Some, but not all, emphasized Town Public Works Director Joanne Fagan, in an interview with The Watch.
“The Town’s first 2 cfs (cubic feet per second) is still in priority,” Fagan said of the call, which came on May 1 from the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “That’s plenty of water.” In a typical summer season, the town, with its voluntary watering restrictions, uses only about 1 cfs.
But the call is cause for concern, and the town held a workshop May 18 to discuss augmentation possibilities and the upcoming “rehabbing” of Lake Otonawanda, the town’s storage reservoir on Miller Mesa.
“We’re working on the design and funding of the renovation now,” Fagan said. The plan is to enlarge the lake’s capacity and build an outflow. Lake O is filled via the Ridgway Ditch, but, said Fagan, there is currently no way to get the water out. “Sixty years ago there was a tunnel out of the lake,” Fagan said. But that infrastructure is gone.
If the town needed water from the lake this summer it would take some doing. Though that possibility was discussed at the council workshop. “It would require a pump and getting electricity to the lake,” Fagan said, “if it was needed for this year.”
Other communities, like the City of Ouray, are also now talking about ways to augment their traditional water sources, given the senior, but seldom used, rights of the downvalley users. “The rehabbing of Lake O is our augmentation plan,” Fagan said. “It would be a way to store water from the Ridgway Ditch when our water is in priority,” which in a typical year is most of the time.
This is not a typical year, however. Streamflow on the North Fork of the Gunnison, for example, is only about 10 percent of normal for this date, according to Fagan. “And the gauging station on the Uncompahgre showed only 200 cfs this morning,” she said. Most of the state is experiencing short-term severe drought. “It [the Uncompahgre] may come up, but . . .” the immediate outlook is continued dry.
Ridgway’s water comes from two sources. One is near the headwaters of Beaver Creek on the north flank of Whitehouse Mountain at the end of County Road 5. The other is from Cottonwood Creek, which is diverted out of Happy Hollow adjacent to CR 5, a short distance to the town’s water treatment plant. Both deliver traditionally strong flows. The town holds significant additional rights beyond the 2 cfs, but those rights are relatively junior, and those are the ones that have been called.
“[Our most-senior 2 cfs] could get called out as well,” Fagan said. “I’m not saying it won’t happen. But we do have a trick or two up our sleeves if that happens. We do have a plan.”
The drought year 2002 has been invoked as a parallel to the current situation. “We were called out [in 2002],” Fagan said, although “part of it was deemed a dubious call.” That year the town’s voluntary watering restrictions served it well. Asked to compare the two years, Fagan said, “In 2002 we had more wet water in Beaver Creek on this date. We’ve never seen it this dry at the head gate.”
For now, the town hopes the voluntary water restrictions, on both residential and commercial uses, will encourage conservation. The restrictions include limiting watering on the south side of Highway 62 to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And for properties on the north side, watering should take place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only. To minimize evaporation, water before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. The restrictions do not apply to drip irrigation or hand watering.
There is always the chance for a good monsoon season later in the summer. “If it starts to rain up high,” Fagan said, “and everybody senior to us gets all the water they want . . .” then the call is rescinded. Regardless, Ridgway will go ahead with its Lake O renovation against future dry years.