McPhee has ‘enough water’

Users to receive full allocations

Keywords: Poll question,

Farmers and ranchers will receive full allocations this water season, according to local reservoir and irrigation managers.

Careful management of water reserves have left plenty of resources to fill the needs of water users in the area, despite an abnormally dry winter and spring.

“As far as the Dolores Project water, we’ve got enough water in (McPhee Reservoir) to meet all our obligations this year,” said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “We are going to meet our full allocations.”

However, the assurance of full allocations does not necessarily mean the water will last through the season, Preston said.

“How long the water lasts is really up to the users,” he said. “Everyone will have to live very strictly within their limits, but anyone managing their supply carefully will get their allocated water this year. It is how they are managing their share of water that is determining how far into the season they are going to be able to irrigate.”

Once water allocations are released, users are responsible for the rate of use of the resources flowing down local canals. Suppliers and users must work together to ensure water lasts through the season.

A dry spring and early summer put a strain on resources, requiring local producers to rely on project water earlier in the year than normal.

“Because of the dry conditions and the early warm weather, we had an unusually high demand in the month of May and that’s continued,” Preston said. “We are now beginning to see more average usage.”

Don Magnuson, general manager of Montezuma Valley Irrigation, agreed the overall water supply available to producers is fine, but demand has been higher at an earlier point in the year.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say the demand is higher than normal, but we have been at higher levels of use earlier than normal,” Magnuson said.

Allocations from Montezuma Valley Irrigation are holding steady at 42 inches per share, slightly lower than the 48 inches that is considered a full allocation. MVI shareholders are also in control of their own allocations this year, putting the responsibility of the water in the hands of the users.

“We are (putting shares in the hands of users) more aggressively this year than we have in the past,” Magnuson said. “We want (users) to be in control and we want them to be responsible. In a way we are putting people in control of their own destiny.”

Magnuson said the company plans to contact stockholders with individual information on shares and allocations.

Both water managers said carryover in local reservoirs from last season has been the difference this year, bridging the gap between a dry winter and irrigation season.

At the end of last irrigation season, Nov. 1, 2011, McPhee Reservoir, the source for the vast majority of irrigation water for the region, boasted active carryover storage of 141,611 acre feet. The irrigation season began on April 1 with 151,189 acre feet in the local reservoir.

The carryover numbers are actually higher than the 10-year average of 99,365 acre feet.

However, with instream flows in the Dolores River at less than 40 percent, the reservoir has not replenished itself as in past years, and a full allocation irrigation year means McPhee will reach very low levels this fall and winter.

“One of the reasons we are able to meet our allocation this year even though it’s been extremely dry is because we went into this year with good carryover storage,” Preston said. “(McPhee) was as full as its ever been when I’ve been here in terms of storage. We started in such good shape that we were able to ride out the dry year. Next year we are not going to start in such great shape.”

Latest estimates from the Bureau of Reclamation point to a 2012 carryover of just under 30,000 acre feet, far below average. Such carryover would put the reservoir in desperate need of decent winter precipitation in order to fill allocations next season.

“If we have another poor winter like last winter we will be in shortage next year,” Preston said. “There is no doubt about it.“

Recent rains have helped the situation by tamping down the need for irrigation on area crops.

“The rain is not going to make a big dent in terms of filling the reservoir, but it does suppress demand,” Preston said. “People are not out pulling as much water for irrigation because they are getting help from Mother Nature.”

In terms of reservoir recovery, Preston said drought is a multi-year game.

“McPhee holds more than a year supply of water,” he said. “The impact of drought really hits when you have multiple dry years. We can absorb one dry year, but when you start getting back-to-back dry years, that’s when it starts affecting your deliveries and you have shortage.”

Reach Kimberly Benedict at kimberlyb@cortezjournal.com.