Front Range apple cideries buy up juice from Montezuma County — The Cortez Journal

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain
La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Local apples were once again pressed into juice for market during a successful pilot project held in a Lebanon orchard last month.

The event, sponsored by the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, processed 800 bushels of apples gathered from local orchards.

“It went really well, we generated 2,200 gallons of raw juice that was sold to hard cider makers,” said MORP manager Nina Williams.

The group is studying the feasibility of using a mobile pressing unit to process apples from the many forgotten local orchards that otherwise let the fruit go to waste.

They were awarded a $42,400 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test the idea.

For two days in October, Northwest Mobile Juicing, out of Montana, set up in the Russell apple orchard in Lebanon. The unit can press, pasteurize, and package the juice for market.

For the pilot, the raw juice could only be sold to hard cider companies for fermentation. Additional permits are needed to sell pasteurized apple juice.

“We proved we can get if off the trees for sale to the hard cider market,” Williams said. “If the demand is there we can work through the regulations to sell local juice as well.”

Several orchard owners realized some profits from the project, and were paid 10 cents per pound for apples still on the tree.

A dedicated crew of twenty MORP volunteers spend 300 hours picking the apples in the weeks prior to the pressing. In all, nine apple orchard owners were paid $3,500 for their apples.

One local cider maker and four from Boulder and Denver bought the raw juice. A semi-truck was loaded with the juice for a night run to Front Range cideries.

“They were impressed with the quality,” Williams said. “The juice was a blend of local heritage apple varieties.”

Apple mash produced was hauled off by local livestock owners for feed.

MORP said they broke even on the trial run, and are studying how best to set up a local pressing facility.

“We learned that there is a lot of labor and infrastructure involved besides just the pressing equipment,” Williams said.

Commercial apple operations require warehouses, shipping docks, refrigerated cold storage to store apples, and heavy equipment such as trucks and forklifts.

MORP has been documenting once popular heritage apple varieties from the days when the area was a thriving fruit market more than 100 years ago.

They have brought many of them back to life through careful grafting and propagation techniques, and are encouraging local farmers to plant heritage apple orchards.

“Our big goals is to bring back this genetic diversity to keep heritage apples from going extinct, and to get it so people can have these trees again,” said MORP orchardist Jude Schuenemeyer. “Trees that worked here for over 100 years are really well adapted to this place.”

A recent victory for MORP was the rediscovery of the rare Colorado orange apple in a Cañon City orchard in 2012. For the last several years, local orchardists have been grafting and cultivating this near-extinct apple known for its fine flavor, hardiness, storage qualities, and cider-making potential.

There are dozens of abandoned apple orchards in the county that still produce a good crop, but have a limited market. The juice market is seen as ideal because the apples do not have to be perfect and the ones that fall on the ground can be used as well.

“One of our goals is to get local orchards back in shape by hosting workshops this winter on pruning and orchard management,” Williams said.

For more information go to http://www.montezumaorchard.org

Dolores River: @CWCB_DNR instream right calls out Groundhog Reservoir diversion until November 1

View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via dcasler.com.
View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via dcasler.com.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The call was initiated to satisfy in-stream flow rights below McPhee Dam of 78 cubic feet per second, but local water managers say the water will never get there.

In-stream flow rights are administered by the water board to preserve the natural environment in state rivers to a reasonable degree. They are a priority water right senior to some, but junior to others.

A call is made to maintain a water right’s priority in the Colorado system of prior appropriation, commonly referred to as “first in line, first in right.”

Because of the call initiated this month, a man-made ditch diverting water from Little Fish creek and Clear creek to Groundhog was shut off, allowing the creeks to flow naturally into the Dolores River via the West Fork.

Marty Robbins, District 32 water commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said the call caused water administrators to enforce Groundhog’s one-time fill system that legally allows the reservoir to only fill from Nov. 1 to May 1. Groundhog Reservoir, owned by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., typically diverts the streams into the reservoir year-round.

“Just because it has been done before, does not mean it can when there is a call,” Robbins said. “These calls may happen more regularly.”

On Nov. 1, the reservoir will go back on priority for filling, and the diversion ditch will be reopened, officials said.

