High water at Conchas

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Fueled by monsoon rains, the water level at Conchas Lake is the highest its been in at least several years, according to officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Higher water levels means more water will be available to irrigate farm and ranch operations south of the dam as well as water for recreational activities at the lake, according to Gary Cordova, operations manager for the Corps Conchas Dam Project.

Cordova said the area has received 6.5 inches of rain since the beginning of the month.

“Models that we used in the spring showed us running out of water,” Cordova said. “Now, there should be enough water for Arch Hurley and their members throughout the growing season — through September. We are gaining water and that’s unusual for this time of year, so that’s good.”

The weather forecast for the next week shows cloudy days ahead and a chance of rain, up to 30 percent, which could possibly fuel water levels even more.

Conchas Lake supplies the Conchas Canal, which provides irrigation to some 41,000 acres of farmland and ranchland through the Arch Hurley Water Conservancy. From the dam to Tucumcari, the canal is about 40 miles long.

“We talk daily to Arch Hurley to let them know what the water levels are and to adjust the gates for the water into the canal,” Cordova said.

The lake is also a popular eastern New Mexico spot in the warm months for water activities and year-round for fishing.
“Access for boaters has been good on the south side of the lake. It should also be one of the better years for fishing,” Cordova said. “This spring the fishing should be awesome.”
 
The rains have also been good for Arch Hurley because the water is now building up in the lake, Cordova said.

Water gets to the canal by gravity, so the lake needs to be at or above a certain level for water to flow in the canal.

And, water levels were high enough for the Arch Hurley Conservancy Board of Directors to allocate three inches of water at a special meeting on Friday. This brings the total allocation in 2006 to nine inches.

Members of Arch Hurley, those who have paid for water rights, can now call on the conservancy to deliver that water via the canal and its lateral ditches to their farms or ranches.

Members who don’t use their water in a given year, can carry over the dollar value to the next year, but they cannot carry water amounts and add them to the next year’s volume.

From Aug. 1 to Aug. 21, levels rose from 4,171 feet to 4,175 feet, Cordova said. At 4,201 feet, Conchas Lake will crest at the dam and water will come over the spillway to flow into the Canadian River, Cordova said.

A 1941 agreement between the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation established Conchas Lake as the water source for the Arch Hurley Conservancy.

Meanwhile, a three-year project — estimated to cost about $500,000 — to automate the gateworks that controls the flow of water is expected to be operational by the end of September, Cordova said.

“We’re upgrading the headworks with a remote operations and made improvements to protect the technology. Long term, it will save us manpower and save us operations costs.”