By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Bow River Irrigation District is undergoing a series of improvements to their water delivery system. Some of the upgrades are complete, some are in the works, and one is in its preliminary stage.
The Dead Horse reservoir project is the latter of the three, and BRID general manager Richard Phillips hopes to see it fully underway in 2025. He said the new reservoir is “sort of midway between Enchant and Lost Lake down on our main canal.” The project is moving along with engineering and obtaining regulatory approvals for it.
“We’re hopeful that we could be looking at construction some time in 2025. I think that’s realistic,” Phillips said. “We’re still in the preliminary engineering stage, and there’s lots of work to do still with landowner negotiations and so on to acquire the remaining land that we need. We have acquired some, and we’re talking to other landowners and getting close to making deals.”
If work were to begin in the summer or fall of 2025, he said 2026 would be a busy year for construction and if all went according to schedule, the BRID could be filling the reservoir sometime in 2027.
“It’s not a very big reservoir; it’s only about 12,000 acre feet,” he said. “It’s roughly the size of our existing Scope reservoir out by Hays. This reservoir’s purpose is not so much to store additional water, because honestly McGregor, Travers, and Little Bow are huge; they store about 400,000 acre feet which is a lot of water. So it’s not like we need to try to store a lot more water, but what this reservoir is really about is breaking up our main canal into shorter segments so that we have more efficient water delivery, which then helps us reduce our spill.”
He said that it takes over a day for water to get from the Little Bow to the Scope reservoir right now, and by cutting that canal basically in half with a new reservoir in between the Little Bow and the Scope, it makes water delivery much more efficient. “If you’ve got a little too much at the midpoint, you’re catching it in the reservoir. If you’re a little short, you release it rather than having too much all the time and overfilling the Scope and spilling out the bottom,” he explained.
“The real value of it is letting us balance our flows more efficiently on that big canal.”
Some reservoirs primarily exist to create a “balancing function,” said Phillips. Huge reservoirs like St. Mary, McGregor or Lake Newell, are largely for storing water. However, for many of the other reservoirs, it’s about making canal operations more efficient by turning what would be a three or four day delivery time into a one day delivery time.
“Nobody knows four days ahead how much water you’re going to need. It might get wetter, it might get drier, so you’re guaranteed you’re going to have the wrong amount in the system. And if the wrong amount is too low, then you’re running people out of water. So the wrong amount is usually too much, then you’re spilling more than you should. It’s really useful to have. You break your canals up into shorter lengths with these little intermediate reservoirs.”
Even with improvements on the way, Phillips is pleased with how the District has managed with their current system.
“When we were writing the (October) newsletter, we were guessing what it (the diversion) would end up as, but we actually ended up diverting more water than we projected this fall. So at the end of it, when we shut off on Nov. 3, our winter storage in the big reservoirs: McGregor, Travers, and Little Bow, the ones we always focus on because those are the ones storing the water at the top of our system, we were at 287,000 acre feet of usable storage. That is 88 per cent of normal winter storage. We would rather be at 100 per cent, but 88 per cent is pretty darn good in a drought year like this.”