather, we are only about six days ahead of where we were in 2008.”[...]

“The good news is that we filled this year for the second year in a row,” Preston said. “We are in good shape to meet all of our allocations for 2009…

Jackson Gulch Reservoir is also in good shape for the season, said Mancos Water Conservancy District Superintendent Gary Kennedy. The reservoir’s active capacity sits at 10,000 acre-feet and is roughly 200 acre-feet from full now. The reservoir was very close to full for July 4, which Kennedy said is unusual for this time of year.


Dolores River: ‘It’s a complicated river’ — Amber Kelley

June 3, 2009

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From The Durango Telegraph (Missy Votel):

If ever there was an enigma wrapped in a riddle, it would be the Dolores River. Not only does the “River of Sorrows” take an abrupt northward about-face on its 250-mile journey to the Colorado River, but the origins of the name itself (“El Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores,” possibly bestowed by a Spanish explorer in the mid 1700s) are shrouded in mystery. However, more than 250 years after the first white settlers laid eyes on it, the Dolores continues to confound those looking to protect the increasingly precious resource. “It’s a complicated river,” said Amber Kelley, a Cortez native who now lives in Dolores and works as the Dolores River Campaign Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. In her role, Kelley helps head up the Dolores River Coalition, a group conservation and recreation organizations that “care about the fate of the Dolores River.” The coalition, in turn, gives input to the Dolores River Dialogue, a broader group made up of stakeholders from farmers to federal agencies. That group formed in 2004 with the goal of balancing ecological conditions of the stretch of river below McPhee Reservoir with water rights, and recreational interests. To make things more complex, that Dolores River Dialogue, or DRD, dovetailed in 2008 to help form the Lower Dolores Management Plan Working Group. Also made up of a broad cross section of interests, the work group is preparing recommendations for an update to the San Juan Public Lands Center’s 1990 Dolores River Management Plan, slated for later this fall. Throw in the Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy, which oversee operation of McPhee Dam, the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for management of much of the river’s surrounding public lands, as well as a Wilderness Study Area, Wild and Scenic River suitability and increasing pressures from the mining and oil and gas industry, and the scenario has more twists and turns than the meandering river itself.

Nevertheless, there is an overriding theme to it all: protection of the Dolores and its myriad uses. It is this common thread that has been guiding the work group’s attempt to reconcile the different uses with preserving the river, or in some cases, bringing it back to life…

The work group has divided the river into eight distinct sections, but the bulk of concern is over the first five, from the dam to the confluence with the San Miguel River. [Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy] said the four major areas of concern include: the health of the cold-water fishery, including non-native trout; the warm-water fishery, which includes native species such as suckers, chubs and minnows; the riparian zone, which includes eradication of tamarisk and re-establishment of native cottonwoods and willows; as well as the geomorphology, including sediment build up and flow. “The opportunities to do something positive for the river vary from reach to reach,” said Preston. “The original flow from McPhee was designed with the sport fishery in mind, but the objective now has grown much broader.”[...]

the Lower Dolores is also home to the eastwood monkeyflower and the kachina daisy, both found in only a few dozen sites throughout the Four Corners. Aside from the stresses low flows put on the downstream ecology, [Ann Oliver, the South San Juan Mountains Project Director for the Nature Conservancy] sees the biggest threats to the Lower Dolores as invasive species, such as tamarisk and Russian knapweed, and the extractive industry. In addition to past and possible future uranium mining in the area, natural gas drilling could also have impacts. Recently, the Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. began conducting natural gas exploration in Paradox Valley using Dolores River Project water in the hydraulic frac-ing process.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


Jackson Gulch and McPhee reservoirs update

May 31, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 7,723 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,333 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 0 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 44 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 329,978 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 336,999 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 3,023 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 8,554 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 63/49 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.


Mcphee and Jackson reservoirs status

April 19, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal: “Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,532 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 5,008 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of zero cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 37 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

“McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 283,214 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 305,596 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 3,766 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 2,348 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/48 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.”


McPhee Reservoir: Operations meeting April 15th

March 28, 2009

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From email from Reclamation (Vern Harrell): “The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a McPhee reservoir Operations meeting in Cortez at 60 South Cactus on April 15, 2009 at 2:00 PM to present a 2009 proposed operating plan for releases to the Lower Dolores River. Reclamation has received comments/suggestions on downstream release options from various stakeholder groups and individuals concerning what they would like to see in downstream releases to the Dolores River this year. An agenda of topics to be discussed will be sent out via email April 8. Please…email [vharrell@uc.usbr.gov] or call Vern Harrell at 970-565-0865 with questions you may have.


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