McPhee increases water for farmers

Supply rebounds in part because of conservation

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, operators of McPhee Reservoir, announced Aug. 14 that additional irrigation water will be available to farmers.

Farmers now have access to up to 28 inches of water per acre, with additional delivery charges beginning at 24 inches. The previous cutoff was 20 inches.

In a twist of irony, the drought helped water supply.

"There was less demand this year as farmers scaled back operations after last year's very dry conditions," said Vern Harrell, Cortez manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. "Planting less and going to crops that don't demand so much water are reasons the water became available."

Last year's severe shortage left farmers with just 6 inches per acre of water for irrigation, enough for one cutting of alfalfa. Farmers here typically get three to four cuttings.

But this year, conservation efforts freed up water for others to finish the season strong, and recent rains helped reduce demand and fill the reservoir with Dolores River runoff."The combination of rains and less demand resulted in additional water for allocation," said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. "Once we were sure the water was available, the board took action to allow for it."

Compared with last year, McPhee Reservoir's in a much better condition.

Levels are measured in elevation. On Aug. 19, 2014, lake elevation was recorded at 6,879 feet, 17 feet higher than the same day last year, and current active capacity is up almost 400 percent, going from 15,818 acre-feet to 62,731 acre-feet available as of Aug. 19.

River flows at Dolores spiked to 150 cubic feet per second on Aug. 8, dropped to 94 cfs on Aug. 11, then jumped to 125 cfs on Aug. 14.

"It will be nice to go into the off season with some significant carryover, but we will have to wait and see if the monsoons continue to produce," Harrell said.