Who owns the water in Ruedi Reservoir? The list includes, indirectly, ancient fish.

There are three main types of water in Ruedi Reservoir.
There are three main types of water in Ruedi Reservoir.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT — Knowing who owns, or controls, the water in Ruedi has become of greater public interest since 2013, when all of the water in the reservoir was sold, as the new ownership regime could change how much water is released from the reservoir in any given year.

And how much water is released from Ruedi has implications for the quality of the trout fishing on the lower Fryingpan River and the health of four species of endangered fish in the Colorado River below Palisade.

Given that, we thought it worth figuring out who owns the water in Ruedi, and the resulting list, signed off on by the Bureau of Reclamation, is below.

There are three types of water in Ruedi. The first is “fish water,” or water held in storage in Ruedi until it is released to benefit struggling populations of native fish in the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction, in what’s known as the 15-mile reach.

The fish water is released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan River, which flows into the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, which in turn flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

The second type of water in Ruedi is “contract water.”

This is water that has been sold by the Bureau of Reclamation to recover the costs of building and operating the reservoir.

Contracts for annual delivery of water from Ruedi 
vary in size from 12,000 to 15,000 acre-feet (AF) and there are now over 30 individuals and entities with water contracts.

When these Ruedi water owners are called out by senior downstream water rights holders, most significantly the large diverters near Grand Junction collectively known as “the Cameo call,” then they can ask Reclamation to release their “augmentation” water in Ruedi instead of stopping their normal use of water from their local sources.

In practice, this does not happen very often. But in a dry year, it could be important to many of the contract holders.

The third type of water can be viewed as “reservoir water.”

This is water not generally released from the reservoir, and includes the “dead” pool, the “inactive” pool, the “recreation and regulatory” pool and the “replacement” pool in Ruedi.

Ruedi was built, in part, to provide a “replacement” pool for the big upstream diversions of the Fry-Ark project, but these various “reservoir” pools are not a big factor in shaping the amount of flow out of the reservoir.

An angler in the Fryingpan River last fall, when the river was running about 300 cfs.
An angler in the Fryingpan River last fall, when the river was running about 300 cfs.

2015 flows

The question of how much water was flowing out of Ruedi, and who owns it, became an issue for many anglers on the lower Fryingpan River in September and October last year, when the river was consistently flowing at about 300 cubic feet per second.

At that level, the river can be hard to wade across, and local fly-fishing guides began to get complaints from some regular customers, who prefer levels in the 230 to 250 cfs range.

The river was high last year because 24,412.5 AF of water was released from Ruedi to help the endangered fish. This was an increase from 2014 and 2013, when 15,412 AF and 10,412 AF was released, respectively, as fish water.

There are three sub-pools of fish water in Ruedi, totaling 15,412.5 AF.

The first pool is 5,000 acre feet of fish water under contract to the CWCB and provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use in the 15-mile reach.

The second pool of fish water contains 5,412.5 AF. This pool is under contract to the Colorado River District, which acts as a custodian for the water on behalf of Western Slope interests.

The third pool contains another 5,000 AF and remains under the control of Reclamation, which considers it available for use in four-out-of-five years, or 80 percent of the time.

This third pool of fish water is, in essence, “extra” water that is provided by Reclamation to help the fish when conditions in Ruedi allow.

So while there is a total of 15,413.5 AF of fish water in Ruedi, only 10,413.5 AF of it is counted in our tally under the heading of “fish water.” We list the third pool of 5,000 AF, under the heading of fish water, but it is actually included in the “reservoir water” category.

A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.
A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.

Contract water as fish water

In addition to the 15,413.5 AF of fish water released in 2015, there was also 9,000 AF of contract water released as fish water, which was a new development for both Ruedi and the lower Fryingpan River.

The 9,000 AF of contract water released as fish water was part of a 12,000 AF pool of water bought in 2013 by Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction.

Ute Water bought its 12,000 AF for $15.6 million, or $1,300 an AF, to use as a back-up source of water. But last year it entered into a lease contract with the CWCB, at $7.20 an AF, so that the water could be used instead to benefit the endangered fish.

After Ute Water and CWCB finalized a lease arrangement in August to release up to the full 12,000 AF, only 9,000 AF could be released by the end of October without bringing flows over 300 cfs in the lower Fryingpan.

