Exceptional drought conditions could force the town of Bayfield to tap into its reserve water storage this summer in Vallecito Reservoir.
The town usually relies on water in the Los Pinos Ditch, but by July, there may not be enough water to fulfill the town’s water rights in the ditch, Town Manager Chris LeMay said. La Plata County is in the most critical drought listing by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The town’s reserves in Vallecito and its own reservoir are somewhat limited, which may necessitate purchasing additional water rights this summer, LeMay said.
Bayfield spends $11,385 annually to lease 90 acre-feet of water in Vallecito, enough to meet the town’s average summer consumption for 45 days, he said. It can also store 30 acre-feet of water in the town’s reservoir, which could meet average consumption needs for about 15 days, he said. The town consumes an average of 2 acre-feet of water a day during the summer, he said.
“We would definitely have to ratchet down our consumption,” he said.
The need to tap into those reserves hinges on the monsoon, or the rainy season. The Climate Prediction Center released a report earlier this month predicting “above-average” precipitation in July, August and September.
“If that takes place, that could change the game,” LeMay said.
Drought conditions prompted the town to consider purchasing one-time water rights from the Pine River Irrigation District, as it did in 2002. A decision about purchasing similar rights this year has not been made.
Annual irrigation limits began May 15 in Bayfield, which limits residents to watering their yards only every other day. A persistent drought could force Bayfield to institute more stringent irrigation restrictions. Residents are also prohibited from watering during the day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As the town has grown, annual water restrictions have helped Bayfield make due with existing water rights, he said.
To serve a growing population, the town filed a case in water court to convert agricultural water rights in the Los Pinos Ditch to municipal and industrial water rights. If those rights can be converted, it would be enough to meet the town’s needs for the next 30 years. The water case, filed in 2015, could be decided this year, LeMay said.
The town could still be challenged in dry years when there is not enough water to fulfill the town’s water rights, LeMay said. The town holds a Priority 4 water right. Colorado water law dictates that the highest priority water rights are fulfilled first in drought years.