Irrigation days cut in half for farms, ranches in Rifle and Silt
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Local farmers and ranchers who irrigate their crops with water from Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap reservoirs will have to make do with half as many days of available irrigation water this summer.
Water users in the Silt Water Conservancy District, 459 accounts representing approximately 6,000 acres of irrigated land on the north side of the Colorado River between Silt and Rifle, have had their number of “water days” cut in half this year.
“We usually have 50 days of available irrigation water. This year we only have 25 days allowed,” said Scot Dodero, a director for the Silt Water Conservancy District. “We’re just not going to have as much water in the system.”
Reductions in the number of water days have occurred in the past.
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“In 2002 and 2003, we went down close to this number,” Dodero said. “And a couple of times earlier in history, but that was before I was working here. I’m not going to say it’s the worst year on record, but it comes in pretty close.”
For most ranchers, Dodero explained, himself included, that means they’ll probably only cut hay once, instead of twice this summer.
Rifle Creek is the water source for both reservoirs and their accompanying canals, referred to as the Silt Project by the Bureau of Reclamation. Harvey Gap Reservoir is filled first, explained Bureau of Reclamation Water Management Chief Dan Crabtree, because Harvey Gap water users have senior water rights. Harvey Gap was originally built in 1894 and supplied with water from the Grass Valley Canal, which was built in 1892. Rifle Gap Reservoir was built in 1966 to extend the water supply for senior water rights holders on the west side of the project through the Davie Ditch.
According to Crabtree, conditions on the Silt Project are as good as they are going to get this year, with the water level at Rifle Gap Reservoir about 30 feet below full.
“Harvey Gap is OK now, but we’re going to use all that water again this year,” Dodero said. “People still have water on the books, so to speak, and they’re going to call for it. Expect water levels to start dropping in July and August again. Rifle Gap will look even worse this year than last year.”
“I would expect Rifle Gap has reached its maximum for this year,” Crabtree said. “Rifle Gap is kind of a funny reservoir. It’s mostly spring-fed as opposed to fed by surface run-off. It seems like there’s a one-year delay in the hydrology. Next year should be better because we had better snow pack this year.”
According to Crabtree, by the time summer ends, the reservoirs will likely be drawn down to the “inactive pool,” a level that will “keep the fish alive for the next year.”
The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, a nonprofit group of stakeholders focused on protecting and preserving the health of the middle Colorado River watershed between Glenwood Springs and DeBeque, organized a tour of the Silt Project on May 29, focusing on the history of the system, how the water is stored, distributed and managed. The tour was part of the council’s efforts to educate and inform the public about current conditions in the watershed.
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