This year, though, Ute Water and CWCB hope to get an earlier start on releasing the full 12,000 AF as fish water, on top of the three pools of fish water totaling 15,412.5 AF.

If they succeed, that could mean 27,412.5 AF of water could be released from Ruedi as fish water, and flows in the Fryingpan could again be in the range of 300 cfs.

Given the discussion of water in Ruedi, a lingering question is, how much of the other contract water can be turned into fish water?

Bob Rice, a contracts specialist at Reclamation, said some of the water in contracts held by the Colorado River District could potentially be used for fish water, but it is currently unlikely that they will be.

While other contracts may also include the flexibility for the water to be used for “piscatorial,” or fish, uses, almost all of the water held by other contract holders is limited to use within their individual jurisdictions, and not in the 15-mile reach. The 12,000 acre-feet owned by Ute Water is a rare case, as the 15-mile reach is within their boundary.

So while more contract water may not turn into fish water in the future, it is the case that a fair amount of contract water could also be released along with fish water, at the request of the owners of the water. And that could bring the river up.

A map showing Ruedi Reservoir, the Fryingpan River, and the 15-mile reach on the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
A map showing Ruedi Reservoir, the Fryingpan River, and the 15-mile reach on the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

The list

Here’s the list of who owns water in Ruedi, by acre-feet.

Some entities have multiple contracts for water in Ruedi. In those instances, we have added up the AF in each contract and combined them and included the amount of AF in each contract in parenthesis.

Ownership of Water in Ruedi Reservoir

Fish Water

5,000 AF Colorado Water Conservation Board, for 15-mile reach
5,412.5 AF Colorado River District, for 15-mile reach

Subtotal: 10,412.5 AF

(5,000 AF) (CWCB, for 15-mile reach, available 4-out-of-5 years. It’s often used as fish water, but technically it is in the “reservoir water” pool).

Contract Water

12,000 AF Ute Water Conservancy District
11,413.5 AF Colorado River District (500, 530, 700, 4,683.5, 5,000)
6,000 AF Exxon Mobil Corp.
2,000 AF Colorado River District (tied to 5,412.5 fish water as “insurance” water)
1,790 AF Basalt Water Conservancy District (300, 490, 500, 500)
1,250 AF Battlement Mesa Metropolitan District
600 AF West Divide Water Conservancy District (100, 500)
550 AF City of Rifle (200, 350)
500 AF Town of Basalt (200, 300)
500 AF City of Glenwood Springs
500 AF Snowmass Water and Sanitation District
500 AF Town of Carbondale (250, 250)
400 AF Mid-Valley Metropolitan District (100, 300)
400 AF City of Aspen
400 AF Town of New Castle
400 AF Garfield County
330 AF Summit County
300 AF Town of Silt (83, 217)
200 AF Town of Palisade
185 AF Ruedi Water and Power Authority
150 AF Wildcat Ranch Association (50, 100)
140 AF Wildcat Reservoir Company
125 AF Town of DeBeque (25, 100)
100 AF Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District (38, 62)
100 AF W/J Metropolitan District
75 AF Town of Parachute
43 AF Starwood Water District
35 AF Thomas Bailey
30 AF Elk Wallow Ranch LLC
21 AF Owl Creek Meadows
20 AF Westbank Ranch Homeowners Association
15 AF Owl Creek Ranch Homeowners Association
15 AF Ted and Hilda Vaughan
Subtotal: 41,087.5 AF

Reservoir Water

28,000 AF replacement pool
21,778 AF recreation and remaining regulatory pool
1,032 AF inactive pool
63 AF dead pool
Sutotal: 50,873 AF

Total Water

102,373 AF

Southwestern Water Conservation District 75th Anniversary

The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

From the Water Information Program:

The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD or District) was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 1941, thereby marking the District’s 75th anniversary this year! The SWCD encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel and parts of Hinsdale, Mineral, and Montrose counties. In a press release issued by SWCD board president John Porter, and recently printed in the Durango Herald, Porter shares some lessons learned in the past 75 years, ones that will be carried through the next 75:

Lesson No. 1: Adaptability is a Necessity

Times have changed since 1941. Colorado statute charges the district with “protecting, conserving, using and developing the water resources of the southwestern basin for the welfare of the district, and safeguarding for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled.” Following this mandate, the district worked tirelessly for decades to ensure water supplies would meet growing demand by filing for storage project water rights in almost every major river basin. SWCD lobbied for federal dollars to be spent on project construction in our area. The philosophy was, and continues to be, to plant the seed and help it grow.

