By SYLVIA LOBATO
FORT GARLAND — Mountain Home Reservoir just east of Fort Garland dried up Sept. 6, according to persons driving to the reservoir to fish and enjoy the area, as well as homeowners in Sangre de Cristo Ranches who noticed the problem.
Managed by Trinchera Irrigation Company (TIC), the reservoir's emptying is due to drought, as well as work needed on the dam, according to a company spokesperson who answered the phone Tuesday morning.
Grant Writer Nicole Langley reported in February that public use of the area is crucial in Costilla County, where only two percent of the land is publicly owned.
Helen Smith, outreach specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable reported in spring that the roundtable approved funding for a diverse group of projects ranging including repair of gate valves at Mountain Home Reservoir.
The Roundtable, a group of area residents representing varying water interests, approved funding from locally allocated water monies as well as a request for statewide funding for an approximately $1 million project for needed repairs at the reservoir.
The reservoir provides water for both irrigation and recreational purposes, Langley explained during the Roundtable’s winter meeting.
The reservoir water irrigates thousands of acres of farmland in Costilla County managed Irrigation Company (TIC) and provides boating, fishing and other recreational opportunities managed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
Langley explained that the reservoir, which dates back to 1905, is showing its age in its outlet works gate valves, which will be rehabilitated through this project. TIC Superintendent Wayne Schwab said there is leakage at the valves averaging about 2,000 acre feet every irrigation season. He said there are three gate valves, but only one has been working with no one remembering when the other two were ever used. However, the state engineer wants them all to be in working order.
The irrigation company hoped to put at least one of the other gates back into service. Schwab said the state engineer is strongly recommending the other two gates become operational again, and the irrigation company would like to contract a feasibility study to see how best to do that and improve the reservoir’s efficiency. If the dam was operating more efficiently, water storage levels could be maintained both for irrigators and for Parks & Wildlife to maintain a strong conservation pool for fishing.
A project currently proposed by TIC would improve Mountain Home Reservoir for all those who enjoy it for recreation and depend on it for irrigation.
TIC is a non-profit mutual irrigation company incorporated Feb. 4, 1944. It operates the Smith Reservoir, The Mountain Home Reservoir, approximately 26 miles of canals and 45 miles of laterals for the purpose of managing irrigation water.
Constructed in 1908, the dam at Mountain Home in Costilla County is showing its age, according to Schwab, who presented a preliminary request for $25,000 from the Rio Grande Roundtable local funding source to perform a feasibility study regarding dam improvements . The irrigation company and Colorado Parks & Wildlife are providing $12,000 in matching funds as well, he said.
He explained that Mountain Home is a popular fishing and wildlife area, so Colorado Parks & Wildlife is interested in improving the reservoir. The 47 shareholders in the Trinchera Irrigation Company are also invested in improving the reservoir, which serves as the main water source for the Trinchera Creek drainage. Smith Reservoir is another water source, primarily for areas below the Trinchera drainage, Schwab told the Roundtable.
Schwab said the feasibility study would involve underwater inspections of conduits, valves and valve gates.
The engineer performing the study will then provide a few alternatives for improving the dam, which will help establish reliable reservoir elevation levels and water storage.
With a stronger conservation pool, Parks & Wildlife can keep fish in the reservoir. Schwab said the agency is looking at ways to improve the area around the reservoir and increase recreational benefits in Costilla County, which has very little public land compared to other counties in the San Luis Valley. Only 2 percent of the county is public land, he said, and since the county is one of the poorest in the state, anything that can help generate tourism and revenue would be helpful.
In addition to Parks & Wildlife, Trout Unlimited is involved in this project, Schwab said, and is interested in ways to improve fishing at the reservoir.