From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District are seeking $40,000 from the state to study the feasibility and cost of storing 5,000 to 15,000 acre-feet of water in a proposed Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek, 15 miles south of Silt.
The request was made Monday to the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which reviews grants for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state water-supply planning agency.
“We think that now is really a good time to take a good, hard look at Kendig again,” John Currier, the chief engineer for the River District, told the roundtable Monday.
The Colorado River Basin roundtable recently identified Kendig Reservoir as one of its top-priority projects in the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process. (See project sheet).
A grant committee of roundtable members will now review the request, and the roundtable as a whole will vote it at its next meeting, scheduled for May 18.
If approved, the roundtable will send a letter in support of the funding request to the CWCB board.
“Basically dries up”
The dam and reservoir on West Divide Creek could bring late-season irrigation water to 14,000 acres of land on the mesa south of Silt, especially as it could feed an existing network of irrigation canals.
“The reservoir would store the early summer peak flows, which would allow late season irrigation demands to be met more frequently,” a feasibility evaluation from the Colorado and West Divide districts states.
“It would really be planned as a supplemental irrigation supply in West Divide, which is critically water short,” Currier said. “There are roughly 14,000 acres in West Divide that could use more water. The West Divide basically dries up by the end of the irrigation season.”
Other uses could include industrial, domestic, environmental, recreation and hydropower generation. Included among potential industrial uses is water for natural gas and oil operations.
Currier said that while the energy sector would not use nearly as much of the water in a new Kendig Reservoir as agriculture, energy producers would likely highly value the stored water and may contribute to the cost of the reservoir, which was estimated in 2011 to cost $40 million to $65 million.
West Divide Creek is a tributary of Divide Creek, which flows north into the Colorado River just upstream from Silt. The dam would be built in the channel of the stream.
Rights to water
The West Divide Water Conservancy District holds two conditional water rights from 1965 and 1979.
Together, the rights allow for storage of 18,060 acre-feet of water behind a 180-foot-tall dam on West Divide Creek. The dam, as envisioned at that time, would form a reservoir with a surface area of 257 acres.
By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir actively stores 101,280 acre-feet of water behind a dam on the Fryingpan River that is 285 feet tall, creating a reservoir with a surface area of 997 acres.
One goal of the feasibility study is determine the right size for a new reservoir, which would be built on private land that would have to be obtained by the water districts for the project to happen.
The application for money from the Colorado River and West Divide districts to study the feasibility of Kendig Reservoir states that “storable inflow” to the proposed dam site on the West Divide Creek site averages 12,000 acre-feet annually, but can drop to 2,000 acre-feet in dry years.
“This is in a location where you have limited supply in critically dry years,” Currier said. “So they are looking at how much carryover capacity is really required to create a firm yield. And what is that firm yield is a critical piece of this investigation.”
The rights for Kendig Reservoir are junior to the Cameo Call, a group of water districts that divert water under senior rights from the Colorado River, at the red-roofed roller dam east of Palisade. Earlier planning documents for the West Divide project also state that water from the Colorado River could be pumped uphill and stored in the reservoir.
The Divide in “Thompson Divide”?
The headwaters of West Divide Creek are near the western end of Four Mile Road, where Pitkin, Gunnison and Mesa counties come together.
The Garfield-Mesa county line, as it crosses West Divide Creek, would run through the proposed reservoir.
Some consider that Divide Creek is part of the namesake of the “Thompson Divide” area, which describes land on either side of a large ridge, with Divide Creek draining the west side and Thompson Creek the east.
Kendig Reservoir is part of the larger West Divide project that was studied by the Bureau of Reclamation as early as 1937.
The West Divide project was included in the 1956 federal Colorado River Storage Projects Act, which also authorized the dams that create Glen Canyon, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs.
In 1966 Congress authorized construction of the West Divide project, but federal money was never appropriated for the project.
A fresh look
The original Kendig Reservoir was also intended to store water imported from the Crystal River basin, but the two districts abandoned that component of the project in 2014.
Currier said that was one reason it makes sense to take a fresh look at Kendig.
There is both a lower and an upper Kendig reservoir site. The lower site is the originally proposed location. The upper side is above a major water distribution canal. The two districts will now look at the general area covered by both sites for the optimum location.
“Additional study is required to identify optimal reservoir sizes, potential reservoir operation, the firm yield of the reservoir, geotechnical issues and project costs,” the engineering report states.
In addition to the current request for state money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the two water districts are also each proposing to spend $10,000 of their own money on the feasibility study, which is expected to cost $60,000.
The study is to be prepared by Wilson Water Group and RJH Associates, an engineering design firm, according to the application. A summary of the feasibility study report is due Dec. 31.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story on Monday, April 27, 2015, as did The Times.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.