A hefty snowpack and relatively full municipal storage means farms will get a larger than usual share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year.
About 80 percent, or 44,000 of the 55,000 acre-feet allocated by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday, will go to irrigation companies throughout the Arkansas River basin. In addition, agricultural interests were allocated 20,000 acre-feet in return flows. A total of 28 ditches and three well groups will benefit.
That water comes on top of about 12,000 acre-feet leased earlier this year by Pueblo Water to farms, ditches or well associations…
“The extra water which the municipalities have no place to store is always welcome in Crowley County and the Arkansas Valley,” said Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer who heads the allocation committee of the district.
The Southeastern allocation is about 25 percent above average, thanks to a snowpack that remains heavy and is still growing. The Fry-Ark water is imported from the Upper Colorado River basin through the 5.4-mile long Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake.
More than half of the water is reserved for cities, but if they have no place to store it, it is allocated to agriculture. Fry-Ark water sells for $7 per acre-foot, plus surcharges that pay for programs that benefit water users. By comparison, Pueblo Water leases averaged $55 per acre-foot this year.
The district expects to bring more than 68,000 acre-feet into the Arkansas River basin this year, but prior commitments such as the Pueblo fish hatchery, evaporation and transit loss adjustments are made before the amount of water sold can be determined.
The Southeastern district guarantees 80 percent of the water, holding back some in case the runoff fails to meet projections. The Boustead Tunnel can only take a certain amount of water at one time and only when sufficient flows, as determined by court decrees, are available on the Western Slope. The remaining 20 percent is delivered when the district determines flows will be sufficient.
That should not be a problem this year, as the Bureau of Reclamation projected imports to be about 77,000 acre-feet, well above the amount Southeastern factored in.
For municipal allocations, the Fountain Valley Authority was able to take about 7,000 acre-feet, or half of its entitlement. Pueblo Water and Pueblo West are not seeking any water. Cities east of Pueblo claimed 3,132 acre-feet, while cities west of Pueblo were allocated 1,164. Most chose not to request their full allocation.
Allocating Fry-Ark water is the primary function of the Southeastern District, which was formed in 1958 to provide supplemental water to the Arkansas River basin.