Exceptional drought conditions in Montezuma County and the Western Slope have prompted fire bans, water restrictions and a disaster declaration to help area farmers and ranchers cope with the financial impacts to their livelihoods. Sponsored by Whole Health Family Medicine Clinic and Express Employment Professionals
Montezuma County could face some tough economic times later this year, as the continuing drought forces farmers and ranchers to cut production. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Whole Health Family Medicine and Express Employment Professionals. I'm Wendy Graham-Settle. Spring runoff this year in the Dolores River drainage was the fourth worst since 1977 and as a result, McPhee reservoir received about 30% of its regular capacity. And that's spelling economic hardship for local farmers and ranchers, prompting a declaration of disaster by the Montezuma County Commissioners, fire bans in the region and voluntary water restrictions in the town of Cortez. As of June 30th, McPhee Reservoir was 57 feet below capacity and irrigated acreage served by the Dolores Water Project has been cut by 90% this year. Delores Water Project includes McPhee reservoir and a series of canals to irrigate 70,000 acres in Montezuma and Dolores Counties. It also provides municipal water for Cortez, Dove Creek and Towaoc. Earlier this year, the US Department of Agriculture declared a natural disaster for all 63 Colorado Counties. The declaration will allow farmers and ranchers to borrow low interest loans to offset their losses. The Montezuma County Commissioners in June also declared an emergency drought disaster.
We joined together as a team to tell the state we're in trouble here on the Western slope. In doing so, it opens some doors. It doesn't, we still have USDA loans that we can utilize through droughts for payment on hay, land crop, disasters, reseeding, et cetera, things that we need for our community, but with the disaster, it will assist us in moving forward quicker, I believe, so overall, it's really going to help the community.
According to the Dolores Water Conservancy District, the Montezuma County agricultural economy took seven years to recover after the last disastrous water year in 2002. Limited releases from McPhee also threatened fisheries downstream of the dam on the Dolores River. The US Geological Survey reports that the Dolores River is running at a trickle at only 10 cubic feet per second below the dam and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has asked fishermen to voluntarily refrain from fishing the lower Dolores after noon to avoid stressing the trout. Although McPhee holds enough municipal water for Cortez and Towaoc to last several years without additional runoff, the city of Cortez has called upon residents to voluntarily observe water restrictions.
Really it's about sharing the pain with our neighbors. You know, ranchers and people who live out on the side of the city are getting their water cut off and you know, the water that we don't use for irrigation can help their season extend. So we'll help them have more water available if we you know, use a little bit less. That's number one. Number two is because we need to get better about our water use no matter where we are with regards to McPhee's elevation because of, you know, we have one straw and that's Snowpack and when we get better about using what's available, when there's less to use, our lives will not be impacted, our quality of life won't be impacted because we'll already be much more efficient at using it and learning to exist with less.
The Cortez City Council asked residents to refrain from watering between 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM during the day and to water every other day according to their addresses. Residents with even numbered addresses are asked to water on even numbered days, an odd numbered addresses on odd numbered days. Federal agencies have declared level one fire restrictions on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and Montezuma County Sheriff, Steve Nowlin, has declared a full fire ban on all properties in unincorporated Montezuma County. If you're caught with an open fire, you could pay a hefty fine.
It's a class two petty offense under the County ordinance, which is a thousand dollar fine. If it happens to destroy anybody's property, we move into the four different classes of arson under State statute and those are felonies. It depends on what the value of the property lost would be. If we happen to lose unfortunately someone's life, we could also be looking at much more serious charges criminally under State law.
To learn more about water restrictions and other information, visit doloreswater.com for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, cityofcortez.com for water conservation information, and montezumacounty.com for fire restrictions. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham-Settle.