The drought and extremely low winter snowpack are wreaking havoc on water supplies for reservoirs and irrigators in Southwest Colorado.
Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs are at their lowest level in 16 years, said Brandon Johnson, general manager for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.
“We have less water than expected coming from the Dolores River,” he said. Narraguinnep is out of irrigation water and is down to the minimum level for a fish pool.
The limited water supply caused a reduction in allocations for MVIC shareholders Thursday to 36 inches, or 3 acre-feet per share. Shareholders who have reached that allocation will be shut off on Friday.
During normal snowpack years, a full allocation is 48 inches, or 4 acre-feet per share.
“We’re hoping people conserve and stretch out what we have left,” Johnson said.
A date has not been set for the entire system to be shut off for the season, he said.
Groundhog Reservoir has a capacity of 21,700 acre-feet, but is at 11,000 acre-feet right now, Johnson said. It is expected to be drawn down to the minimum level of 4,000 acre-feet that is required for the fish pool.
During normal years, Groundhog is kept at 13,000 acre-feet going into winter.
“It will take two to three years of normal winters to refill Groundhog,” Johnson said.
MVIC owns Groundhog and Narraguinnep and also has storage and water rights in McPhee Reservoir. MVIC officials are releasing water from Groundhog, via the Dolores River, into McPhee to be delivered into the MVIC canal system.
As a result, the Dolores River is running at 182 cubic feet per second, but 150 cfs of that is coming from the Groundhog Reservoir release.
The irrigation supply in McPhee Reservoir is also running low, but the system is still delivering water, said engineer Ken Curtis.
Farmers had shortages this year, and the season was reduced from the usual three cuttings of alfalfa to two cuttings for most farmers.
During average years, irrigation supply in McPhee is 240,000 acre-feet of water, but this year, only 150,000 acre-feet was available, or 60 percent of normal. And most of the supply was carried over from the previous above-average winter.
There will be no carryover going into next year’s water season. Municipal drinking water supply including for Towaoc, Cortez, Dove Creek and Montezuma Water Co. will continue to receive their full allocations from McPhee Reservoir, and there are no shortages. Domestic water supply for Dolores is also not in jeopardy.
“We need a really good winter to get back to normal, and chances are it will be at least a couple of years before there is another fill and spill for boaters,” Curtis said.
Reservoir managers are monitoring the Plateau Creek Fire, on a tributary of McPhee. If the fire got large enough, the burn scar could cause erosion and debris to flow into the reservoir.
Despite recent rains, the Four Corners area is still in an exceptional drought, the highest level listed by the U.S Drought Monitor.