In an effort to ensure water resources for agricultural production, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe wants to purchase more water rights from the Dolores Water Conservation District.
A letter requesting the increase was sent to the conservation district in early October. Signed by tribal chairman Gary Hayes, the letter requests the purchase of 4,000 acre-feet of irrigation water for the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprise. The request was reiterated at a recent conservation district board meeting.
The Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprise currently has an allocation of 24,517 acre-feet of water from the conservation district. An acre-foot is equal to 325,829 gallons of water, enough to fill a football field to the depth of 1 foot. The tribes allocation is nearly one-third the total irrigation allocation from the conservation district. Irrigation sources outside the tribe receive allocations of 56,267 acre-feet, serving 28,500 acres.
In 2009, the tribe sought additional water leases of as much as 6,000 additional acre-feet for agriculture. For the last two years, the tribe has leased about 4,000 acre-feet a year from various water companies in the area, including the conservation district and Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.
We have an allocation of about 24,000 acre-feet that we use on the farm, but we have realized that we really need a little more water, said farm and ranch manager Paul Evans.
The Ute Mountain farm is a 7,700-acre market-oriented agricultural enterprise located on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. Though a number of crops are produced at the farm, including wheat, corn and sunflowers, the primary cash crop produced south of Cortez is hay. The annual hay crop has proved to be most valuable economically to the tribe, but it also is the most water-poor of the crops grown on the farm.
A comprehensive study of water demand and available resources in relation to the tribe prompted the request for an additional water purchase, Evans said.
The study started a couple of years ago, he said. We wanted to look into some of the water issues and see if there were opportunities for expansion.
The study the Dolores Water Conservancy District/Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reconnaissance Study is a joint effort between the tribe and the conservation district, and its purpose is twofold, said conservation district manager Mike Preston.
The underlying elements of the study are two questions: What are the water needs of the tribe and then what are the possible sources of meeting those needs, Preston said.
The additional water resource would be used solely for agriculture and not for municipal and industrial uses, Preston and Evans both said. The tribe has an allocation of 1,000 acre-feet for municipal purposes.
In examining the needs of the tribe and the possible solutions, Preston said tribal officials and conservation district board members are looking at many different options. The tribes current water rights are an allocation from the Dolores Project, which comes from McPhee Reservoir. A new water purchase most likely would come from other sources, Preston said.
One possibility would be to give them allocated water, but it is not necessarily that straightforward, he said. It is almost too premature to define the sources, but we are looking at a lot of different possibilities.
One source that is being considered for the transaction is Totten Reservoir, managed by the conservation district. Totten would be an ideal candidate for a package deal with the tribe, Preston said, because water resources are not currently being delivered from the reservoir. However, Totten would require significant upgrades before any water deliveries could start.
Preston and Evans expect the process of determining whether or not there is an available package of water for the tribe to take at least a year.
The two parties also are considering the possibility of placing a hydropower plant on the Towaoc Canal.