The administrative call sends the creek water into the upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, managed by the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

But Dolores Water Conservation District general manager Mike Preston says the extra water will stay in the reservoir and not flow through the dam to the lower Dolores River.

“McPhee’s water rights are senior to that in-stream flow right, and we have a storage right that allows for refill,” he said.

The in-stream flow water right on the Lower Dolores River is intended to preserve habitat for native fish, including the round-tail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker. Federal and state biologists have reported that an increase in flows below the dam is needed to improve native fish habitat.

But the unexpected call by the state for delivery of in-stream water rights had an unintended consequence of threatening trout elsewhere, said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

The diversion ditch from Clear Creek to Groundhog Reservoir supports trout population, he said, but they became doomed when the water was cut off.

“Explain to me how water can be diverted for native fish, but is allowed to hurt trout?” he said.

Brandon Johnson, manager for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., said the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s administrative “call presents issues at Groundhog we were not anticipating.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also made administrative calls for in-stream flows rights on other rivers in the state to establish that the rights exist and to reveal if any water users are out of priority, officials said. The calls were made after irrigation season so they would be the least disruptive.

The additional water flowing into McPhee as a result of the call will be divided among allocation holders in 2017, Dolores Water Conservation District officials said.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Mussel risk at McPhee could limit boat access — The Cortez Journal

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A plan is being considered by local, state and federal agencies to close the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps with locked gates during times when boat inspectors are absent. The new management strategy would go into effect in 2017.

Currently, there are no gates at the boat ramps, and trailered boats can launch after hours when boat inspection stations are unattended.

“It is important to fill the inspection gaps, because the problems and expense of mussel contamination are severe,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages irrigation at McPhee reservoir…

Their presence causes damage and vastly increases maintenance costs long-term. They negatively impact the lake’s sport fishery by filtering the water and competing for food.

McPhee is considered an at-risk lake for the mussels because of its proximity to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which are heavily contaminated with the mussel…

Locals know about the problem, and understand the importance of draining and drying their boats, Preston said.

“The worry is a visitor arrives with an infected boat that slips through. It just takes one,” he said.

DWCD, the Bureau of Reclamation, San Juan National Forest, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife signed a memorandum last week to share long-term costs and management for the proposal to improve the McPhee boat inspection program. The program currently costs $85,000 per year to run.

McPhee’s two boat inspection stations typically analyze between 8,000 and 12,000 trailered boats per year since 2009, and the numbers have increased in the past two years.

This year at McPhee, the number of boats needing decontamination went up 40 percent, managers said.

The new plan would limit access for the public such as for boaters wanting to put on early in the morning, or late evening, before and after the boat inspection stations are open. Access during shoulder seasons would also be reduced because inspections stations are open less.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels
Zebra and Quagga Mussels

Dolores River: Balancing streamflow forecast and boating releases from McPhee

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A sporadic 12-day boating release from McPhee dam into the Dolores River in June was hampered by uncertain runoff forecasts after a late-season snowfall, reservoir managers said at community meeting Tuesday in Dolores.

Boaters faced on-again, off-again announcements of whitewater releases from the dam, which complicated their plans for trips down the river. It was the dam’s first whitewater release since 2011.

A 22-day rafting season was forecast as possible in March when snowpack registered at 130 percent of its median normal. A two-month dry spell erased the advantage, and the release was adjusted to five to 10 days of boating for late May. The forecast then dropped to a three-day release in early June, and after it was confirmed days later, hundreds of boaters flocked to the Dolores as it filled below the dam.

“Small spills are the most difficult and tricky to manage,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir.

But on the fourth day, managers said they realized the volume of river inflow was more than the reservoir could handle, and the dam release was extended nine additional days.

“The second spill was highly under-utilized,” said boater Kent Ford, who added that the lack of notice “killed a lot of multi-day trips.”

Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Cortez, attributed the uncertainty to the narrow margin of runoff expected to exceed reservoir capacity.

The runoff forecast has a margin of error of 10 percent, “and this year, the spill was within that 10 percent,” Harrell said.

Decisions about dam releases rely on forecasts from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, which depends on Snotels that measure snowpack in the Dolores Basin.

