Rifle Gap’s water stores sapped
The water level in Rifle Gap is lower than it’s been in more than 20 years.After several years of below-average snowfall in the high country, the reservoir was less than 100 acre-feet from what water experts call a “dead pool.”An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land a foot deep in water and is enough to supply a family of four with a year’s worth of water. “They went down as far as they could go,” Rifle Parks senior ranger Pete Firmin said of the Silt Water Conservancy District, the organization that allocates water from Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap reservoirs. “It’ll gradually start to increase from now on.”Firmin guessed it could take years of average snowfall to get the reservoir’s level back to normal. Harvey Gap, on the other hand, has filled every year since the drought started. That, Firmin said, is because Harvey Gap is smaller and has a higher priority than Rifle Gap in the state’s water rights system. Firmin said the two reservoirs exist primarily to store irrigation water, not provide a place for recreation. That’s why the level has been allowed to drop so much. In fact, the bottom of the Rifle Gap boat ramp is well above the water level.The reservoir was last full in the spring of 2000 when it held 12,457 usable acre-feet of water. Since then, the lake’s peak level has dropped by an average of 1,630 acre feet a year.This year’s peak, which was hit on April 16 – the day irrigation season started – was at just 5,937 usable acre feet of water. The level dropped through the rest of the summer until it reached around 1,500 total acre-feet, the level considered a dead pool, or “inactive capacity,” maintained so the reservoir’s fish can stay alive. Scott Dodero, manager of the Silt Water Conservation District, said the reservoir was down to 88 usable acre-feet of water – enough for just two days of irrigation. Fortunately, recent rains have eased the demand for irrigation water. “It’s coming back up with the rain. It’s still irrigation season; we’ll run water for one more week,” Dodero said. Dodero said although the level of Rifle Gap has been dropping steadily, it could fill back up quicker than people think. “When they first built the reservoir in 1967, they thought it would take forever to fill,” he said. But it took less than two years. So if there’s a solid snowpack in the high country this winter, the reservoir could fill substantially next spring. “I’m afraid to predict,” Dodero said. Contact Greg Massé: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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