This work resulted in the establishment of the Florida Water Conservancy District and Lemon Reservoir; the Pine River Project extension; the Dolores Water Conservancy District and McPhee Reservoir; the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District; Ridges Basin Reservoir; Long Hollow Reservoir; the San Juan Water Conservancy District; and the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

As population pressure threatens to dry up agriculture, and regulations and constituent values have expanded to include environmental protections and recreational use, the district’s mission has adapted necessarily. When the A-LP Project debate was underway, for example, SWCD was integral in the formation of the San Juan Recovery Program, established to recover endangered fish species populations in the San Juan River in New Mexico downstream of the proposed reservoir. SWCD currently funds a variety of essential work, including stream flow data collection and mercury sampling in local reservoirs. To address mounting concerns regarding future compact curtailment and drought, SWCD supports water supply augmentation through winter cloud seeding and exploring creative solutions like “water banking.”

Lesson No. 2: Be at the Table

Participation at the local, state and federal levels is essential to protecting our resources. That’s why the District is a member of Colorado Water Congress, a state entity focused on water policy.

The District takes positions and engages in debate on water-related bills during the state legislative season. We keep a close eye on federal water management policies, often submitting public comments and working with federal and state partners to ensure continued state control of water rights. The District is supportive of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program to establish minimum stream flows for the environment, and is working to improve the program’s ability to adapt to rural community needs for future development. As for the broader Colorado River system, SWCD participates in dialogue among Upper Basin states through the Upper Colorado River Commission.

At the local level, the district has represented water development interests in the collaborative River Protection Workgroup, which resulted in the Hermosa Creek Watershed Act. SWCD worked with other Roundtable members to ensure our corner of the state was heard in the Colorado Water Plan.

Lesson No. 3: Reinvest Local Tax Dollars Locally

It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that SWCD’s grant program supports water work across the district: domestic supply and irrigation infrastructure improvements, recreational development, habitat rehabilitation, collaborative community processes and water quality studies. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Archuleta, Mineral and Hinsdale counties: Rio Blanco habitat restoration by the San Juan Conservation District, watershed health via the San Juan Mixed Conifer Group.
  • La Plata County: Initial studies for Long Hollow Reservoir, the La Plata West Water Authority’s rural domestic water system.
  • San Juan County: Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies dust-on-snow research, mining reclamation through the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
  • Montezuma and Dolores counties: The Dolores River Dialogue (a collaboration focused on issues below McPhee Dam), irrigation efficiency improvements by the High Desert Conservation District.
  • San Miguel and Montrose counties: The San Miguel Watershed Coalition’s watershed studies and irrigation diversion improvements to allow fish and boater passage, domestic system upgrades for the town of Norwood.
  • Lesson No. 4: Educate the Next Generation of Leaders

    For more than 20 years, the district has spearheaded regional water education by sponsoring an Annual Children’s Water Festival for students across the basin and administering the Water Information Program with contributions from participating entities. SWCD played an instrumental role in creating the statewide Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and continues to sponsor the organization. As generations of water leaders step back, new stewards must step forward to ensure that the Southwest Colorado we know and love continues.

    From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

    “The water is our life blood that feeds all of us,” Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Clement Frost told participants in the 34th annual Water Seminar on April 1 in Durango.

    The seminar is organized by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD). This year’s event celebrated the district’s 75th anniversary…

    The Animas/ La Plata Project and the now completed Lake Nighthorse were mentioned by Frost and other speakers as examples of choosing collaboration over litigation. They settle Ute water rights claims going back to 1868, senior to any other rights.

    “The tribes and water users have a relationship that’s quite unique” versus other places where entities end up in court fights that can last for decades, explained Christine Arbogast with the lobbying firm of Kogovsek and Associates. “Here the tribes and non-Indian community decided in the early 1980s to negotiate and not litigate.”

