The predictions made in recent months by water providers are holding true.
Many are at different stages of recovery, but most ag water providers across northeast Colorado believe they’ll have needed irrigation-system repairs done in time for the rapidly approaching growing season, and be able to deliver water to farmers.
However, some are still up against the clock, with work left to be done — particularly in Boulder County and in far west Weld County.
Following September’s historic flood, a number of representatives from irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers were reporting damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures that needed repairs, or even rebuilt.
Many of the large water providers near Greeley and Sterling and the surrounding areas, though, said around Jan. 1 that they were progressing well with their repairs.
And many reported this past week they’re now done.
That’s good news for those massive ag-producing regions (Weld, Morgan and Logan counties, all of which experienced flood damage, represent three of the four largest ag-producing counties in the state).
Randy Ray, executive director for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley that saw $1.8 million in damage from the flood, and Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that oversees the largest water-supply project in the region (the Colorado-Big Thompson Project), each said this past week that their systems are ready to go.
As did Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District, among many others.
Much of the repair work still taking place is along the St. Vrain River in Boulder County and in far west Weld County.
Sean Cronin — executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont — explained that water providers farther upstream had more time to take precautionary measures before the floodwaters arrived, helping minimize some of the damage to their systems. He added that the floodwaters had more room to spread out once they made it to the plains, meaning they weren’t carrying the same intense pressure as they did in his neck of the woods, where the velocity wiped out much more infrastructure.
The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District encompasses about 80,000 acres. Cronin — who also serves as chairman for the South Platte Roundtable, a group of water experts from the region who meet throughout the year to address to region’s water issues — said the district endured about $20 million in damages.
The district includes 94 irrigation ditches, 43 of which sustained damage.
Of those 43 ditches that were damaged, Cronin explained this week:
• Four ditches are repaired.
• One is under construction and was projected to be repaired by March 1.
• 19 are under construction and are projected to be repaired by April 1.
• Five under construction and projected to be repaired by May 1.
• Three are under construction, though the projected completion dates were yet to be determined.
• 11 are not yet under construction.
Of the 11 not yet under construction:
• Three cited lack funding for the work needed.
• Three were still in discussions on designs.
• Two were waiting for repairs of another ditch to be done first.
• One was waiting for a FEMA project worksheet.
• One was listed as “not a priority.”
• One was still finding a contractor.
Cronin stressed that the Highland Ditch Company — which supplies about 40,000 acres, and is by far the biggest ditch in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District — is ready to go for the growing season. The other 93 ditches are much smaller, supplying much fewer farm acres.
“There’s definitely a success story there,” Cronin said. “In the couple weeks after the flood, I wouldn’t have ever thought we’d be in as good of shape as we’re in now.”
Cronin said there will still be challenges for some farmers, certainly those where repairs are still taking place, or haven’t even started.
Even for ditch repairs still in the works, those water providers might miss the peak of spring runoff, and could take in less water as a result.
“It’s shaping up to be a good water year, so hopefully those who aren’t done (with repairs) in the near future will still have water coming into their systems later in the year,” he said.
One of the major concerns initially was that the river changed locations in some spots, moving away from diversion structures. All sides have agreed to put the river back in its previous locations to help water providers, Cronin said, and those efforts are coming along well, although there’s still uncertainty regarding how the river will respond in those areas.
And even where work is nearing completion or is complete, there’s some uncertainty regarding payments of the repairs, and how much money they’ll see in reimbursements from FEMA, and how much might be coming out of shareholders’ pockets.
Cronin said one ditch in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District has already increased its fees from $5 per water share to $200 per water share to pay for repairs, waiting to see how much FEMA kicks in.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know, and a lot that still needs to play out,” Cronin said. “But overall, I think we’re very happy to be in the position we’re in, compared to how things looked a few months ago.” ❖