Significant Cuts to McPhee Water Releases Ahead

4/28/2021
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Local farmers who rely on irrigation water from McPhee Reservoir can expect significant cuts to their water supply this summer with water levels at some of their lowest since the reservoir began filling in 1986. Sponsored by Farmers Insurance Allen Michalak Agency and Region 9 Economic Development District.

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With McPhee Reservoir filled to less than 10% of its active capacity and the Dolores River running at 20% of average for this time of year. This year's irrigation season in Montezuma and Dolores counties is shaping up to be one of the worst in the reservoir's history. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Farmers Insurance, the Allen and Mary Michalak Agency, and the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. You don't need to tell Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, that this past winter was a disappointment. Curtis manages the water provided by the Dolores Water Project, a massive water storage and distribution project that provides municipal water to Cortez, Dove Creek and the Ute Mountain Ute, Indian Reservation. It also provides irrigation water for nearly 70,000 acres including supplemental water for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation District. But with SNOTEL sites in the Dolores River Basin showing snowpack levels that nearly half of average for this time of year. Water will barely trickle through the irrigation canals this summer.

Just potentially looking at one of the worst years of the project on record, since we started filling the dam and went fully online in 2000. The main reason we got the bad year in 2021, but we have the lack of carry over. We used all our carry over last year which made it a poor year, but not anything like this year. So, we're watching the weather. It could get a little bit better. But we don't expect significant improvement this late in the season. We're trying to work with our farmers up North on multiple levels, try to make it a little more palatable in a tough year. We're also working with the Ute Farm. MVI works with their own customers. We provide them the information and it's just going to be a tough year. And then, we'll all be looking to next winter.

When full, McPhee Reservoir holds 381,000 acre feet of water with 60% of that amount or 229,000 acre feet available for irrigation and municipal use. As of the third week in April, active capacity was a little more than 21,000 acre feet or about 9% of active capacity. And the reservoir isn't likely to get a lot more water in the months to come. The SNOTEL site on Lizard Head Pass showed snowpack at 52% of average for this time of year. And El Diente snowpack in the San Miguel Mountains was about 42% of average. That translates into low runoff amounts in the Dolores River Basin. According to the US Geological Survey, the Dolores River was running at about 175 cubic feet per second on April 20th. Average volume for this time of year is 910 cubic feet per second. Although municipal water to serve Cortez, Dove Creek in Toyak has been set aside, to ensure water supply for those communities. Curtis said, the agricultural sector will see a shortfall in production.

Well, production's going to suffer. There's no doubt about it. And everybody's trying to shrink their focus what little water there is on the most profitable and limited acres. So, I know the Utes are talking about irrigating less than a thousand acres up North. I think we'll likewise see about 10% actually irrigated. And so, that it's going to be a real bad production this year.

To learn more about the amount of water available in the Dolores Water Conservancy District, visit doloreswater.com. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network serving La Plata, Montezuma in San Miguel counties in Colorado and San Juan County in New Mexico. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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