The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has stepped up to repair a forgotten headgate and inlet pipe designed to fill two retainment ponds on the edge of McPhee Reservoir near Dolores.
The system is designed to prevent mudflats from forming on the outskirts of town when the reservoir is low. The two large ponds also provide fishing habitat with convenient access for the public.
“We got it fixed, and water is flowing into the ponds like it should,” said Vern Harrell, a BOR engineer with the Cortez office. “The repair was a fairly basic and took less than three days.”
The ponds and supply inlet from the Dolores River were first installed when McPhee was completed in the 1980s but fell into disrepair several years ago.
Boulders positioned to pool river water into the pipe had sloughed away, leaving the headgate above water level. And the pipe itself had settled and was blocked with silt.
In years of normal snowpack, runoff fills the reservoir, including the two ponds and river channel up to the edge of Joe Rowell Park.
But when a lingering drought began in 2002, the reservoir remained below normal for many years and the ponds were left without a fresh supply of water because of the broken system. They became stagnant, triggering an algae bloom and a noticeable odor.
In March, the problem worsened when a severe lack of dissolved oxygen in the ponds caused a significant fish kill, adding to the stench and creating an eyesore.
Jurisdictional mysteryIn 2014, reservoir managers were made aware of the problem by The Journal and local citizens.
A subsequent investigation by the Bureau of Reclamation, Dolores Water Conservancy District and San Juan National Forest Service revealed that jurisdiction of the pond’s inlet system was unclear.
The Bureau of Reclamation owns the reservoir infrastructure, Water Conservancy District manages irrigation, and the national forest manages lake recreation. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is responsible for the fishery.
Further clouding the issue, after McPhee was completed, the Bureau of Reclamation transferred management of the docks, lake bed and shoreline over to the forest service under a Memorandum of Agreement.
But key reservoir and irrigation infrastructure remained in Bureau of Reclamation jurisdiction. However, who exactly should manage the pond inlet system fell through the cracks. The question is still unresolved, but the local Bureau of Reclamation decided to cut through the red tape for now.
“I told my bosses, let’s fix it, and we’re very pleased with how it turned out,” Harrell said.
So is fisherman Jim Koenig, of Dolores, who has been pushing for a solution for years.
“I’m real happy they solved the problem. When the ponds are full, it looks good and improves the fishing,” he said. “I like to fish those ponds, and so do a lot of others, because they are close to town.”