Monday, April 25, 2011

Only In The Dry West

Mostly when people and political factions discuss breaching a dam it is for fish or wildlife reasons - or their habitats and ability to survive.  Then there are the Bonny Reservoir discussions in NE Colorado - draining the lake to mitigate Republican River Compact issues. 

Bonny Reservoir was filled in 1951.  Today it is at it's lowest elevation since that time. During the last eight years it has averaged about a two and a half foot drop each year.  And this has been inspite of efforts at water conservation including a FY 07-08 effort to remove tamarisk trees from the park to increase base flows. 

One of Colorado's options under the Republican River Compact Settlement Stipulation is to drain Bonny Reservoir and return this portion of the Republican River back to it's natutral flow state.  Just having Bonny in place puts a significant draw on their compact account due to its natural evaporation.  There are other options, too, like reducing irrigated acres that are in the area - the irrigation of which is intercepting groundwater movements that would otherwise contribute to base flows; augmenting the intercepted groundwater with other sources; and a few others.  Farmers in the area are urging the drainage of Bonny to reduce the number of wells that will have to be shut off to comply with the compact.  The lake users are asking for any other resolution that retains the lake operation that is important to them.

It's Colorado's decision how they will come back into compliance with the compact, but it's no simple answer no matter how they look at it.  Some would say the groundwater use is ultimately the cause of the compact shortfalls so why are the surface water users having to pay the price?  And Bonny always has been a good idea for the fish and wildlife and recreational uses of NE Colorado.  It may come down to who has the most political sway and can back up their points with economic bracing.  It is expected that the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks will recommend the lake be drained.  We'll all have to wait and see.

And most don't realize the choice of draining Bonny is not as easily done as said.  It is a federal dam, and Kansas wants it completely removed for compact compliance - arguing that any vestage of the structure will act as a dam of sorts.  Of course, Bonny was approved with flood control as one of it's multiple uses, so some structure has to remain as long as that purpose remains.  Colorado is also receiving some federal funds to keep the associated park up and running, which depends on the reservoir and fishing.  These funds will be lost if the lake is drained and the park is eliminated.  It looks like to me this is coming down to a fiscal issue for Colorado - how to provide Kansas its water at as little cost to the state as possible.  Could be wrong, tho...

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