    The negotiations started in 1984 and concluded in 1986, she said, but they still needed congressional approval, which came in 1988 with bipartisan support from the Colorado delegation. But an irrigation water delivery system to the Dry Side had to be eliminated as part of that.

    Arbogast called that a painful compromise, “that we all looked at the stewardship of water together and the preciousness of water together.”

    Frost said, “I have the most admiration for the ranchers who gave up their rights to irrigation water. They understood it was necessary for Animas/ La Plata to move ahead.”

    He commended the help of SWWCD “in helping us get things done. We all march together to take care of a problem, and not march apart to continue a problem.”

    Speakers through the day cited the water district’s financial and other help in their various missions.

    The district was formed in 1941 by the state legislature and is one of four such districts around the state, district Director Bruce Whitehead said. The district covers all of six counties and parts of three others. The district’s directive is to protect and develop all waters in the basin that the state is entitled to, he said.

    District Board President John Porter noted there are nine river systems within the district, and they all flow out of state.

    “Indian water rights cases couldn’t have been solved without storage,” he said. “Without that, non-Indians wouldn’t have much water after July 1” each year, when rivers tend to go on call.

    The district is funded with property taxes. It has a $1.5 million annual budget and over the past 30 years has awarded almost $9 million in grants, Porter said.

    Longtime Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said $50,000 from SWWCD and $25,000 from the Southwest Water Roundtable helped the 18-lot Palo Verde subdivision near Three Springs install a water line to get Durango water when residents’ domestic wells started failing.

    Travis Custer with the High Desert and Mancos Conservation Districts said education efforts on more efficient irrigation methods are part of “the idea that we are responsible for our resources. Water saved on the farm benefits everyone… It’s mitigation rather than emergency response. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of an ag operation.” Instead, it can be an enhancement, he said.

    “We’re looking at ways to replicate efficiencies in the larger area,” Custer said. “We have to work together, agencies with agencies and with producers to build trust. In the West, these situations aren’t going to get any better. No new water will be created.”

    Asked how more efficient irrigation might have consequences with the doctrine of “use it or lose it,” Custer said that doctrine has a lot of gray areas. “We have to look at opportunities to adjust our thought process and legislate to address the current situation. We want to keep land in ag. Legislation that prohibits conservation needs to be addressed,” he said.

    The keynote speakers were water attorney and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs and Bill McDonald, a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a lead negotiator on the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement and the implementing legislation.

    “Remember your history is lesson 1,” McDonald said. He gave a brief history of water issues in Colorado and called water “the state’s liquid gold.”

    Debates over trans-mountain water diversions started in the 1930s with the Colorado/ Big Thompson water project to bring water to northeastern Colorado. In 1937, a Governor’s Water Defense Association was created to defend against downstream states. In-stream flow rights became an issue in the 1970s.

    Hobbs said about two-thirds of the water that originates in Colorado flows out of state to 18 downstream states. In the 1980s, he and fellow attorney David Robbins won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to keep Ute water rights cases in state rather than federal courts. They also defended the constitutionality of in-stream flow rights.

    “In-stream flow has been our safety valve to show we can preserve the environment in the name of the people,” Hobbs said. “It was a great day when that was upheld.”

    The seminar finished with Peter Butler from the Animas River Stakeholders Group and discussion of toxic mine drainage from above Silverton. SWWCD helped with funding for four stream gauges near Silverton. The one on Cement Creek is how it was determined that the Gold King mine spill last August was 3 million gallons, he said. SWWCD also helped them get in-stream flow rights and has supported “Good Samaritan” legislation, he said and thanked the district for its support over the years.

    The day included a tribute to Fred Kroeger, who was on the SWWCD board for 55 years and served as board president for 33 years. He died last year at age 97. He also served on various other state and local water-related boards and community service groups. He and buddy Sam Maynes Sr. were known for the lame jokes they told at the water seminars as well as for their water project advocacy including A/LP and McPhee on the Dolores.

    “He set the standard by which we behave in the water business,” water engineer Steve Harris said of Kroeger. “Be a diplomat, dignified, a gentleman. Be willing to compromise. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t give up. Be involved.”

    Arbogast added: “You never heard him call anybody a name. In today’s political environment, that would be pretty refreshing, wouldn’t it?”