When there is possibility for a small spill, managers don’t have the tools to give a lot of notice, Harrell said, so decisions are made day-to-day based on river inflow and reservoir levels.

“By May, all the Snotels are melted out, and we are in the blind,” he said.

In small spill years, managers said they err on the side of caution when announcing the number of days available for boaters. They want to ensure that the reservoir remains full, but they don’t want to end a dam release prematurely.

“We have to be careful we don’t leave boaters stranded on the river,” Harrell said.

Ken Curtis, an engineer with Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the priority is to fill the reservoir, and if there is excess water, it is managed for a boating release.

It was especially difficult to forecast runoff into the reservoir this year, he said, because much of the late-season precipitation came as rainfall.

“In May, we called off the spill because we were not reaching our reservoir elevation,” he said. “Then the forecasters bumped us up by 30,000 acre-feet,” enough for a small spill.

At the end of a five-day release, the forecast center showed a dip in river inflow, “so we started to shut the gates, but the river inflow was hanging in there,” and the spill was extended several days.

Managers acknowledged that they were rusty managing the release. They’d faced many dry winters that hadn’t filled the reservoir, and the unusual winter of 2015-16 complicated the matter.

Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said boaters and the reservoir managers cooperate on potential spills, and this year was a learning experience.

After dam release, river runs through the Lower Dolores — The Durango Herald

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Overgrown banks, loads of sediment in the waterway and a depleted fishery cast a pale backdrop to an otherwise awe-inspiring float down the lower Dolores River, known for its deep canyons, lush ponderosa forests and seemingly endless succession of whitewater.

“And all of that is just a reflection of the channel starting to reflect the current hydrology,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White. “It has changed.”

[…]

Today, water out of McPhee Reservoir, considered the most expensive allotments in the Southwest, mainly supplies farms growing alfalfa, one of the most water-intensive crops used to feed cattle.

The divisive interests between farmers and recreationists have caused a debate over water rights to rage on for almost four decades.

A different riverSince the dam operates on a “fill, then spill” policy, enough water to float the lower Dolores River is only released when the dam is at capacity, and there’s no other place to store inflows.

That hadn’t happened since 2011 – until this year, when two small releases allowed boaters as well as wildlife officials to get an inside peek at what’s been happening to the long-neglected stretch of river.

And it didn’t look good.

The wildlife division’s White said a survey of the 19-mile stretch from Bradfield Bridge to the Dove Creek Pump Station found only 150 brown trout, a non-native species, and came up nearly empty-handed on native species.

“The loss of consistent spring flow to maintain habitat, coupled with altered base flow regimes, just all adds up to where we’re seeing reduced numbers of native species,” White said. “But what struck me, just the abundance of fish in general, native and non-native, is low through that part of the canyon.”

Another discernable transformation noted by many boaters was the unbridled vegetation that has started to bottleneck the river’s original channel. It was one of the most striking changes Sam Carter, board president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, noticed on his trip this year.

“The overgrowth was intense, and dangerous,” Carter said. “There were two places that made it dangerous to move in a rapid.”

Carter said for the most part, this year’s release was a success: The large turnout of Dolores River aficionados worked together at boat launches, the weather made for hot days and warm nights, and the past year’s lack of access to the river left campgrounds, and the canyon in general, as wild as ever.

Yet a larger issues looms.

“This one spill is not the answer,” Carter said. “There has to be a change in the paradigm how that water is used. The river is getting killed. It’s a slow process, but it is happening.”

Is change possible?Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores River Water Conservancy District, said at this point, it is “highly, highly unlikely” that any changes would occur to the management plan for the Dolores River.

Preston, a boater himself who took a trip on the Dolores River this year, said many farmers in the area made large investments setting farms up based on the water allocations.

“One boating day at 1,000 cubic feet per second is enough water to irrigate 1,000 acres for a full season,” he said. “And the farmers are paying us to maintain the facilities. And they also make payments to the federal government.”

Indeed, John Porter, a farmer turned Dolores Water Conservancy District manager who retired in 2002, said he’s clear in his bias for use of the river.

