The Dolores Water Conservancy district reaches the half-century mark November 20

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Here’s a report from Shannon Livick writing for the Cortez Journal. Click through for the photos of construction of the tunnel that brings water from the Dolores River watershed into Montezuma and Dolores counties in the San Juan basin. Here’s an excerpt:

The Dolores Water Conservancy District will host a 50th anniversary of the formation of the district and the 25th anniversary of water deliveries to farms and towns from McPhee Reservoir at the Dolores Community Center with a barbecue dinner at noon, followed by a brief recognition ceremony.

The star of the show will be McPhee Reservoir, a project that some say was more than 100 years in the making. “They have been talking about the McPhee dam site since the 1900s,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. It has been said that the McPhee Reservoir site was seen as so ideal for a reservoir that President Teddy Roosevelt chose the site for the dam in 1906 during a hunting trip here.

“The Dolores Water Conservancy District was formed to try to get the dam built,” Preston said. The project was authorized in 1968 and the project began in 1977, after voters in Montezuma and Dolores counties within the Dolores Water Conservancy District approved a repayment contract by a unheard of 95 percent favorable vote. The McPhee Dam project cost an estimated $403 million…

The project doubled the amount of irrigated acreage in the area and gives the towns a 100-year supply of water. “This water project is something most communities would die for,” Preston said.

Since the water started to be delivered 25 years ago, the number of irrigated acres in Montezuma and Dolores counties has gone up from 35,000 irrigated acres to 70,000, some of those as far away as south of Towaoc…

The $403 million project also saw the construction of the $11.6 million Dolores tunnel that was dug underneath the landscape for more than one mile. It also saw the construction of pumping plants, numerous canals and two major recreation areas named McPhee and House Creek. It also saw the flooding of the old lumber town, McPhee, and countless archaeology sites, bringing in archaeologists from around the world who excavated the areas. Those artifacts are housed in the Anasazi Heritage Center, also built as part of this project.

More coverage from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

According to information from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, an average of 351,000 acre feet of water flows into the McPhee Reservoir annually. Not including spring spillover, an average of 31,798 acre feet of water is released down the Lower Dolores River.

With a storage capacity of 381,000 acre feet of water, the project essentially doubled the amount of irrigated land in the area and extended the irrigation season for most farmers by nearly three months to mid October — allowing farmers to produce substantially more.

With current crop values, Mike Preston, DWCD general manager, estimates Dolores Project lands will generate $20 million in income for the area this year.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Beyond the obvious recreation benefits of the reservoir, the Dolores Project also provided recreation opportunities through the creation of Joe Rowell Park in Dolores and enhanced flows on the Lower Dolores River, below the McPhee dam.

“The other thing that McPhee provided, is a means of managing the flows below the reservoir,” said Dolores Water Conservation District General Manager Mike Preston. “Usually we were in drought early and the flows would trail off. But now, those flows are managed to provide rafting flows in and around Memorial Day and so on. It gave us the ability to manage recreation opportunities in regards to recreational boating.”

The flows from the reservoir into the Lower Dolores also provide additional fishing opportunities, particularly for those interested in fly fishing.

Additionally, the presence of the reservoir has benefited wildlife. Three native fish species call the Lower Dolores home, including the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub. All three benefit from the managed flows from the reservoir, according to a report from the Lower Dolores Working Group. And according to the bureau of reclamation’s website, land acquired and managed for wildlife conservation has provided habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

“The Anasazi Heritage Center was built by the (U.S.) Bureau of Reclamation as a repository for the artifacts gathered during the DAP,” said center Manager Marietta Eaton. “The Heritage Center is here because of the DAP, and that in and of itself is full of ramifications for the area.”

The Heritage Center’s creation was a unique aspect of the Dolores Archaeological Program. Most archaeological programs see collected artifacts shipped to larger repositories, often far from the actual sites. The creation of a local repository allowed the local community to retain a sense of ownership of their history.

“The fact that the Bureau of Reclamation saw the importance of a local repository is significant,” said Tracy Murphy, assistant curator at the center. “With the presence of the center, the artifacts and research are here for the people of this area.”

More coverage from Dale Shrull writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Finding a good water storage solution for Montezuma County was discussed as far back as the 1880s. Today, looking at the massive McPhee Reservoir, it’s impossible to comprehend a lack of water. But [John Porter] remembers. The 78-year-old Lewis native spent 23 years as the Dolores Water Conservancy general manager, retiring in 2002. “Everyone was looking for more water but there was never enough,” he says. “Every time there was a drought, all people would talk about was we need a dependable supply of water…

Even though a dam on the Dolores was thought to be the solution, Porter wasn’t surprised it took so long to complete. “Anything you do with water, it takes time. There’s regular time and there’s water time. Water time goes very slow,” he says…

As early as 1884, plans were made and projects developed to take water from the Dolores, Porter explains. A tunnel was bored and canals were used to get water to the south, while the Great Cut Dike and canals were developed to flow water to the west. And they sucked the river nearly dry. “Back then, the Dolores River was basically a dry river during the summer,” Porter says. To store water in the early days, three small reservoirs were dug: Groundhog, Totten and Narraguinnep…

Remnants of old wooden flumes, which were used to transport water around the region, can still be spotted around the area. Most of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company canal system are still used today, Porter says…

Porter says he thinks the water rights of the Ute Mountain tribe helped save the project. The tribe needed water and made the argument that future development was dependent on water from the Dolores Project.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here and here.

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