Community Agriculture Alliance: Meeting demand for water
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
To meet increasing demand for water in Colorado and deal with the ongoing drought, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to increase water storage. One possibility with existing reservoirs is to rehabilitate dams currently under storage restrictions.
In an average year, there are about 130 dams with storage restrictions in Colorado. When a reservoir is deemed unsafe, restrictions reduce the storage level to less than full capacity. Some reservoirs are on the restricted list for years or even decades. Many of the reservoirs on the restricted list are owned by agricultural interests who do not necessarily have the funds to make repairs.
Like many water storage issues, this is complicated, and there are many unknown factors. What potential is there to rehabilitate these aging reservoirs and is the related cost effective? Are there other uses (like nonconsumptive water uses) that could be met by restoring these dams?
While there are some calls to “re-think” storage, our lives in Colorado are entirely dependent upon water storage. Reservoirs are essential in even a normal water year to provide our agricultural, municipal, environmental and recreational needs year-round.
Recently, there have been some promising reservoir rehabilitation projects throughout the state. Partnerships with other interests are an encouraging sign that rehabilitating these vital structures is possible and cost effective.
The Kendall Dam in Mesa County has received funding from the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s Partnership Program. The reservoir, which is under a storage restriction, is owned by the reservoir company and the U.S. Forest Service. Improvements to the reservoir will provide multiple benefits with more storage and additional outdoor recreation and fishing opportunities.
In Saguache County, the Vouga Reservoir (also on the restricted list) has received funding from several sources to help the rehabilitation effort. Part of that funding has come from environmental interests. While the reservoir serves agricultural needs, the dam will become a barrier to non-native trout, and producers will work with partners to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout upstream of the reservoir.
Another interesting reservoir project is focused on removing sediment. In Boulder County, the Panama Reservoir Co. has found a municipal partner to help fund the cost of dredging the reservoir in return for some of the recovered storage. There have been only a handful of dredging projects throughout the state, and the cost can be quite expensive. It is unlikely agricultural interests will be able to fund dredging projects without partnerships.
Can restoring a single reservoir provide a meaningful amount of late-season water to attract other partners? What would a municipal water provider need to help repair a reservoir with storage restrictions or implement a dredging project? All questions and issues we need partnerships and creative solutions to deal with.
The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is convening a reservoir rehabilitation group to examine agricultural reservoirs with storage restrictions and try to answer these questions. We will develop criteria for reservoir rehabilitation projects that outline common interests and incentives for other water stakeholders to participate in a project. Using those criteria, we will engage reservoir companies throughout the state and connect those companies to project partners and funding. Considering the difficulty of building new storage, existing storage in disrepair may be worth the time and investment.
Greg Peterson is executive director of Colorado Ag Water Alliance.
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