For the first time in nearly two decades, the water levels in Clear Creek have not had to be regulated this summer and that spells good news for local irrigators, according to Dave Pelloux.
“Normally, when the water levels of the creek get low, we have to start cutting off irrigation for certain properties based on what their water rights are,” said Pelloux, the assistant superintendent of Water Division 2 of the state engineer’s office. “But we haven’t had to cut off a single landowner this year, which means that those properties are receiving much more irrigation than they have in the years prior.”
With the irrigation season set to end in early September, Pelloux said, he does not expect to regulate the water levels in Clear Creek at all this year. According to Pelloux, the summer of 2017 marks the first time since 1998 that the state engineer’s office has not had to regulate those levels.
Clear Creek’s high water level is good news for local hay producers who receive water from each of the 25 diversions along the creek. According to local producer Larry Vignaroli, abundant snowpack in the Bighorns and early spring rains meant that there was plenty of water for irrigators.
“We start (irrigating) in April, and we don’t quit irrigating until we get frost. We have very early water rights, and I think they’re old enough that if there’s any water in the creek, we get it,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a problem this year, it’s been very good. Early spring we had some excellent rains; it’s been a plus year for us.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Clear Creek was running at a level of 50.8 cubic feet per second on the afternoon of Aug. 25 – nearly 10 cubic feet higher than the average rate for this time of year: 41 cubic feet per second.
Pelloux attributed the creek’s abnormally high levels to the long winter, which continued through the end of April, as well as regular rainfall.
Buffalo was hit by 18.24 inches of precipitation between September 2016 and August 2017 – more than twice the 7.69 inches that fell on the city between September 2015 and August 2016, according to Weather Underground.
“The early spring storms really helped us out,” Pelloux said. “We really owe the success of this year’s irrigation season to Mother Nature more than anything else.”