    Here’s a photo poem from Greg Hobbs. He was one of the keynote speakers at the shindig:

    Southwestern District’s 75th Anniversary

    Dominguez and Escalante peered into this ancestral
    Great Kiva looking for the Colorado River

    Where the Shining Mountains and their waters also lead us on.

    anasaziheritagecenter

    East of the Divide where snowmelt’s stored for so many newer Coloradans

    montezumavalleygreghobbslaplatas

    A slender ribbon, the South Platte, slices through the High Plains

    southplatterivergreghobbs

    Into the high country’s lift off.

    frontrangemarch2016greghobbs

    Over the Sangres winging

    sangredecritos032016greghobbs

    Over the circles of San Luis Valley harvesting

    sanluisvalley032016greghobbs

    Up the Rio Grande into its headwaters

    riogranderiver032016greghobbs

    West for the San Juans!

    sanjuans032016greghobbs

    Riding the billows

    sanjuanswingtip032016greghobbs

    Of Southwestern’s embrace

    southwesternbasingmapgreghobbs

    The fellowship of shared communities

    southwesternwater5th032016greghobbs

    The River runs through.

    animasriverrunsthroughgreghobbs

    Students of the land

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Gather to honor

    johnportersouthwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    The heritage of so many

    southwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    Who came before these Young

    southwestern75thgreghobbs

    Who wear the beads of service

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Keeping faith with the Ute

    lakenighthorse032016greghobbs

    And Navajo neighbors

    navajoneighborsgreghobbs

    In the leavening

    image062

    Of Lake Nighthorse and Durango

    lakenighthorsedurango032016greghobbs

    Point/Counterpoint: Mesa County Commissioners and the Grand Valley Drainage District

    stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    POINT: Change needed to deal with storm water in county

    By Mesa County Commissioners

    Mesa County has received multiple calls and letters from constituents about the bills they’ve received from the Grand Valley Drainage District.

    The Mesa County Commissioners want to be clear: Mesa County does not have authority over the Drainage District. It stands alone as a separate governmental entity.

    That said, we have been attempting to work with the Drainage District for years to create a Greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization. We have the support of the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority, which includes the City of Grand Junction, the City of Fruita and the Town of Palisade, to move in that direction. As pointed out in a previous letter to the editor, the Drainage District was identified as a possible solution in 2003. However, the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority was pursued at that time due to the limits of the Drainage District boundaries. It was identified in 2003 that we need a valley-wide solution. Our most recent efforts started again in February 2015.

    Unfortunately, our attempts have failed. The Drainage District is not willing to discuss amending its governance or boundaries to create one greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization. It’s truly a shame.

    If a Greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization was ever to be formed, its board would be tasked with assessing the needs of the greater Grand Valley and then determining the appropriate storm water fees. Raising fees now is putting the cart before the horse.

    That doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of the significant storm water challenges we face in the Grand Valley. It simply means we do not support the recent actions of the Drainage District. The district has ignored feedback from stakeholders, who had asked for a re-evaluation of the potential impact on businesses (that already pay a majority of the Drainage District’s mill levy). The district also ignored requests from local government partners to re-evaluate its governance structure.

    A bit more history we want our constituents to know: The Grand Valley Drainage District is a separate governmental entity formed by the Colorado State Legislature pursuant to CRS § 37-31-100, et seq. Only the three-member “elected” board has control over the district’s operations. Yet, the district has not held an election for a number of years due to lack of public interest and uncontested positions. Essentially, this has led to a self-appointed board. The only other oversight of the district lies with the Colorado Legislature and our local representatives, Sen. Ray Scott and Reps. Yeulin Willett and Dan Thurlow.

    It’s disheartening to us. We have a solution sitting right in front of us. Let’s combine the operational experience of the Drainage District, expand the district boundaries to include the entire Grand Valley, and operate the Drainage District under a fair governance system.

    The rate-payers deserve a voice at the table.

    Sincerely,
    Commissioners Rose Pugliese, 
Scott McInnis and John Justman

    COUNTERPOINT: Only one entity is doing something about the problem

    By the Grand Valley Drainage District

    For 13 years the five appointed representatives to the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority have had the power and authority to address Grand Valley-wide drainage and storm water issues.

