Farmers served by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will see just half their allotment flowing through the canals this spring. With lagging snowpack and lower reservoir levels, water managers are taking a conservative approach to making the water last throughout the growing season.
The first step was delaying delivery of water until April 1.
"We don't want to use any stored water to start out with, so we're just releasing what we've got," said Steve Fletcher, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).
The UVWUA distributes irrigation water to farmers in Montrose and Delta counties via a system that features 566 miles of canals and 216 miles of drains. UVWUA gets water directly from the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, as well as storage water from Taylor Park Dam. When full, the dam holds 106,230 acre feet of water. Presently, it's at just over half of its capacity. Some of the water has already been moved down into the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Fletcher reports. UVWUA also has some storage capacity in the Ridgway Dam through an exchange agreement with Project 7.
"Everybody will have some water to start with," Fletcher said. "With the right runoff, we might be able to start out a little better than 50 percent."
That observation is based, in part, on the spring snowstorm that moved through the area early this week.
UVWUA has also announced it will not provide any contract, or rented, water for residential lawns and gardens. Those who have water rights tied to their land will have priority.
Fletcher said he's already heard that many farmers plan to cut back on the acres they plant, concentrating on the ground that's most productive and/or easiest to irrigate.
Delta area farmer Phil Knob is in the middle of planting onions, but says he is going to let some of the land he plants in field corn just lay fallow this summer.
Water just started flowing into the peripheral canals, but Knob said he'd rather let the water flow on by for a couple of days to let the salt that's leached up over the winter get flushed out.
Ron Godin, CSU area extension agent for crops and soils, said area farmers are well educated and know they'll need to take a different approach this year. Some, like Knob, are reducing their acreage, hoping to have enough water to irrigate 70 percent of their acres with 50 to 60 percent of their water.
"Farmers will have to be a lot more careful with their water, but I think they'll still do okay," Godin said.
Farmers may want to look at different crops, Godin added. Corn prices are high, so everybody is anxious to produce corn, but that crop takes a lot of water. A better option, Godin said, might be grains like spring wheat or spring barley, which are relatively high priced but use less water.
The key is managing the water so it's available all summer.
"Historically, when we've had real bad droughts like in 1977 and 2002, that's when we had our highest average yield because farmers knew ahead of time supply would be low and they were able to manage their water properly. I'm hoping the same thing happens this year."
If the drought persists, Godin says farmers who want to keep their full acreage in production may want to consider irrigation systems that are more efficient than flood/furrow irrigation. The Uncompahgre Valley Soil Health Team also has recommendations that will help the soil hold onto the water.
Last year, Knob said UVWUA started delivering water at 70 percent of normal, and was able to maintain that level throughout the growing season thanks to good rainfalls in July and the first part of August.
With the low reservoir level this year, it's a little scarier, Knob said. "If there's any hiccup this year, it could be really difficult for us."blog comments powered by Disqus