Water projects: From dam to falling trees

ALAMOSA — Water efficiency and public safety are goals of water projects approved for funding this month from one side of the San Luis Valley to the other.

The Rio Grande Roundtable approved funding for a diverse group of projects ranging from repairing the gate valves at Mountain Home Reservoir, pictured above, on the eastern side of the Valley to knocking down dead trees endangering small reservoirs in wilderness area on the western edge of the Valley.

The Roundtable, a group of area residents representing varying water interests in the Valley, approved funding from locally allocated water funds as well as a request for statewide funding for an approximately $1 million project to repair outlet works at the reservoir just east of Fort Garland.

This was the third phase of a project at the reservoir, which provides water for both irrigation and recreational purposes, grant writer Nicole Langley explained during the Roundtable’s January meeting. The reservoir water irrigates thousands of acres of farmland in Costilla County managed by the Trinchera Irrigation Company and provides boating, fishing and other recreational opportunities managed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

The public use of this area is crucial in Costilla County where only 2 percent of the land is not privately owned, Langley added.

“It is an asset for the whole community,” said Trinchera Irrigation Company President Tracy Kester.

Langley explained that the reservoir, which dates back to 1905, is showing its age in its outlet works gate valves, which will be rehabilitated through this project. Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab said there is leakage at the valves averaging about 2,000 acre feet every irrigation season. He added that although there are three gate valves, only one has been working with no one remembering when the other two were ever used. However, the state engineer wants them all to be in working order.

Engineering Analytics Inc. has performed the engineering for this project, which is now ready for implementation with the vital assistance of local and statewide water funds. The irrigation company is seeking a $200,000 loan in addition to $662,438 in a combination of statewide and basin funds, with 10 percent of that required from the basin funds. The roundtable unanimously voted to move forward with that basin and statewide funding request.

“I think this is a great project,” said Roundtable member Keith Holland. He said this is the type of project the water funding should be used for.

A less traditional project, for which the water group also approved funding, is the takedown of dead trees at Spruce Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness along the Continental Divide Trail on the western edge of the Valley. Although privately owned by David Colville and Rick Davie, the lakes are popular with fishermen and campers in the wilderness area, and Trout Unlimited is spearheading the project to keep the lakes open and safe for camping and fishing.

Trout Unlimited Rio Grande Basin Project Manager Kevin Terry said the lakes are a popular spot for people who are hiking the Continental Divide Trail to stop and camp. The problem is the amount of beetle-killed trees surrounding the lakes and posing a danger to those frequenting the lakes, if the trees were to fall. Terry said there are about 400 dead trees threatening the lakes.

He said volunteers have been working on removing the threat, but progress has been slow, especially since limited tools are permitted in the wilderness area. The best method may be explosives, which will fell the trees away from the reservoirs in a way that looks like a natural windfall event, Terry explained.

This project is a private, state and nonprofit partnership, Terry explained. The Roundtable approved his request for $65,500 in basin funds towards the total project costs. The U.S. Forest Service is contributing $24,880, and the property owners are putting in $7,500.

The explosives themselves account for a large part of the project costs at $40,000. Hauling them is also part of the cost of the project at $200 per mule per day, with 10 mules required.

The project is planned for September.

The roundtable also approved a request for $50,000 basin funds and $337,280 statewide funds towards a $547,000 project to improve irrigation efficiency and water management in Conejos County. This builds on previous efforts funded through the roundtable and spearheaded by the Conejos Water Conservancy District.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Langley.