Two local water projects have received a cut of $3.7 million in federal grant funding, which will help improve water efficiency in thirsty Montrose County.
The money awarded to Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will provide technology for the real-time data necessary to accurately manage flows.
At the main river head gate on the Cimarron Canal, the Bostwick Park District and Cimarron Canal and Reservoir Company have a chute that provides a flow of water. “That water needs to be measured accurately and this grant is to put a new knife gate in there and monitor it so the flow off the Cimarron River can maintain steady,” said Allen Distel, who is president of the conservancy district and canal reservoir company.
The organizations received $15,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program for a $31,449 knife gate project that will install an automated water- control device.
The new controls will reduce over-diversions from the river to the canal and keep desired flows in line with real-time data, according to BuRec’s information. Because the process is automatic, it will also save on staff time.
The conservancy district and canal company provide irrigation water to the west side of the Big Cimarron Valley and the upper and lower Bostwick Park area. The canal company entails about 600 shares of water from the Cimarron.
“It’s really important to the flow of the Cimarron River,” Distel said, of the knife gate project and grant.
“The Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have a reserve amount in Silver Jack Reservoir. They can all that water out of Silver Jack to maintain the river level. It’s real important we have an accurate measurement so when they call the water out, we can get that water down the river.”
The knife gate project is identified as one of three critical water management locations under the Bostwick district’s water management plan, according to BuRec.
The grant is welcome, Distel said.
“It helps the district quite a bit. That’s half the cost of the improvement and anytime you get half the cost of an improvement, it definitely helps the whole district.” he said.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association also celebrated its successful WaterSMART grant, which will pay nearly $63,000 of a nearly $126,000 telemetry project at eight spill locations.
Seven of the telemetry sites are located on the west side of the Uncompahgre River, on the lower end of the UVWUA project area. The eighth is to be installed at the end of the East Canal, at Dragontooth Spill.
“This is in concert with the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 4. They’ll provide real-time information to us on whether we have enough water on the lower end, or if we’ve got too much,” UVWUA manager Steve Anderson said.
“It should make it a lot easier to adjust flows and conserve water.”
The tailwater telemetry project will use up-to-date satellite monitoring at the spill sites, plus upgrade the existing gauge stations to Parshall concrete flumes.
The current system prints data onto a paper chart that must be collected weekly — well and good for telling water managers what has happened, but not particularly efficient when adjustments are needed.
“But we can’t adjust with those charts. It’s more of a tattletale than real-time information we can use to adjust flows in the canal,” Anderson said.
Gauge height in the Parshall flumes (an open-channel flow metering device named for the professor who developed them) help determine water volume.
“That will eliminate having to measure that flow and we can use the charts to determine what the flow is through those Parshall flumes,” Anderson said.
The tailwater telemetry project and the grant offsetting its costs are important, he also said.
“As we continue in this drought cycle that we’re in, that’s very important to us. Having real-time (data) where we can go on the water division’s websites and check those (eight) sites, see the flow and adjust the canals accordingly, will lead to conservation of water,” Anderson said.
The grant is “a big win,” he added.
“We’ve had larger water grants in the past, but this really helps us. It’s a continuation of what we did some years ago, when we put the same type of system on all of our diversion head gates. We look to continue it.”
The association would like to install similar equipment on feeder canals where it picks up water from Spring, Coal and Dry Creeks.
“It’s all leading to modernizing the project,” Anderson said.
One day, the association’s management may even be able to remotely adjust diversions with such technology, although that day is a long way off, he added.
“That is essentially the long-range goal. I give a lot of credit to the Bureau of Reclamation with their WaterSMART program. It has worked very well for not only our project, but other water projects in the West,” Anderson said.
The UVWUA and Bostwick Park Conservancy District/Cimarron Canal and Reservoir Company also continue projects, funded by other types of grants, that allow canal water to be piped.
As water flows through open canals, it leaches salt and the trace element selenium from the soil, leading to selenium loading in rivers, which threatens aquatic life. Piping or lining the canals reduces such loading.
The Bostwick district will begin a piping project next week, under funding from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of the National Resources Conservation Service. Between this and other piping projects, the district expects to install about 12 miles of piping.
“It helps our ability to control the water and it also reduces the erosion in the canals and conserves water,” Distel said.
The UVWUA is working on the ninth phase of its canal piping project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which is administered through the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The association also benefits from BuRec grants for this purpose.
This winter, the UVWUA plans to pipe the GB and GBA laterals, Anderson said, and next year, hopes to apply for grants to fund phase 10.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.