Groundhog, fish and hay
By Dexter Gill
That is an interesting symbiotic mix. I reckon I better explain the relationship. A groundhog is a mammal that goes by different names such as marmot, woodchuck, whistle pig, and of course groundhog. In this case I am referring to a favorite fishing hole for locals. If you want some really nice trout fishing, you go up to Groundhog Reservoir.
Where does hay fit in the picture? Groundhog was constructed to store water for a better-controlled release of water in the Dolores River for irrigation of the growing agriculture in the Montezuma Valley, especially in dry years. This is the perfect example of our ancestor pioneers working to harness water in the Dolores River drainage to build the agriculture we have today, and with recreation being an added benefit. Wait! That is not the end of the story. Today there are groups that want to end a 78-yearold economy of agriculture, recreation and the environment in Montezuma and Dolores counties.
A naturalized trout stream at Groundhog Reservoir approximately 4 miles below the diversion as it appeared on Oct. 25, 2016. The stream had run free for 78 years supporting cutthroat/brook trout in numerous pools as well as beaver ponds. Photo by Dexter Gill.
In 1905, authorization was given to build a water storage dam and reservoir. Work was started in 1907 on the Groundhog Reservoir and dam. Unfortunately, a big flood came in 1911 and washed it out. Not giving up, it was reconstructed in 1938 and included 8 miles of small drainage diversions on Beaver and Little Fish Creeks to ensure adequate water to fill the reservoir. After proving its worth, a final storage appropriation was issued in 1962 for 21,700 acre-feet. A beautiful water body combining benefits for agriculture, recreation and municipal water, as it contributes to McPhee Reservoir, which was constructed in 1986, and get this, the diversion developed an additional high mountain trout stream with beaver ponds and new wetlands and has been free-flowing year-round for 78 years. Today, summer cabins are scattered through the aspens. A campg round, boat ramp and small store are available for the recreationists. The area is adjacent to the newly developing Lone Cone State Park to the northwest. A beautiful symbiotic relationship has been created between agriculture, fish and wildlife and recreation for man. This is all now threatened!
Hey, where’s the water? By mid-October, the locals noticed the 78-year-old stream had suddenly stopped flowing. The trout were being left high and dry to die! It turned out that the Colorado Water Conservation Board decided to shut it off at the 78-year-old diversion box, which has never had any measuring devices on it, to honor a “call” on the lower Dolores River below McPhee Dam.
The “call” was for 76 cfs (cubic feet per second), which is a lot of water, to meet the instream flow rights “to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree”, whatever that is. So to meet that “call”, the Little Fish diversion, which had never been administered for 78 years, was totally shut off, diverting it away from the now-naturalized stream, directly into the Dolores via Fish Creek. It’s interesting that with the direct flow into the Dolores, the full total flow of the Dolores River just above McPhee is averaging only 65 cfs and going down, which is about 10 cfs LESS than the “call” for additional water. Due to lack of natural flow, other water and storage rights, not one single extra drop of water made it down to the lower Dolores for which the “call” was made to preserve a faux environmental need that did not exist.
Why was the “call” made? Simply because the law said they could! Maybe to see what would happen? There was not one single benefit to any resource achieved. What did happen was that several miles of mountain coldwater trout stream with beaver ponds and wetlands and drying up! Will Groundhog ever fill again? If the new water rules are followed in the future, that is a good question!
How did this happen? Back in 1973 (35 years after the Little Fish diversion was constructed) the state established a new “InStream Flow Program” to try to abate the federal government’s insatiable desire to gain control over all the state’s waters, which also coincided with the rapidly rising tax-exempt environmental corporations’ pushing for new laws and regulations to benefit themselves. Resource history and science was lost in the rush to “salve the emotions.” Today, the federal agencies and environmental corporations have and are gaining control over the waters using the states’ own regulations and laws, all at the expense of the resources, local needs and economies.
A note of interest is that the regulations for “instream flow” deal with controlling what water exists and is predicted to exist by the climate-change-hoax models. The established science of forest and range management and use can readily produce additional water availability that all users need, but has been ignored since the late 1970s and still is. Apparently the environmental corporations and governments would prefer to see the 78-year-old Little Fish diversion fishery environment and Groundhog lake fail, than to admit that the current environmental laws and regulations were ill-conceived and in need of massive revisions. The water-control interest by the federal government is statewide, negatively affecting many counties and communities and the entire state’s agriculture and recreation economy. This issue should not be simply accepted as another unsolvable government power grab, but rather use it to stimulate the needed changes, for the benefit of the resources and the local counties.
The counties must have a mechanism of control over their lands, resources and economies. The one that controls the water controls the people.
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.