PRID Manages Delicate Balance With Snowpack Runoff
Heavy winter snows and warming spring temperatures are bringing more runoff into Vallecito Reservoir. That means employees of the Pine River Irrigation District (PRID), which oversees the operation of the reservoir and dam, have to watch how much water is flowing in and figure out how much water needs to be released into the Pine River.
The goal of PRID is to operate the reservoir for the purposes of flood control and irrigation in a safe, smooth manner, while trying to keep the reservoir full for as long as possible, said Ken Beck, the superintendent of the irrigation district.
From June 5 to July 15, PRID estimates the reservoir will have 150,000 acre feet of water coming into the reservoir, with about 50,000 acre feet needed to fill it to its capacity of 125,800 acre feet. Subsequently, the district needs to release 100,000 acre feet of water. The upper limit of safe channel capacity is reached at 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). PRID is working to keep maximum flows under 2,300 cfs.
Peak runoff in Vallecito is going to come somewhere between the mid-June to the middle of July depending on the year, he estimated. By the end of June, Beck estimated the elevation of the reservoir will be at 7,663 feet, or just a few feet below capacity, “and we’ll try to bring it up slowly to being full at 7,665 feet,” he explained. That means that even the lower priority ditches should have water flowing into September, and boaters and anglers will have a full reservoir this summer and good boating into the fall. That’s a far cry from the summer of 2018, when reservoir levels were so low that Vallecito Marina had to shut down its boat dock.
With the Pine River flowing at 2,500 cubic feet per second, the river channels could start to shift, according to the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District. On Friday, June 7, they advised people to stay away from the edge of the river in case a bank collapses, which could send someone unexpectedly into fast-moving water. That warning was seconded by the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service.
“Caution is urged as these banks can erode or collapse unexpectedly,” the NWS wrote in an advisory on its website. “Expect extra debris to be swept downstream. Do not let children play near high flowing rivers, creeks and canals.”
Vallecito Dam Releases Have Impact Downstream
The NWS issued a flood advisory for the Pine River on Monday, when the river stage was measured at 5.2 feet. The flood stage is 5.5 feet, and the river could be close to that by Thursday, according to the NWS. Flood advisories also have been issued for the Animas River and the La Plata River.
The La Plata County Office of Emergency Management is monitoring flows in Vallecito Creek and the La Plata River because there are homes near water. Although it might be too late this spring to do so, clearing rivers and creeks of trees and other obstructions are the best way for homeowners to avoid having water back up onto their property, said Butch Knowlton, the county’s director of emergency management. Overall, the rising temperatures haven’t spiked too quickly, and low temperatures at night mean flooding isn’t occurring yet, but county staffers are watching temperatures and river levels. The Animas River is flooding some pastures in the Animas Valley, which is good because it brings in fertile silt and reduces gopher and prairie dog populations, Knowlton added.
Another side effect of all this water?
“We’re going to have great, wonderful populations of mosquitoes,” Knowlton predicted, probably sometime in the next month.
Homeowners who live near water should check their coverage and determine if flood insurance is needed, said two local insurance agents. But the time to do it is now, before any flooding occurs. Some people might be at risk for flooding this year who never thought they could have flooding, Terri Will, an agent with the Associates Group. “Even after the 416 fire, people were able to get flood insurance, even after the mudslides started,” she said.
Another factor to keep in mind, according to the Dale Willbanks Agency: homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover damage from surface water. Also, there can be a 30-day wait for flood insurance coverage to begin, so talking with an agent now is better than waiting, added Jessie Kugle, a representative of the agency.
Weather and flooding advisories are available online from the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov/gjt/