Little Wood Reservoir appears healthy
Drought expected to drop high water lines quickly
By PETER BOLTZ
Express Staff Writer
The Little Wood Reservoir looks nice and healthy and full
this spring — compared to the Magic Reservoir and other state irrigation
impoundments already showing very visible signs of this year’s drought.
The Little Wood Reservoir isn’t
showing any drought lines yet, but snow-impoverished peaks in the
background predict the lowing water lines are just a matter of time.
Express photos by Peter Boltz.
Measured in elevation from sea level, the surface of the
Little Wood reservoir was 5,232.06 feet on Thursday, or about 5 feet below
the top of the spillway.
Filled to capacity, the reservoir on the Little Wood
River, 12 miles northwest of Carey, holds 30,000 acre feet of water. It
was estimated to be holding 26,965 acre feet on Friday.
But a nearly full reservoir today does not mean a good
supply of irrigation water for Carey farmers tomorrow. Due to low snowpack
in the Pioneer Mountains, the reservoir will not be replenished as late
into this spring as it does in wetter years.
The Little Wood Reservoir serves about 150 irrigators with
water rights dating from 1880 to 1980.
Little Wood water master Bob Simpson said Thursday the
"best" water rights are those granted in 1899 or earlier.
"It’s the best water right," he explained,
"because anything later than 1899 is not valid as of today, May
That is, unless it starts raining ¾ a lot.
Simpson has a list of everyone with water rights on a
clipboard on his wall. At the top of the list on the first page is the
owner of the very first water right of May 15, 1880. At the bottom of the
last page is the owner of the youngest, or newest, water right.
Simpson, like all other watermasters, must operate his
basin’s irrigation system on the basic principle of western water
rights: "First in time, first in right."
So, as the reservoir’s water supply drops during the
irrigation season, Simpson makes "priority cuts," starting from
the bottom, or youngest water rights, and working his way up to the
The priority cut he made Friday is just one of many he
normally makes during the irrigation season, from April 1 to Nov. 1.
Sometimes, he said, he’ll make priority cuts on a daily basis.
What is not normal about this season is how quickly he may
work his way up through the list in this low-water year. But he could not
predict how much earlier than normal water rights will be cut off this
Several predictions of the cumulative volume of water
expected from the Little Wood have been made, and all of them are
The "best" forecast—that is, if this becomes a
very wet spring—would make the 2001 season the basin’s 11th worst
water year since 1956.
The "worst" forecast—that is, if this is an
exceptionally dry spring—would make 2001 the second worst water year
since 1956. The worst year on record is 1977.
The forecast most likely to happen—at least
statistically—would make 2001 the eighth worst water year on record.
Unless, of course, it starts raining….