McPhee at its lowest in nine years

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$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$LAKE LEVELS are lower than they have been in nearly 10 years and the third-lowest in the history of McPhee Reservoir.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$ Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$LAKE LEVELS are lower than they have been in nearly 10 years and the third-lowest in the history of McPhee Reservoir.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

If you haven’t been to McPhee Reservoir lately, prepare to walk a bit longer to get to the water.

The water is low and it will get lower, according to Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

A dry winter and high irrigation demand continues to cause water to drop in McPhee.

“It’s going to come down another 24 feet,” Preston said.

There is enough water in the reservoir to meet demands this year and when the irrigation season ends, typically on Nov. 1, the lake is projected to have 36,000 acre feet of water inside and be at the elevation of 6,870 feet.

This week, the elevation of the lake was at 6,893, a drop of 12 feet in less than a week.

Preston said the lake will continue to drop and will like look more dramatic at shallow shorelines.

But even though the lake will likely drop another 24 vertical feet, it won’t be the lowest the lake has been.

At the end of 2002 there was only 4,567 acre feet of usable water left in the reservoir following the Nov. 1 end-of-season date and the elevation was 13 feet lower (6,857) than it is projected to end this year.

“That is when it looked like the river was going back into its original channel,” Preston said.

The following year, 2003, was also a low lake year. The year ended with 21,943 acre feet of water and an elevation of 6,865, just five feet lower than it is expected to end up this year.

So the lake is low this year, but it has been lower two years before.

“It’s safe to say that the lake elevation is the third lowest in the history of the project,” Preston said.

The reservoir was created about 25 years ago.

Many, including Preston, are hoping that this coming winter will be a big one following this year’s lackluster winter.

“What is going to determine where we go from here, is how good the snowpack is this winter,” Preston said.

Another bad winter could spell bad news for farmers and other water users.

“This year we are going to meet all our allocations,” Preston said. “If we have a poor winter like we did last year, we might not be able to meet all our allocations next year.”

Irrigation demand was high this year in May and June because of the dry weather, in fact, Preston the demand was the highest it has been in history and the lake wasn’t full to start because of the poor winter.

“We are just hoping for a big winter,” Preston said.