401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

Alvey: Drought is as bad as Delta County has seen

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Tom Alvey, the Delta County representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board, provided an update on CRWCD activities and water-related issues in Delta County to county commissioners Doug Atchley, Mark Roeber and Don Suppes at the commissioners July 2 meeting.

Alvey said the drought situation is very bad, as bad as Delta County has ever seen it.

Some areas around Paonia are already running out of water. The Paonia reservoir started on June 13 and should run until August.

Minnesota Creek drainage is very short of water. Overland will be out of water by July 6, and Fruitland also is mostly out of water.

Systems off Grand Mesa are between 30 and 60 percent of normal.

"There will be severe consequences for ag production," Alvey said, "resulting in high hay prices and potential impact on fruit production.

"Uncompaghre Valley Water Users Association is in better shape with 80 percent plus, and no call on Uncompaghre yet."

Commissioner Atchley noted the sweet corn harvest begins next week.

Alvey said later plantings of corn will be shoulder high by July 4.

Alvey said some ag producers will lease water and stretch it as far as possible. Those with sprinkler systems are in better shape.

The river district provided grants for three Delta County projects: $50,000 for the Fruitland Project, $10,000 for Minnesota Ditch and $10,000 for on-farm improvements for the McPherson project in Paonia.

"In addition," Alvey said, "the salinity/RCPP projects are moving forward with Fire Mountain Ditch piping in design review, Fruitland starting design, and Crawford working on designs.

"The Paonia outlet works improvement, funded through Bureau of Reclamation, is undergoing modeling/testing and aiming for a fall 2019 start."

Alvey said the CRWCD had some issues with the Army Corps of Engineers, which requires five days of flushing to clean sediment released during last fall's work on the reservoir. The Bureau of Reclamation and NFWCD would release water for only three days because of low runoff and fears the reservoir would not fill. "We used as much water as we could have released to us," Alvey said.

The CRWCD board is supporting the Northern Conservation District NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project) following modifications to the project to safeguard West Slope water. This project will construct a new Front Range reservoir using Front Range water to provide water to several municipalities.

CRWCD is moving forward with repairs to the Wofford Reservoir and is continuing discussions with Xcel regarding Shoshone water rights.

The CRWCD board had pushed for and coordinated efforts to perform risk analyses of the water supply in the Colorado Basin, with emphasis on dangers of curtailment -- a call on the river -- under the Colorado River Compact. There was political push back from the Front Range, so the study was broken into parts.

Phase I showed that demand management would be occasionally needed under all different hydrology and demand scenarios. Without corrective action implementing drought contingency plans, the risk that Lake Powell would be drained below critical levels is real. This means that, as a practical matter, demand management will have to be designed as a water bank or reserve account.

Phase II worked to combine Bureau of Reclamation and state water models, which showed that the concept of water banks works, provided dedicated reservoir space is available and there is water in the bank when the drought begins.

Alvey said, "The task results were successful and we have the ability to look at the basin-specific questions related to demand management options."

On April 25 representatives of four basin roundtables met in Grand Junction to discuss the need for and format of a Phase III risk study. The four basins are in favor of moving Phase III forward.

A month later, May 23, the CRWCD and the Southwestern Conservation District agreed to fund the study and leave open the invitation to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to participate, but to go ahead regardless.

Alvey said, "Now Phase III will look at how a water bank might be used and what the impacts would be on individual sub basins of the Colorado River under different options.

"One large issue with a water bank is where it could be located.

"The best option would probably be using space in Lake Powell, but there are a number of problems with that plan, mainly making sure that the lower basin states could not tap the saved water.

"For now, the Phase III risk study will go forward, as will the Upper Colorado Commission efforts to gain assurances from the lower basin states that they will agree on their own drought contingency plan and honor any water banking agreement," Alvey said.

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