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.