Jeanne Archambeault/Mancos Times
Water is obviously the first thing that comes to mind when people think of the Mancos River: how that water gets to everyone, how it’s used, who uses it and keeping the river flowing correctly.
There are many organizations in Mancos that have a direct influence on the river, the watershed that surrounds it and the condition and health of the river itself. The Mancos Conservation District is concerned with the river water and soil that is moved by the water.
The Mancos Valley Watershed Project was started in 2005 by the Mancos Valley Watershed Group, formed because of a need to conserve soil and water in the Mancos River. Integral partners of the watershed project are the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Mancos Conservation District (formerly the Mancos Soil Conservation District) and the town of Mancos. The project also has brought together riverfront landowners, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, irrigation companies, recreationalists and community members to address a number of goals.
Goals include improving fishing along the river, reducing the loading of dissolved copper from the east fork, working with irrigators and irrigation companies and landowners along the river to rebuild and restore functioning of the diversion systems, and improving the riparian ecosystem and in-stream flows through the summer.
The Mancos watershed, which covers the area on both sides of the river, drains an area of about 800 square miles and is part of the Colorado Plateau. It often is divided into two parts: the upper watershed, which is about 203 square miles and includes the Mancos Valley and the surrounding mountains; and the lower part that begins in Mancos Canyon at the confluence of Weber Creek and drains the mesa and desert lowland country of Mesa Verde National Park, the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation and the surrounding regions. The watershed boasts three reservoirs: Jackson Gulch Dam, Bauer Lake and Weber Reservoir.
Lea Cody, district manager for MCD, said the project to improve and enhance the watershed has come a long way since it first was formulated.
“We created a rapid watershed assessment, have had lots of stakeholder meetings and devised the plan,” Cody said.
The district now is in the implementation phase, which involves restoring both the river and some of the diversions. The plan will help the district as it continues in the future.
“The MCD has been around since 1948, and this area was designated a salinity area, which created a need for the pipeline projects,” Cody said. “Many of the landowners – the bigger ones, anyway – have replaced the pipe in their ditches. The NRCS did all the work, and the cost was absorbed by the government.”
The Mancos River supplies water to the town of Mancos and outlying residents, to ranchlands and farms for irrigation, to Mesa Verde National Park, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and its agricultural interests. It also provides essential habitat for wildlife.
Ann Oliver is the watershed project manager contracted by the MCD. She has been instrumental in bringing interested parties together.
Russell Klatt, conservation technician for the project, also serves the landowners in the Mancos Watershed. Klatt designs the way the river is going to flow, and Keith Duncan Construction helps him move the rocks and do the work.
“The large boulders in the water block and divert the water to where you want it to go,” Klatt said.
He also does some baseline monitoring of the river to keep tabs on the health of aquatic life.
Klatt was trained in Washington state and is supported by the Colorado State Conservation Board. He works closely with landowners to restore different aspects of the river.
“There seem to be a lot of landowners that are on board with what the watershed project is doing. It makes it easier for them to get water and restores the function of the water,” Oliver said.
On the Hoch Ranch, a new metal headgate, sluice gate, rock structure and fish screen were installed in the river to improve and protect the town’s ability to draw municipal water from the west fork of the river while also improving fish habitat. The main funding sources for the headgate are the CSCB, which funded half of it, the NRCS, the town, the MCD and the landowner.
“The project at the Hoch Ranch is a great partnership between Rolland Hoch, the landowner, the Mancos Conservation District, the CSCB, the NRCS and the town of Mancos,” Oliver said. “Each partner has worked hard to make the project ‘a go,’ and it has been a very successful collaboration.
“The MCD maintains a partnership with the CSCB that has helped make this project a reality. The CSCB supports a district conservation technician program, which awards grants to fund 75 percent of the salary for a district technician, and the Mancos District comes up with the other 25 percent,” Oliver said. “For the past years, this remaining 25 percent of the salary has come from the generous support of the Southwestern Water Conservation Board. We are hopeful that SWCB will continue to fund the program for 2012.”
The Mancos Conservation District has been helping the landowners replace the old and dilapidated piping where water comes from the river to the ditches. They receive various funding or grants that create good fish habitat at the same time.
“The project will achieve many benefits at once, with the overall outcome being an improvement in the health of the Mancos River,” Oliver said. “The project will install rock structures to both stabilize the rapid erosion of riverbanks and downcutting of the river channel and provide deep, cool pools and slow-water areas for trout.”
The project is a further positive step toward the MCD’s objective of achieving a greater balance between ranching and healthy ecosystems and especially our water.
The MCD also offers workshops and classes throughout the year, all free to the public, on such subjects as irrigation-water management, weeds and rangeland.