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Project improves Shaw Reservoir water supply

Water levels at Shaw Reservoir are improved thanks to a completed project involving multiple agencies. (Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
Complex water exchange and purchase benefits lake levels, fish habitat and wetlands in San Luis Valley

A multiyear effort has been completed to improve Shaw Reservoir, a remote recreation area north of Wolf Creek Pass in Mineral County.

A partnership to acquire and manage the reservoir involves Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, San Luis Valley Water Conservation District and The Conservation Fund, with financial support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The complex project increases the reliability of water supply for San Luis Valley residents, provides for additional water supply for management of wetlands in the valley and secures permanent water levels for recreational fishing, according to a CPW news release.

Creative water management will boost water levels at the lake, located in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Rio Grande River.

CPW has developed agreements with the San Luis Valley Conservancy District and the BLM, which allow BLM’s newly acquired water rights and the Conservancy District’s existing water rights to be stored at Beaver Park Reservoir or other CPW-controlled reservoirs, the news release states.

In exchange for the storage space in CPW reservoirs, the Conservancy District and BLM will maintain a conservation pool at Shaw Reservoir, which will stabilize the fish population and provide optimal conditions for recreational fishing.

The agencies will facilitate timed releases from Beaver Park Reservoirs and other CPW reservoirs to have multiple benefits. For example, releasing water for augmentation needs in the winter would increase in-stream flows and improve the habitat and health of downstream fish populations.

“In effecting our mission to protect, preserve and enhance wildlife and wildlife habitats in the San Luis Valley, we relish opportunities to work with partners in the water community to generate projects such as this that meet multiple goals while strengthening our bonds with one another for the benefit of all,” said Rick Basagoitia, CPW area wildlife manager for the San Luis Valley, in the news release.

A completed project between multiple local, state and federal agencies will improve water levels for Shaw Reservoir and area wetlands.

The BLM purchased the Shaw Reservoir water rights and a perpetual easement for 333 acre feet of storage space from the San Luis Valley Conservancy District.

BLM received funding for its $1.35 million purchase from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, part of a $6.4 million appropriation passed in 2016 to benefit the Blanca Wetlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

The BLM intends to change the acquired water rights to allow their usage for irrigation of wetlands on the valley floor, including wetlands at the Blanca Wetlands Area, located 10 miles northeast of Alamosa.

“Working with our partners has paid off for people and wildlife. This acquisition of water supplies will help us achieve our priority of creating and conserving resilient landscapes within the Blanca Wetlands Area,” BLM San Luis Valley Acting Field Manager Dario Archuleta stated in the news release. “With climate change, drought and a limited irrigation season, Blanca Wetlands is one of the few places in the valley that offers wetland habitat year-round.”

Blanca Wetlands supports tremendous biodiversity, including 200 species of birds, Archuleta said.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit with an office in Boulder, facilitated the transaction in which the Conservancy District purchased the privately owned Shaw Reservoir Co. and its assets, including the reservoir infrastructure and water rights. The Conservancy District will use the reservoir to store previously acquired water rights used to operate its augmentation program in the San Luis Valley.

“This complex deal is a win-win for many in the Upper Rio Grande basin,” said Christine Quinlan, associate director for The Conservation Fund in Colorado. “For the original Shaw Reservoir shareholders, the agency partners, the recreating public, and the wetlands-dependent wildlife, each is getting what it needs all without causing further dry-up of irrigated lands.”

Access to Shaw Reservoir is from U.S. Highway 160 between mile markers 174 and 175 just north of the Wolf Creek Pass Tunnel.