Montezuma County water history

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Here’s an in-depth look at the history of water projects in Montezuma County, from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The town of Cortez was first founded in December of 1886 near Mitchell Springs by officials of the Montezuma Valley Water Supply Company, led by James W. Hanna. “It was not enough water at that time,” [Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company President Randy Carver] said. “As a matter of fact, a barrel of water at that time was 50 cents.”

The officials filed a claim for 1300 cubic feet per second of water from the Dolores River, which they planned to deliver through a tunnel to irrigate 200,000 acres and provide water for an expected Cortez population of 50,000. “The plan was particularly optimistic,” Carver said.

Work began in 1887 on a 5,400 foot long tunnel to bring water from the Dolores River into the Montezuma Valley basin, Carver said. Although railroad tunnels would be built in the coming decades, it was unusual at that time for tunnels to be built for water. “This was a very significant project in the United States,” Carver said. “It was considered one of the greatest irrigation enterprises.” The tunnel was not lined and after repeated cave-ins in 1863 and 1864, steel arches were installed to shore up the sandstone.

The first feasibility study on the [McPhee dam and reservoir] was completed in 1942 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, according to information on the agency’s Web site. However, Congress would not authorize the project until 1968 and would not allocate funding for the project until 1976. The project came under fire from President Jimmy Carter, who placed it on a “hit list” of 19 Western water projects up for funding cuts. Ultimately, Carter relented due largely to a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that required the government to provide water to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in exchange for large tracts of land previously relented by the tribe, Ground was broken on the project in September of 1977 and would endure numerous technical setbacks as well as threats of funding loss. Three people died in accidents related to construction of the project.

The McPhee Dam and Great Cut Dike were completed in 1984 at a cost of more than $99.5 million and the new Dolores Tunnel was completed in 1985 at a cost of more than $12 million. Tens of millions were spent on pump stations, canals and hydroelectric power plants. With the irrigation system, the Dolores Project now provides an annual average of 90,900 acre feet of water to Montezuma County, Dolores County and the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. It generates an annual average of more than 36.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the reclamation Web site states.

More Montezuma County coverage here and here.

USGS: Simulation of Hydraulic Conditions and Observed and Potential Geomorphic Changes in a Reconfigured Reach of Muddy Creek, North-Central Colorado, 2001–2008

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Here’s the link to the report. From the USGS website:

Muddy Creek near Kremmling, Colorado, is a regulated, meandering, gravel-bed stream that has been monitored for geomorphic change since 2001. One reach of the creek was reconfigured using natural-channel design methods in 2003, providing an opportunity to compare hydraulics in this reach with those in a nearby, unaltered control reach. Streamflow in Muddy Creek has been regulated by Wolford Mountain Reservoir since 1995, but reservoir releases in 2006 and 2008 resulted in out-of-bank floods. The Muddy Creek monitoring program was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey from 2001 to 2008 in cooperation with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the streamflow modeling and analysis were conducted in 2008 in cooperation with the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Minor changes in channel geometry were measured at monitored cross sections in the control reach between 2001 and 2008 and in the reconfigured reach between 2003 and 2008. Geomorphic changes were limited to lateral erosion in a meander bend and lateral erosion of an alluvial fan that formed a vertical scarp in the control reach. Some excavated streambed locations in the reconfigured reach have aggraded to their former elevations, and gravel on alluvial bars might have become better sorted and winnowed of sand-size sediment. Hydraulic conditions in the reconfigured and control reaches were simulated using the U.S. Geological Survey MD_SWMS framework and FaSTMECH computational models.

Elliott, J.G., Schaffrath, K.R., McDonald, R.R., Williams, C.A., and Davis, K.C., 2011, Simulation of hydraulic conditions and observed and potential geomorphic changes in a reconfigured reach of Muddy Creek, north-central Colorado, 2001–2008: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5183, 43 p.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From The Aspen Times via the Snowmass Sun:

The Roaring Fork basin as a whole was at 127 percent of average on Thursday — the same as it was on Feb. 2. The NRCS measures snowpack in seven places in the Roaring Fork basin. The Independence Pass site was at 123 percent of average. Three sites in the Fryingpan River drainage ranged from 122 percent to 142 percent of average. Three sites in the Crystal River drainage ranged from 124 percent to 137 percent of average. The statewide average was 115 percent as of March 1, the NRCS reported. That bodes well for irrigators, anglers and rafters…

Snowfall was spotty in Colorado during February. Snowpack totals in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande River basin improved significantly after they got their first big storms of the season. Nevertheless, the Rio Grande’s snowpack was only 88 percent of average. In other parts of the state, a dry February ate into the snowpack. The San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins saw their snowpacks fall below average for the first time this winter. Other parts of the state had closer to average snowfall during February, so their snowpack remained above average.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable public outreach meeting recap

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From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Kevin Karney welcomed the group, which was small but deeply concerned with water issues. He then turned over the moderator’s duties to Professor Perry Cabot of Colorado State University, a man of many farm and water projects, some funded by the Colorado Water Conservancy through the Arkansas Valley Roundtable. All of the projects underway from the roundtable are referred to during the presentation as IPP’s (Identified Projects and Processes)…

Bill Wargate of the Applegate group also addressed the gathering. He predicts a gross gap for each provider. The factors are summer homes in Chaffee and Fremont counties, the Telluride-Victor mines, Custer County, Round Mountain, and a big change in El Paso County. The gap for El Paso County is 22,600 acre- feet.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Basin Roundtable Summit: Alternative ag transfers

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Here’s a wrapup of the summit afternoon session dealing with alternative ag transfers, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

It turns out the Arkansas Valley provides front-row seats for a lot of the new ideas. The state is working on several fronts to keep the thirst of cities from drying up farmland in Colorado more than it already has. In some cases, such as the Rio Grande basin, farmers themselves are finding they need to throttle back their use of water to avoid tapping out the available supply. A panel talking about the issue of alternative transfers reached the conclusion that the solution to stretching the water supply differs in each of the state’s basins. However, most of the ideas presented Thursday are already beginning to play out in the Arkansas River basin…

[Engineer Louis Meyer] advocated for watershed protection through a utility fee for urban users, saying water users in cities could pay to keep farmland productive. He cited conservation easements as one method to achieve this, and he voiced the need to have local food sources as the primary reason. “We need surcharges to protect the watersheds,” Meyer said. “Why don’t we have a surcharge to help ranchers in the upper part of the basin?”[…]

The Greeley board is concerned both about providing enough water for the region — Weld and Larimer counties will have 1.2 million people by 2050 — and agriculture, which is a $1.4 billion industry in Weld County, the state’s top producing county. Greeley has purchased water from area farms and has been leasing it back to farms for 20 years already. “What we face in our area and statewide is how to maintain a sustainable economy,” Evans said.

Tied into all of the decisions being made in all of the state’s basin is the way rivers work. Shutting off water in one place often means consequences for downstream users. Return flows, the water applied to fields that is not used by crops to make its way back to the river, are part of the equation. In the South Platte, for instance, water is used and reused six times before reaching the Nebraska state line. “One person’s inefficiency is another person’s water right,” [Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District] said…

“One size doesn’t fit all,” observed Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Conservancy District. “But, maybe one size constrains all.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.