People who use Ken’s Lake reservoir water for irrigation purposes are able to use more water over the summer months this year. The Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) board in recent weeks reduced water restrictions from a 25-percent restriction to only 5-percent restriction, and this week GWSSA manager Mark Sovine said the easing of restrictions will most likely remain in place for the rest of the season.
“People can use 95 percent of the water this year,” GWSSA board member Dale Weiss said. “This is of great interest to the farmers who have had to curtail their crops because of being limited in the recent years.”
The irrigation system for Ken’s Lake was allocated back in the early 80s. Allocations were based on irrigation acreage requirements at the time. The capacity of the irrigation system is about 2,900 acre feet (AF) and currently there are about 150 irrigation users on the system. The amount of use by system users ranges from 1 to 600 AF, Sovine said.
Customers of the system use the lake water for areas as small as lawns and personal gardens to areas as large as alfalfa fields or vineyards. There are also industrial users as well as the Moab Golf Course.
The water to fill Ken’s Lake comes from Mill Creek, which runs from the La Sal Mountains and along the east side of the reservoir. GWSSA diverts water from Mill Creek through the Sheley Tunnel to Ken’s Lake. Water is diverted year-round into Ken’s Lake unless the lake is at full carrying capacity or Mill Creek is running below 3 cubic feet per second (CFS). Sovine said June 2011 was the last time the lake was full. The creek is part of the Moab Irrigation Company (MIC). The MIC issues stock and users on the MIC are allocated water use based on their number of shares in the company.
“The (GWSSA) district owns about 35 percent of the MIC stock,” Sovine said. “Those are shares used in the lake and allocated to the water users. This is why we can restrict usage.”
Some owners of MIC shares have their shares transferred to from Mill Creek and to the reservoir for use in Spanish Valley, Sovine said.
“These shares are not owned by the district, but are conveyed through the irrigation system through a separate agreement,” he said. “We can also restrict their usage.”
Sovine said the GWSSA is discontinuing the practice of MIC shareholders transferring shares from Mill Creek and into Ken’s Lake.
“Once that water is moved out of the lake, it cannot be put back in,” he said.
Water restrictions are based on the reservoir’s current levels and projected water run-off for the season.
“2012 and 2013 were bad water years,” Sovine said. “We had to reduce irrigation water users by 40 percent in 2012 and 60 percent in 2013.”
This year, the water is at 1,900 AF, Sovine said. This level is an average level for this time of year. However, precipitation is at only 80 precipitation of average for the year.
“Even though the lake level is close to average in 2014, we were concerned about the year-to-date precipitation early in the year,” Sovine said. “We implemented a 25-percent restriction to begin the season. With the spring storms, we were able to reduce the restrictions to only 5 percent, or 95 percent of allocation.”
Water-use restrictions for irrigation can impact the users of the system in several different ways. William Love, who said he owns about 35 AF of Ken’s Lake water and uses it to maintain irrigated pastures, said he has reduced the length and time of day he waters his fields.
“I have had to reduce the length of time irrigating the fields from overnight to 9-to-10 hours during the day,” he said. “Daytime watering is not as efficient as nighttime watering. I do water more frequently. I water every eight days instead of every 10 days.”
Love said the restrictions over previous years have also affected the grass he grows.
The types of grass in the fields have changed from the soft grasses preferred by livestock to a more coarse grass that is more drought resistant, Love said.
“I do not graze the grasses as heavy as I used to,” he said. “Bare ground open the fields to the invasion of annual weeds and cheat grass.”
Sovine said the water restrictions put in place the last couple of years have affected many of the users of the irrigation system.
“We have already asked a lot of the water users with the restrictions over the last couple of years,” he said. “Most of the larger agricultural users left fields unplanted, industrial users had to curtail their operations, and the golf course had to rely on groundwater pumps pulling water from our drinking water aquifer.”
Last year in September, the Moab Sun News reported the GWSSA was submitting a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a study on the effects of reducing the water flow into Ken’s Lake during the winter months. The study would be year-round for a three-year time period. Sovine said nothing more has happened with the proposal at this time.
With the expected future population growth of the Moab area and the possibility of future droughts, Weiss said the issue of water use in the Moab valley is important.
“There are a lot of issues involved in water,” she said. “It is of extreme importance here in Moab.”
GWSSA says farmers can use more Ken’s Lake water than last summer
“We have already asked a lot of the water users with the restrictions over the last couple of years. Most of the larger agricultural users left fields unplanted, industrial users had to curtail their operations, and the golf course had to rely on groundwater pumps pulling water from our drinking water aquifer.”