ALAMOSA — If “two head(gates) are better than one,” five will be even better.
Five ditch companies are putting their “head(gate)s” together in a $3 million project that will replace deteriorated dams and headgates along the Rio Grande.
Under the leadership of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, the project will replace aging and unsafe infrastructure owned by the Consolidated Ditch; Pace Ditch; San Luis Valley Canal Company; Centennial Ditch Company; and Rio Grande #2. The ditches serve as few as 107 irrigated acres on the Pace Ditch to 20,200 irrigated acres on the San Luis Valley Canal.
Working together, the five ditch companies hope to receive a portion of the project costs from a statewide water fund. Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project Director Emma Reesor on Tuesday presented a preview of a request that she will formally make to the Rio Grande Roundtable next month.
She told roundtable members she would be asking for about a third of the project costs, or $980,000, from the statewide water supply reserve account administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The roundtable had previously provided some of its basin-allocated funds for the design phase, and the project is now preparing for the construction phase, which will entail replacing dams, headgates and other diversion structures.
Reesor said this five-ditch project will improve the health of the river as well as the efficiency of the diversion structures serving these five ditches along the Rio Grande. She explained that the diversion structures are aging, in poor condition and unsafe. Because they are not as efficient as when they were constructed, they are contributing to sediment build up and the instability of the river.
Craig Cotten, division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, supported this project. He said many of the areas that will be addressed in this project are places that have caused water management problems for the division in the past, either with people not able to get their water out or getting too much of it.
“I will definitely be in favor of this,” Cotten said. “It will be a really good project.”
On the Consolidated and Pace Ditches, diversion and headgates will be replaced. Reesor said these structures have deteriorated so much that the ditch companies pretty much have to “remake the dam” every year. She said these ditches’ infrastructure has caused sedimentation and erosion issues and requires high maintenance because of poor and aged conditions.
“Both ditches struggle to get their water in low flows and in high flows,” Reesor explained.
The new concrete diversion structures will allow for fish and boat passage, Reesor added. The Consolidated Ditch headgate will be replaced with an automated one, she added.
The headgate on the San Luis Valley Canal will also be replaced with an automated one, Reesor said. She said the headgate was built a long time ago and is crumbling.
The dam on the Centennial Ditch is also in poor condition and causing a safety concern, Reesor said. The proposal for the Centennial Ditch is to replace the diversion with a grouted rock structure, she said.
The diversion on Rio Grande #2 is also in poor condition, Reesor said. It will be replaced with a simple rock weir that will facilitate fish and boat passage, according to Reesor. The improvements will also help stabilize the stream bank and channel.
“It’s a big project,” Reesor said. “It will benefit irrigators and the river.”
She said the ditches involved are committing funds to the project as well, and Consolidated, which is made of several smaller ditches, is acquiring a loan from CWCB as well as requesting water supply reserve account funds.
Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) is providing $750,000 for the project, and Reesor said there is some urgency on moving this forward, since that funding expires at the end of the year if construction has not begun by then.
Reesor will make the formal funding request next month to the Rio Grande Roundtable, which must approve it before it is forwarded to the state level.
Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said this type of project involving several ditches helps everyone leverage their money farther.