    There has not been, nor is there now, any question as to the importance of the issue, the need to take productive action toward mitigating the problems, and the need for additional revenue to take such actions. For 13 years various interests have resisted plans that would make progress toward these objectives a reality. For 13 years nothing but talk has been created. It is interesting, and sadly ironic, to note that this dysfunctional and counterproductive 5-2-1 governance model is exactly the one being proposed by certain parties to replace the current legislatively-adopted governance of the Grand Valley Drainage District (GVDD).

    And during all this time, the expectation that the GVDD would continue to accept new and expanded responsibilities, obligations, and liabilities to deal with an urbanizing area continued to be taken for granted. The GVDD board realized that this approach to using the system we own, operate, and are financially responsible for was not sustainable. To continue its current operations, in and out of the growing urbanized area, and to accommodate the growing demand for a 21st century storm water system that would promote and sustain continued residential and commercial development, GVDD must make real progress toward addressing the drainage and storm issues within its boundaries.

    If the 5-2-1 is not ready to assume responsibility for the larger valley-wide drainage and storm water obligation, the GVDD certainly understands. The creation of drainage and storm water systems on the Redlands and Orchard Mesa is going to be a complicated and very expensive undertaking. It will be a much different prospect than expanding and improving the GVDD conveyance system that exists on the north side of the river.

    In 2013 the GVDD, under the legal authorities of Taxypayer Bill of Rights passed in 1992, created a Storm Water Enterprise to create a means by which to address the growing storm water and flooding concerns of an urbanizing area and to implement a fee to create revenue to begin that process. This TABOR enterprise mechanism has been used extensively and legally tested in Colorado. The bills that GVDD property owners have recently received are a result of these decisions on the part of the GVDD board in accordance with TABOR rules.

    After listening to considerable public comment the GVDD board has adopted a fee structure that attempts to address the interests of existing business and new development, but at the same time the board must advocate for and protect the needs and concerns of the thousands of individual residents of the GVDD. Most often they are the ones in the GVDD office asking why something cannot be done to protect their lives and their properties. We know that any fee structure will be considered less than perfect by some of those affected and we take seriously the concerns that have been brought to our attention.

    We thank the thousands of businesses and individuals who have sent in their payments to date and look forward to the improvements those payments will make to the best interests of the Grand Valley.

    Board of Directors,
    Grand Valley Drainage District

    Continental Dam update: $4.6 million renovation of the spillway and dam complete

    Continental Reservoir behind Continental Dam, Hinsdale County. Photo via Tom C. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/62572661
    Continental Reservoir behind Continental Dam, Hinsdale County. Photo via Tom C. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/62572661

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Irrigators in the San Luis Valley may get a boost thanks to the completion of a $4.6 million overhaul of a high country reservoir near Creede.

    The Santa Maria Reservoir Co. completed the renovations on Continental Reservoir and its spillway last fall, making the reservoir eligible to have storage restrictions lifted later this summer should it pass muster from state inspectors.

    The Continental was completed in 1928 and has a capacity of 27,000 acre-feet.

    But seepage through the reservoir’s dam spurred the imposition of state restrictions in the late 1980s that have limited storage to about 15,000 acre-feet, reservoir company manager Jay Yeager said.

    An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons of water.

    The added water would be a boost to the company’s 250 shareholders who irrigate on 70,000 acres on the valley floor.

    “It helps the stockholders have more options to store more water for other entities and they can store more for their needs,” Yeager said.

    While the Continental is not a large reservoir — less than a tenth of the size of Pueblo Reservoir — the added storage is significant given the small amount of storage on the Rio Grande’s headwaters.

    The Continental is only one of four reservoirs whose combined storage amounts to just under 130,000 acre-feet.

    The repairs to the reservoir included the layering of sand and gravel on the dam’s exterior designed to filter out sediment from the seeping.

    While it won’t stop the seep completely it eliminates the sediment’s potential to make that seepage worse.

    The project also included the repair of the siphon and canal system that connects the Continental to the Santa Maria Reservoir, which was also under state restrictions.

    But full capacity might not be reached this season.

    “It could take several years before it could really be full unless Mother Nature kicks in,” Yeager said.