Repairs to flood-damaged irrigation systems still inching along as watering season nears
Irrigation systems hardest hit by flooding this past fall are still in the midst of their repairs, with the growing rapidly approaching, but progress is still being made nevertheless.
Much of the repair work still taking place continues along the St. Vrain River in Boulder County and in far west Weld County.
As has been explained by Sean Cronin — executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont — and other water officials, water providers farther upstream had more time to take precautionary measures before the floodwaters arrived, helping minimize some of the damage to their systems. 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, 44 of which sustained damage.
Of those 44 ditches that were damaged, Cronin explained this week that 10 ditches are now repaired — up from just four a month earlier.
Meanwhile, 19 are under construction and projected to be repaired by May 1, five are currently under construction and are projected to be repaired by Oct. 1, while and 10, for various reasons, are not yet under construction.
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.
Cronin and other have 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.
Elsewhere, 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 have needed irrigation-system repairs done and are ready for the rapidly approaching growing season, and are able to deliver water to farmers.
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 in recent weeks 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).
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. ❖