Storms raise McPhee forecast

Reservoir full-service users getting 15 inches per acre, district says

The news continues to improve for irrigators planning for this year's crops season, thanks to recent snowstorms.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir, forecasts full-service users will receive at least 15 inches per allocated acre of the 22 inches of a full contractual amount.

"It is an improvement from our last prediction of 11 inches," said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. "But we will need additional snowpack in the next 6-10 weeks to fill the reservoir and deliver a full supply."

Water officials emphasize that the 15 inches is the minimum amount expected to be delivered based on current snowpack levels measured at five different locations in the river basin.

According to a March 7 letter sent to irrigators, "If conditions completely dry out, the worst case works out to 70 percent or 15 inches per allocated acre."

Late summer monsoon rains that recharged the soil is a major factor for the improved outlook.

Instead of soaking into the ground as it did in Spring 2013 due to a extremely dry 2012, snowmelt this year will reach the reservoir more.

"The improved soil moisture will prevent us from totally cratering like last year," said Ken Curtis, a DWCD engineer.

Last year, full-service irrigators received just 25 percent of their total allocation, or about 6 inches of water per acre. Instead of three cuttings of alfalfa, most farmers harvested just one.

The latest water news is critical for farmers, who begin ordering fertilizer and seed now for the upcoming growing season. Calculations of how much to plow also depend on estimated water supplies.

"If we get a weather build up, it will just improve from the 15 inches," Preston said.

Reservoir managers get a more accurate view in the next 6 weeks as winter winds down and snowpack levels are certain. By May most of the runoff conditions are set.

If the high country received 4-6 inches of snow each week through April, managers predict the reservoir would reach its full irrigation supply.

On the down side, lower elevation snow is lower than normal. Also, because there is no carryover storage from last year's dry conditions, McPhee reservoir will end very low and lack carry over storage for a third straight year.

Additional information will follow as forecasts are updated and the water begins to fill McPhee, the ultimate measure of "in the bank" guarantee.