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Conservancy district considers future of Dry Gulch

“The drying of the West,” “Ideas for shoring up West’s water supply include melting icebergs,” “Colorado River water crunch coming,” “West Slope eyes ‘water bank’.”

These are a few of the headlines published by state and national newspapers and magazines dealing with water in Colorado.

The thought of water shortage in Archuleta County due to drought, climate change or the looming renegotiation of the Colorado River Compact are concerns that the members of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) take to heart.

During their last board meeting on Tuesday night, Lead Water Commissioner Pete Kasper presented the board with an update on the Upper San Juan Basin snow water equivalent (SWE) levels. As of April 15, SWE was at 13.4 inches. The same time last year, SWE was 30 inches.

While this is significantly less than average, and a cause for concern, Kasper presented the SWE for 2002 on April 15 - 1.90 inches.

Kasper also presented the current discharge on the San Juan River. The San Juan peaked thus far this year at 1,000 cubic fee per second (cfs) on April 11. By April 11, 400 cfs.

“That’s water that’s gone by before anyone wanted to use it for anything,” Kasper said.

Kasper also announced that he will be leaving Pagosa Springs to work in Pueblo. Before he departed, though, Kasper gave some parting advice to the SJWCD board, “As far as Dry Gulch, 6,000 acre feet is going to be enough for the community. If there was a need for 30,000 acre feet reservoir, people wouldn’t want to live here.”

After Kasper left, the board had a lengthy discussion on Dry Gulch Reservoir, the state it was in, the local need for it, different possibilities of partnerships to complete the project and the financial implication the district and possibly the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation district would incur if the project was not completed.

“I think we should look at this as a future reservoir, not at 36,000 acre feet, but 11,000 as was adjudicated,“ director Windsor Chacey said.

Val Valentine, a local water consultant and former Colorado water commissioner, said that 36,000 acre feet was the original reservoir size (the size for the reservoir on both the grant and loan applications for the Colorado Water Conservation Board) based on what the valley can support.

Chacey also mentioned that, right now, water rights, in particular senior water rights, are being sought by water districts around the state, including PAWSD.

“But how wet are these water rights in a drought situation?” Chacey asked, meaning that in a drought situation, when senior rights may take the call on water, will these water rights be effective?

Valentine then mentioned that typically reservoirs are built for five-year drought cycles. However, Stevens Reservoir and Lake Hatcher are filled with water diverted from Fourmile Creek via the Dutton Ditch pipeline. According to PAWSD operations manager Gene Tautges, in an interview with SUN staff, once Lake Hatcher is full, the water spills south to the Piedra River Basin. When Stevens Reservoir fills, it spills to the lower lakes, Lake Pagosa, Village Lake and Lake Forest, via an open ditch connection.

Chacey, who until next month is also a member of the PAWSD board, said that PAWSD has a project to interconnect the reservoirs, but still she wonders if this storage will be adequate in a drought situation.

“There’ll be nothing to pump,” director Jack Delange said.

Thus, the reason for water storage such as Dry Gulch Reservoir. While the SJWCD board did not come to a consensus on how many acre feet the reservoir should be, it was agreed that it should go with the adjudicated water rights of 11,000 acre feet. However, to make a reservoir of that size, additional land both from the Forest Service and the Laverty family is needed. If the land could not be acquired, then building a reservoir the size of the land already acquired by SJWCD and PAWSD is the desired option.

Director Rod Profitt said that while attending the Southwest Water Conservation District’s annual seminar in Durango on April 6 many organizations and individuals showed interest in the reservoir project, in particular the Nature Conservancy. Profitt went on to say they were interested in seeing the reservoir site.

“Maybe that’s what’s in need, another tour of the reservoir site,” Valentine said, adding later that the Upper San Juan River Basin is one of the only basins in southwest Colorado without storage.

Delange suggested that they look into flagging the area where the reservoir would potentially be built, giving people a better visual. The board agreed that if it was a reasonable cost, they would flag the site.

The SJWCD board also agreed that a tour for interested parties and new members of boards in the communities would be appropriate at this time.

“We don’t want to lose the history,” board member Larry Ash said.

Profitt agreed and added that he sees Dry Gulch as a “real opportunity.”

The SJWCD also has four board vacancies, including that of the president. Ash agreed to take the board chair until July when the situation could be reevaluated.

Profitt said, in the summer, he might have more time and would consider taking the board chair.

SJWCD would like to see more geographical and professional interest areas better represented in the SJWCD.

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