The drought is over, and the 2017 water season is looking good for the region.
“We’re in good shape to fill the reservoir. We’ve got enough snow on the ground,” Dolores Water Conservancy District Engineer Ken Curtis told Southwest Colorado Livestock Association members at their meeting this month.
The association held its annual meeting at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal officials also spoke at the event, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
He said there is about 300,000 acre-feet of water in the snowpack for the McPhee Reservoir basin. However, the reservoir will be able to store only about 90,000 additional acre-feet, he said.
“We’re going to get a chance to do a lot of active management,” he said.
With water levels looking good, a recreation spill downriver is likely, but it’s early, he said. Water officials will have to work hard to manage the above-average snowpack levels this season, he said.
Curtis also discussed the issue of mussels in waterways. The invasive quagga and zebra mussels have infiltrated the Great Lakes and are slowly making their way across the West, he said. Colorado has avoided an infestation, but they have appeared as close as Lake Powell.
If mussels get to the Western Slope, they could cause costly damage to water infrastructure, such as dams and irrigation equipment.
Recreational boat inspections have been taking place on McPhee Reservoir and House Creek, but funding has decreased for inspections in recent years, he said. Hopefully funding will stabilize soon for the inspections, Curtis said, but in the meantime, access may be limited to recreational areas in 2017.
McPhee should be open seven days a week, but House Creek will probably only be open four days a week, he said.
Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs, has also been closing boat access to those lakes because of the mussel risk.
The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy District are raising money to continue boat inspections at McPhee and House Creek, he said.
The boat inspection program costs about $95,000 per year, and the Forest Service previously covered that cost, Curtis said.
“This isn’t a one-and-done issue,” he said. “We’ve got to get ahead of this, so we’re going to put the gates up in 2017.”