River Flows at Historic Low Ebb with Prevailing Dry Weather

Ongoing dry weather and an almost total lack of rain through at least mid-week this week are resulting in historically low stream flow throughout the Upper Gunnison River Basin.
A check on stream flow conditions on Tuesday, July 10, confirms just 118 cubic feet per (cfs) second water flow on the lower Lake Fork River at Gateview, a miniscule 22 percent of long-term average for the river in early July.
Similar dismal water readings are reported in Gunnison, with Tomichi Creek flowing just eight percent of average and the East River 17 percent of average.
On the Gunnison River at Gunnison, reduced flow as of Tuesday was recorded at 435 cfs.
Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District General Manager Frank Kugel states that drought conditions are widespread. “It’s incredibly dry throughout the Upper Gunnison River Basin,” he says. He references occasional showers last weekend which he says provided only “temporary relief” to the dramatically low stream flows.
Haying has already commenced in some areas in the region, including Powerhorn, as a result of scant water supplies for irrigating.
Asked about calls on irrigating water from senior water right owners, Kugel responds that to date no calls have been made on Lake Fork River water, although a call did occur on Powderhorn Creek, a tributary of the Cebolla, in late May. In that instance, the most senior water rights are Schecker Ditch (appropriation date 1885) and Dry Powderhorn Ditch (appropriation date 1891).
Both the Schecker and Dry Powderhorn ditches draw their water from Powderhorn Creek which has now reached historic low proportions.
Water in the Dry Powderhorn Ditch traditionally irrigates pastures on the old Corb McNeil Ranch which is now owned by Steve Crittendon.
For the entire Upper Gunnison Basin, a senior water owner is the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association which draws its water from the Gunnison River through the Gunnison Tunnel above Montrose. The Gunnison Tunnel water right was first claimed for beneficial use dating back to 1904, with an adjudication date of 1913.
According to Upper Gunnison Water  Conservation District’s Kugel, Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association has given verbal assurances that they have no plans to place a call on Gunnison River water this year. On the good news front in terms of water, Kugel reports that despite minimal incoming water, the water storage right owned by Lake San Cristobal Water Enterprise — principals being Town of Lake City, Hinsdale County and Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District — reached its full capacity at 950 acre feet of storage effective June 19 this year.
Kugel credits Hinsdale County & Bridge Supervisor Monte Hannah for his perseverance in making sure the lake water right was fully filled despite challenging conditions.
“Completing the first fill of the water right,” according to Kugel, “is important in that we showed that even in a dry year, we are able to attain our full storage right and protect the decreed uses in Lake San Cristobal.”
Asked about the oldest decreed water ditch in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Kugel responds that it is “‘75 Ditch,” an irrigation ditch which is located near the Gunnison Airport. The irrigation ditch has an adjudicated date of 1875 — hence the name ‘75 Ditch” — which is the first adjudicated water use in the entire region.