River, dam funding approved Tuesday

ALAMOSA—Water leaders on Tuesday approved funding for two projects that will improve local reservoir and river operations.

The Rio Grande Roundtable approved $70,000 from locally allocated water funds for engineering work for Mountain Home Reservoir upgrades and $90,000 for surveying, design, and permitting work for projects primarily around the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area near Monte Vista. These funds will be matched with money from other sources to complete the projects.

The Mountain Home Reservoir project is in its second of three phases, with the third phase encompassing construction work. The state is mandating repairs at the reservoir. Only one of the gates at the reservoir is operational, and not operating that well.

The reservoir, located east of Fort Garland, is operated by the Trinchera Irrigation Company and supports the irrigation of several thousand acres of farmland in Costilla County as well as fishing and boating opportunities. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife operates a State Wildlife Area at the reservoir and stocks the reservoir with trout. Both local residents and tourists enjoy the recreational opportunities at Mountain Home.

The dam was built in the early 1900’s and is showing its age. Leakage at the gate is costing irrigators, and replacement of the dam gates would restore the reservoir’s capacity and benefit the farmers and ranchers who depend on a portion of their water supply from the reservoir.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request for local roundtable funds, which the roundtable approved on Tuesday.

The funds would go towards engineering and design work to replace the dam gates. The irrigation company has chosen Engineering Analytics, Inc., out of Fort Collins to conduct the work. The firm has experience in dam rehab work.

The total for the design phase portion of the dam rehab project is $100,000, with the roundtable funding comprising $70,000 of that. The remainder is coming from the irrigation company and Trinchera Blanca Foundation.

The state has allocated funds to local roundtable groups in each basin, and the roundtables have discretion over their Water Supply Reserve Account funds, as long as the projects meet state and local funding criteria. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has final approval for project funding.  That state board also has funds available, but the Mountain Home project is not seeking money from the statewide account at this time.

When the engineering work is completed, the irrigation company will request funding for implementation.

The roundtable was also receptive to the projects around the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area. Roundtable members Karla Shriver and Heather Dutton abstained from voting, Shriver because she is a member of one of the ditches that will benefit from the work and Dutton because she oversees the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Program requesting the funding.

As with the Mountain Home Reservoir project, the Roundtable funds for the wildlife area project will primarily be used for design, survey and permitting work, for which the roundtable board approved $90,000 from the local basin account, to be matched from other sources to complete the $213,990 total.

This project will ultimately stabilize eroded stream banks, preserve riparian vegetation and habitat and replace old diversion infrastructures on the SLV Canal and Centennial Ditch.

The wildlife area is along the Rio Grande, which has eroded streambanks in the area Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Program Manager Andréa Bachman told the roundtable members. In high flows, the stream could wash away a siphon the Colorado Parks & Wildlife maintains for wetland areas and possibly cut off water delivery to the Centennial Ditch, a senior water right provider for 22 stockholders and irrigating 8,500 acres.

As part of this project, the diversion structure for the Centennial Ditch would be improved.
Shriver said the Centennial Ditch is old and in need of some serious repair. She said a 2001 study of the Rio Grande identified these stretches of the river. The Restoration Project has completed similar projects along the Rio Grande and continues to tackle problem areas like this.

Shriver said just like roads and other systems wear out, so do water structures, and “there comes a point in time when you have to replace them.”

Headgate repairs would also be incorporated into this project on the SLV Canal, also a senior water right provider, which serves 78 stockholders, irrigates more than 20,000 acres and borders the wildlife area.

Bachman explained that another smaller project upstream near Del Norte is included in this request and although it is not geographically adjacent to the wildlife area has similarities in that it will improve the river, and all three are “shovel ready,” so work could begin as soon as funding is in place.

Bachman said that in addition to roundtable funding, this project would be supported by funds from Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant Program.