Region in ‘good shape’ when it comes to water

Even a dry winter isn’t cause for concern

Despite erratic precipitation over the year, most area water users were not left high and dry.

They will likely have water again next year, according to officials with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. This contrasts with droughts on Colorado’s Front Range and Texas.

“We’re in as good of shape as we have ever been,” DWCD Manager Mike Preston said. “We had 63 percent of active capacity in the reservoir. And that means that we’re carrying a good supply for next year.”

After a relatively dry winter, spring precipitation arrived later than usual, resulting in a full reservoir and prolonged dam spill for recreational boating on the Lower Dolores River.

After the spill, a hot and dry summer resulted in heavy irrigation, Preston said, which was alleviated at the end of the irrigation season by fall storms.

As of Wednesday, the McPhee Reservoir stood at an elevation of 6,903.6 feet with an active capacity of 145,045 acre feet of water. The reservoir has a 229,182 acre foot maximum active capacity. An acre foot is equivalent to 325,851.4 gallons of water.

In the event of a dry winter, there would still be enough water next year for drinking and irrigation, Preston said. In the event of heavy precipitation, there would also be enough excess water for another spill on the Lower Dolores River.

Cooler equatorial ocean waters resulted in a weather phenomenon known as La Nina — which often results in more precipitation to the Northwest and less precipitation to the Southwest. The phenomenon could carry on into this winter. The Four Corners Area is located on the border with the La Nina jet stream, Preston said. This makes forecasting the area’s precipitation difficult.

“That’s what’s tricky about being in the Four Corners,” he said. “You get something like a La Nina, it can swing either way for you.”

Weather and logistics permitting, a new monitor known as a SNOTEL, or snow pack telemetry, may be installed and operational by spring — improving water managers’ ability to measure snow pack and forecast water runoff, Preston said.

DWCD manages the water supply for the Dolores Project and McPhee Reservoir, which stores a majority of irrigation and drinking water for the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation as well as Montezuma and Dolores Counties.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released the September-end status of Jackson Gulch Jackson Gulch reservoir, which serves Mancos and the surrounding area, at a live content of 3,938 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 4,576 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 43/0 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 29 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

This year marks DWCD’s 50th year in operation. The public is invited to a celebration scheduled for 12 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Dolores Community Center, 400 Riverside Avenue in Dolores. Call 565-7562 to RSVP.

Reach Reid Wright at reidw@cortezjournal.com