Redlands is facing water rationing

The thousands of Redlands residents who rely upon water supplied by the Redlands Water and Power Co. to irrigate their lawns, gardens and orchards will be forced to ration their usage this summer.

In a move that’s expected to continue for the next several months, the company on Wednesday and Thursday alternated the days on which residents could use irrigation water due to exceptionally low water levels in the Gunnison River, the source of the neighborhood’s water.

The low levels also have caused the company to temporarily suspend the fish ladder at Redlands Diversion Dam.

On Wednesday, flow levels dipped below 1,000 cubic feet per second and continued to drop throughout the day and night, approaching 900 cfs Thursday morning, the river’s lowest point so far this year, according to a Daily Sentinel analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data from a stream gauge near Whitewater.

The median flow level for May 31 over the past 103 years is about 7,000 cfs, according to that data.

This means there currently is only enough water coming through the plant to generate power for two of the four pumps that move river water uphill from the Gunnison to the Redlands neighborhoods. Redlands Water & Power depends on its hydroelectric plant to generate the power for those pumps, but the low river levels have meant less water coming through that plant, according to Superintendent Kevin Jones.

This has set in motion a plan to rotate the limited available water among its customers in three-day intervals, so that some customers will have irrigation for three days while others will not. The plan is expected to be in place throughout the entire irrigation season, which ends in October.

The company diverts 740 cfs from the Gunnison, though 680 cfs of that is returned to the river after running through the hydroelectric plant. The remaining 60 cfs goes to its 1,070 shareholders.

Jones said that while there were some “serious issues” with water delivery in 2002 and other times in the company’s history, there has not been a plan “quite on this level” implemented before.

Lawns and flowers may not be the only things affected by low Gunnison flows. Jones said the fish ladder intended to allow fish around the Redlands dam has been temporarily suspended until flows come back up. He was hoping it would be back in operation by Sunday evening.

But even the brief suspension of the fish ladder is notable.

“This is a first since the fish ladder has been in operation,” said Travis Francis, a biologist with the Grand Junction office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Colorado River Fishery Project. “Considering how low the river has been, though, it isn’t too surprising.”

The fish ladder has been operating since 1996, making it through even the 2002 drought without its operation being suspended.

A day or two with no fish ladder is not likely to impact fish populations, though, Francis said, even for endangered species like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker, which use the ladder to get upstream to spawn.

He also said it was possible the ladder would be out of operation at various points throughout this summer, though that would be the “worst-case scenario.”

A year of limited operations would not be too disastrous for fish, according to Francis, though he noted that if the low water levels were to persist for multiple years the populations would start to be impacted.


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