“There’s another side of it,” Porter said. “Do you just quit farming in this area and leave the water in the river? Until McPhee, it was dry river in the summertime because all the water was diverted. This project at least keeps it as a full-time river.”

Though the Dolores flowed anywhere from 800 to 1,500 cfs during the release, river levels throughout the year remain chronically low. In 2013, for instance, the river was at a trickle at just 13 cfs. The boating advocate’s president Carter said that doesn’t exactly constitute a healthy, flourishing river.

Carter said the group is “very actively” working on ways to secure annual releases out of McPhee for the benefit of recreationists and the environment.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re definitely working on it,” Carter said.

But for now, as the Dolores River slowly returns to its dispossessed flows, boaters look with a mixture of frustration and optimism toward next year.

“It was very much a bigger adventure than I think most people anticipated,” said Josh Munson, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates. “Many longtime boaters noted the same things. It was faster, more wild. But the lack of water is really changing the characteristic of the river itself.

“When there isn’t a recreational release, it really isn’t much of a river.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Hundreds of boaters raft Dolores for first time in four years — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Over the weekend, hundreds of boaters took advantage of a three-day whitewater release on the Dolores River below McPhee dam, the first in four years.

Reservoir managers said Sunday, the minimum rafting flows will continue until at least Tuesday, June 7.

The weekend whitewater release was announced last week on short notice, and within hours, the boat ramps at Bradfield Bridge and Dove Creek Pumphouse began filling up local boaters and their brightly colored rafts, kayaks, canoes and dories…

Friday morning, a parade of boats disappeared into the sunny Ponderosa Gorge, the first leg of 97-mile stretch to Slick Rock that features rapids, camp spots, remote hiking and spectacular scenery.

Bears roamed the shorelines and campsites, and were startled by the sudden presence of humans. River otters swam among boaters, and desert big horn sheep looked on from above.

A new rock fall in the river at mile-marker 17.2 can be skirted river left.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Whitewater release announced for the Lower Dolores — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiga):

Reservoir managers have announced a 10-day spill at an approximate rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second. However the plan is to begin the release the first weekend of June instead of over Memorial Day as forecasted last week.

“There will be a spill, and by pushing it forward we’re setting up the boaters for a longer season with improved rafting flows,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Warmer weather beyond the current five-day forecast could accelerate the start of the spill by a few days.

McPhee will fill and provide full farmer allocations, with an estimated left-over water for rafting.

Cooler, stormy weather and significant snowpack holding in the mountains forced managers to adjust the timing of the spill until the first weekend of June.

Reservoir managers are waiting on a second peak runoff from remaining snowpack.

Preston said the decision for the delay is to avoid the possibility two small spills and their associated ramp-up and ramp-down water needs. For safety, spills are gradually increased 200 cfs at a time, then reversed at the end of the controlled spill.

Releasing rafting flows for Memorial Day weekend was not seen as ideal for boaters because managers would have to stop it to allow the reservoir to fill. Then a second spill would likely be required to avoid overfilling the reservoir as the second peak finishes coming down.

“Delaying for one release saves ramping water to extend the season,” Preston said.

The benefits of a single combined spill of rafting flows allows for longer trips and less down-river congestion of boaters.

The district worked closely with the Dolores River Boating Advocates on the early June release decision.

“There has been definite improvement in communication between the reservoir managers and the boating community,” said DRBA board member Wade Hanson. “DWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation have been on the ball with timely public notice about a release.”

Boaters should be aware of some new changes on the Lower Dolores River.

The usual private land available for a public take-out/put-in at Slickrock is closed.

However, another landowner is negotiating with the DRBA to open public access point on land just downstream of the bridge at Slick Rock near the old store.

Farther down river, the BLM’s Big Gypsum Valley river access remains open.

Boaters should be especially alert this season on the Lower Dolores because it has not been floated for many years.

A large boulder fall has been reported in Ponderosa Gorge upstream of the Dove Creek pump house at mile 17, and debris flows and log jams are a real possibility.

Also expect campsites throughout the 100-mile section to Bedrock to be overgrown.

“It’s exciting to get on the Lower Dolores after all these years,” said Hanson said. “We will be taking a lot of pictures and GPS coordinates of the campsites to inform the public.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed