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The Dolores Project
The Dolores Project, located in the Dolores and San Juan River Basins in southwestern Colorado, develops water from the Dolores River for irrigation, municipal and industrial use, recreation, and fish and wildlife. It also provides flood control and aid in economic redevelopment. Service is provided to the northwest Dove Creek area, central Montezuma Valley area, and south to the Towaoc area on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation.
Primary storage of Dolores River flows for all project purposes is provided by McPhee Reservoir, formed by McPhee Dam and Great Cut Dike. Secondary storage for municipal and industrial water is furnished by Monument Creek Reservoir, located near the town of Dove Creek, which receives water diverted from McPhee Reservoir.
An average annual supply of 90,900 acre-feet of water is provided to 27,860 acres of full service land in Dove Creek, 7,500 acres of full service land in Towaoc, and 26,300 acres of supplemental service land in Montezuma Valley. Water for the Dove Creek area is pumped from McPhee Reservoir by the Great Cut Pumping Plant and conveyed 39.5 miles through the Dove Creek Canal and its 7.6-mile branch, the South Canal. Water for the Towaoc area is conveyed 48 miles from the reservoir by the Dolores Tunnel and the Dolores and Towaoc Canals. Both areas are served by sprinkler irrigation systems. The Montezuma Valley area is served by releases at Great Cut Dike and the Dolores Tunnel and Canal to an existing gravity distribution system.
McPhee Dam and Reservoir and Great Cut Dike
McPhee Dam, located on the Dolores River, is a rolled earth, sand, gravel, and rockfill structure with a volume of approximately 5,029,000 cubic yards. The crest of the dam is 270 feet high above streambed, 1,300 feet in length, and 30 feet wide. A gated spillway located in the right abutment includes a concrete chute leading to a stilling basin. The outlet works, located in the left abutment of the dam, have two separate intake structures, and a total capacity of 5,000 cubic feet per second.
Great Cut Dike is a rolled earthfill structure with a crest length of 1,900 feet, and crest width of 30 feet. It has a maximum height of 64 feet above original ground surface. The embankment has a volume of about 189,000 cubic yards.
McPhee Reservoir was created with the construction of McPhee Dam and the Great Cut Dike in a saddle on the Dolores-San Juan Divide. The reservoir has a total capacity of 381,100 acre-feet, including 229,000 acre-feet of active capacity, 152,000 acre-feet of inactive capacity, and 100 acre-feet of dead storage. The water surface area totals 4,470 acres at the top of the active capacity at an elevation of 6924.0 feet. The reservoir extends approximately 10 miles up the Dolores River, 4 miles up Beaver Creek, 1 mile up Dry Creek, 2 miles up House Creek. and 2 miles up the Great Cut saddle to the dike. Accumulated sediments would occupy a total volume of 11,000 acre-feet in 100 years, with about 2,800 acre-feet in the active pool.
Monument Creek Dam and Reservoir
Monument Creek Dam, located on an offstream site that drains into Monument Creek, is a rolled earthfill structure with a total volume of 152,000 cubic yards of material. It has a maximum height of 43 feet above the original ground surface, and is 2,850 feet long and 30 feet wide, with a crest elevation of 6810.0 feet. Monument Creek Reservoir has a total capacity of 690 acre-feet. It has a water surface area of 84 acres at an elevation of 6798.0 feet. Accumulated sediments would occupy a volume of 92 acre-feet after 100 years.
Great Cut Pumping Plant
Great Cut Pumping Plant at Great Cut Dike consists of ten vertical, mixed-flow pumping units. Eight of the pumps are multistage and lift water from the reservoir through a discharge line into the Dove Creek Canal. The two remaining pumps lift water through a discharge line into the "U" lateral should the reservoir water surface be too low for gravity releases. Annual energy requirements for the eight pumps are estimated to average 5,800,000 kilowatt-hours, with the additional two averaging an annual requirement of 99,000 kilowatt-hours.
Sprinkler Pumping Plants
Six pumping plants, including four along the Dove Creek Canal and two along the South Canal, provide water to pipe laterals for sprinkler irrigation. The average annual energy requirement for operating the plants is estimated to be approximately 10,890,000 kilowatt-hours.
Dove Creek Canal
The Dove Creek Canal heads at the end of the pump discharge line at Great Cut Dike and extends northwest for 39.5 miles to Monument Creek Reservoir. It has an initial capacity of 380 cubic feet per second and a terminal capacity of 30 cubic feet per second. It includes a turnout to the South Canal and to the four sprinkler pumping plants.
The South Canal heads on the Dove Creek Canal near Pleasant View and extends for 7.6 miles to the south and west. It has an initial capacity of 160 cubic feet per second and a terminal capacity of 30 cubic feet per second. It includes turnouts to three pressure pipeline sprinkler irrigation systems.
The Dolores Tunnel is drilled through the Dolores-San Juan Divide about 2 miles west of the town of Dolores and 1 mile downstream from the existing tunnel of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company. Maximum capacity is 520 cubic feet per second.
The Dolores Canal heads at the outlet of the Dolores Tunnel and extends for 1.3 miles to the south and east. The canal replaces approximately 0.5 mile of the existing West Lateral and 0.8 mile of the existing East Lateral. Initial capacity is 520 cubic feet per second; the terminal capacity is 70 cubic feet per second.
The Towaoc Canal heads on the Dolores Canal 1.1 miles below the outlet of the Dolores Tunnel and extends southward for 45.4 miles to the full service lands in the Towaoc area. The canal is earth lined for 32.8 miles and concrete lined for 7.5 miles. It has an initial capacity of 135 cubic feet per second and a terminal capacity of 86 cubic feet per second.
The Cortez-Towaoc Pipeline will head just above the ter minus of the Dolores Canal and extend southward 19.5 miles to near Towaoc. The initial section to Cortez will carry 17.3 cubic feet per second and the remainder ex tending to Towaoc will carry 2.9 cubic feet per second.
Laterals and Drains
Twelve lateral systems with a total of 84.7 miles have been constructed to deliver water to farms in the Dove Creek and Towaoc areas. Project drainage facilities are provided for both areas.
In 1873, modern development began in southwest Colorado when the Federal Government opened the nearby San Juan Mountains to mining. In the early 1880's, settlers moved into the Montezuma Valley. These early settlers began farming the land but soon realized that to ensure good harvests they would need more water than was available from the small streams in the Montezuma Valley. To meet this need, they built irrigation canals that conveyed water from the Dolores River to the fertile but dry valleys in the San Juan River Basin. The canals helped, but they carried too little water and shortages still plagued the farmers and residents. The Dolores Project ensures an adequate supply of water to meet existing and future agricultural and municipal needs.
Definite plan studies were made and published in April 1977. The report updates the physical data and includes revised financial and economic analyses of the project, based on the feasibility report transmitted to the Congress on March 17, 1966, which led to authorization.
Anticipated environmental impacts were detailed in the final environmental statement filed with the Council on Environmental Quality on May 9, 1977. Included in the studies were analyses of water resources, water quality, fisheries, wildlife, threatened or endangered species, scenery, economic and social conditions, historic, and archeological sites, recreation, and a summary of unavoidable adverse impacts with short-term losses compared to long-term gains.
Archeological investigations disclosed that although the project would not affect any properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it could disturb about 487 known archeological sites, either within proposed rights-of-way or in other areas that would be altered by project construction. An excavation program preceded each stage of construction to remove and preserve all significant findings.
The Dolores Project was authorized by the Colorado River Basin Act of September 30, 1968 (Public Law 90-537), as a participating project under the Colorado River Storage Project Act of April 11, 1956 (Public Law 84-485).
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held September 24, 1977, at the site of the Great Cut Dike, northwest of Cortez.
The Dolores Water Conservancy District administers project and joint-use facilities within its boundaries, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs administer facilities serving the reservation. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and the town of Dove Creek participate in managing recreational and cultural facilities and wildlife lands.
Water developed by the project is available for 61,660 acres and benefits the area's economy by increasing agricultural production, and strengthening service-related enterprises dependent on agriculture. Main crops are alfalfa, pasture, barley, oats, and corn silage for livestock feed. The municipal and industrial water supply of 8,700 acre-feet will permit a moderate but healthy future growth in the area.
Recreation and Fish and Wildlife
Water releases from McPhee Reservoir have created a stream fishery. Releases from the reservoir in anticipation of snowmelt flows are managed to benefit white-water boaters. The project reservoirs and facilities provide new recreation opportunities for the public. Land acquired and managed for wildlife conservation has created valuable and unthreatened habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
McPhee Dam provides flood protection for downstream landowners.
Land Areas (1977)
Engineering Data (Water Supply)
Drainage area - 809 square miles
Type: Rolled earth, sand, gravel, and rockfill
Location: On the Dolores River, 15 miles north of Cortez.
Spillway: Gated, heated in the right abutment of the dam, includes a concrete chute leading to the stilling basin.
Outlet works: Located in left abutment, two separate intake structures including a selective level intake.
Spillway discharge capacity - 33,300 cubic feet per second
Inlet elevation - 6,897.0 feet
Reservoir surface elevation required for capacity discharge - 6,928.0 feet
Great Cut Dike
Type: Rolled earthfill
Location: In a saddle of the Dolores-San Juan Divide (with McPhee Dam creates McPhee Reservoir).
Outlet works: Located near center of dike, consisting of intake structure, trashrack, gate chamber, and gate house. An unlined inlet channel conveys water to the outlet works, 20 feet bottom width, 2 miles long.
Discharge capacity - 820 cubic feet per second
Inlet elevation - 6,852.0 feet
Surface water elevation required for capacity discharge - 6,876.0 feet
Monument Creek Dam
Type: Rolled earthfill
Location: West of Dove Creek at an off stream site that drains into Monument Creek.
Reservoir, Monument Creek:
Spillway: Ungated with baffled drop located in right abutment.
Outlet works: Located in left abutment, consist of intake structure trashrack, concrete encased 2-foot-diameter pipe, gate structure, and stilling well.
Spillway discharge capacity - 432 cubic feet per second
Inlet elevation - 6,798.0 feet
Reservoir surface elevation required for capacity discharge - 6,804.0 feet
Outlet discharge capacity cubic feet per second
Inlet elevation 6,783.0 feet
Reservoir surface elevation required for capacity discharge 6,798.0 feet
Dove Creek Canal
Great Cut Pumping Plant
This web page was adapted from a Bureau of Reclamation Project Data book dated May, 1981.