Arkansas Valley looking at a good water year | TheFencePost.com

Arkansas Valley looking at a good water year

With high snowpack and repairs to Blue Lake's dam leaving abundant storage, farmers like Garrett Mauch of Lamar, Colo., are looking forward to a good water year and water stored for next year.
Photo by Garrett Mauch

The mountain run off in the Arkansas River is later than usual, which is not news to farmers who have been experiencing lower than normal temperatures and higher amounts of moisture. For Lamar, Colo., farmer Garrett Mauch, current irrigation use and existing storage in Blue Lake signal a good water year.

“Our hope is once the river picks up enough and we can send some into storage, we can get quite a bit stored up even for next year,” Mauch said.

Canals north of La Junta and Las Animas in Colorado will offer storage through the winter and the installation of a new dam on Blue Lake left it nearly dry over the winter, ensuring additional storage.

Mauch, a young producer, returned to the area after graduating from Colorado State University in 2009. His family operation includes feeder cattle and irrigated crops. He said the spring was a struggle, with the weather necessitating some 18- and 20-hour days to complete planting.

“It started off really good,” he said. “It’s starting to get pretty dry and we’re really looking forward to the rain chances this weekend. We’re trying to get up as much of our first-cutting hay as we can before those chances.”

Chris Woodka, senior policy and issues manager for the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District in Pueblo said they’re looking at bringing a large amount of water over and having a large allocation for farmers.

“The weather conditions have been ideal for farmers in the (Arkansas) Valley with good weather for planting and moisture this spring and expecting a lot of water,” he said.

The snowpack readings at higher elevations that aren’t measured by the SNOTEL sites, he said, just began melting early last week. Infrared photography made available to the district shows snowpack levels higher than 2011.

“2011 was a good water year for us,” he said. “I think we brought in 98,000 acre feet of water that year so we’re looking at bringing in a lot of water. The “but” in there is if it doesn’t melt off too fast. So far it doesn’t look like it’s melting off too fast.”

Woodka said conversations between the district and the Colorado Water Conservation Board Flood Section have warned of rainfall on snowpack, an unlikely event, that would signal flooding. Currently, space has been reserved in mountain reservoirs for storage though he said a spill is unlikely with water from the Pueblo Reservoir being used downstream in accounts.

“We’re seeing a pretty healthy year so far,” he said. “There are some flooding concerns where levels are high, though not record high.” ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.