The Minnesota Canal and Reservoir Company held its 109th annual meeting on Saturday, Feb. 18, and it was good news from start to finish.
Roughly 40 people attended in the Paonia American Legion to hear board president Willy Kistler say that he expects to see the upper 5.2 miles of the canal encased in pipe by spring 2013, several years ahead of schedule.
The reason, he said, is that the Bureau of Reclamation has available the full $3.9 million the project will require. If construction starts at the end of the coming irrigation season, he thinks the contractors will be done by spring 2013, just in time for the new irrigation season.
That was the opening good news. The meeting closed with Kathy Welt, representing Mountain Coal, saying that her company's snowpack measurements in the canal company's watershed showed that we are ahead of 2010, which was an OK year. While the lower elevations haven't gotten much snow this year, the high country has done OK. Kistler guessed that the snow pack would come in at about 75 percent of normal. (And that was before Sunday's snowfall, which left 0.75 inches in my gauge on Lamborn Mesa.)
In between the report on piping the ditch and on the snowpack, shareholders representing 1,107 shares of the company's 1,700 outstanding shares heard that 2011 had been a good year financially; that ditch rider Mike Ullrey had twice saved the ditch from catastrophic washouts following flash floods by turning out the water. "He risked his life," Kistler said. And that the new valves that control Beaver Reservoir were working great.
The long-term good news was the likelihood that the upper half of the ditch, the part vulnerable to washouts, would be in pipe in time for the 2013 irrigation season. In addition to lowering maintenance costs, the elimination of seep and evaporation could cut losses by an estimated 25 (Kistler's estimate) to 40 (the Bureau of Reclamation's estimate) percent. The Bureau is funding the project to reduce the amount of salt entering the Colorado River from this valley.
The new construction will replace four siphon tubes on Apricot Hill with a single pipe and the present horseshoe ditch that circles Dry Gulch will be replaced by a siphon, saving $500,000 in construction costs.
The end result, Kistler hopes, is that the canal company may be able to take less water out of the canal's two reservoirs during July and August, extending the irrigation season further into September.
Because the $3.9 million construction cost will be fully covered by a federal grant, there will be no added indebtedness and so Kistler expects the new pipe to keep costs flatter than they would otherwise be.
At present, the 5.2-mile upper Minnesota feeds water into the slightly longer Minnesota Extension, which is governed separately. The Minnesota will start to revise its by-laws to create one company. It is hoped that the piping of the Extension will be funded by a future round of Reclamation grants. However, the piping of the upper half is most critical; it covers steep and unstable ground and is most prone to catastrophic failure.