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Mancos Conservation District to receive $2.48 million federal grant

The grant, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is a ‘game-changer’ for the small district
Thanks to a federal grant through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Mancos Conservation District will build three permanent diversion structures on the Mancos River that will better facilitate irrigation and fish passage. The improved structures, seen here, are tiered so that fish can still swim upstream. (Courtesy of the Mancos Conservation District)

The Mancos Conservation District is celebrating a “very significant contribution toward natural resource conservation” after an announcement last week that the organization will receive a $2.48 million grant through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The funding will be used for infrastructure improvements, such as permanent diversion and water monitoring structures, and 650 acres of wildfire mitigation in the Mancos River watershed.

The money is part of a $51 million funding allocation announced by the Biden administration as a part of the Investing in America Agenda for Water Resources and Ecosystem Health, funded through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“We're so grateful and thankful for this opportunity,” said MCD Executive Director Gretchen Rank. “We are really looking forward to working with our team at the Bureau of Reclamation and our private landowners here.”

The MCD grant was one of several totaling over $10 million in Colorado.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe will also receive over $650,000 to improve fish passage on the Pine River.

The Mancos River headwaters meet north of its namesake community, pass east of Mesa Verde before cutting southwest and ultimately converging with the San Juan River.

The grant will fund the conservation district’s work to benefit irrigators, as well as the ecosystem. The MCD will build three permanent diversion structures, replacing the push-up dams currently in place. The existing dams are made of stream bed material and are washed away regularly and tend to block fish passage.

Instead, the push-up dams will be replaced by permanent tiered structures that create a consistent flow of water for irrigators and allow fish to pass.

“This diversion improvement project will help just continue that project to make sure that as climate change and drought is impacting the area, the fish can have access to the areas that they need while the irrigators still are able to divert their allotted water,” Rank said.

The existing diversion structures, such as this one, which was torn out earlier this year, can be difficult to use and detrimental to fish. (Courtesy of the Mancos Conservation District)

The project is part of an ongoing effort to enhance fish passage in the Mancos River.

In addition to the three diversion installations, 10 existing diversion points will be upgraded with advanced metering technology.

“Right now, a lot of the infrastructure requires that people go out to the diversion structures daily or sometimes multiple times a day to figure out ‘Am I getting the water that's allotted? Is it working? How much is being diverted?’” said MCD Watershed Coordinator Sensa Wolcott. “It's a really time intensive process for producers, the water commissioner, all of those people who have to go out there to every single ditch.”

There are over 50 irrigation ditches in the Mancos River watershed, Wolcott said.

Federal funding will also support wildfire mitigation work on 650 acres of forested private land and riparian zone invasive plant removal.

The organization has developed partnerships with private land owners to improve defensible space. However, this mitigation will target larger swathes of forested land outside the defensible space zones that immediately impact structural assets. The work will target high-risk zones where fire could have a devastating impact on water sources used for irrigation and the municipal supply.

The invasive species work will target the removal of Russian olive and tamarisk plants, and replace them with native willows and cotton woods.

Rank said the conservation district will have three years to complete the work once contracts have been established.

In a watershed that still needs help recovering from the impacts of drought, mining and other threats, she said the funding is “a game-changer for us.”


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