By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Spring rains have helped raise the water levels at Conchas and Ute Lake and other lakes around the region, boosting visitation to area state parks and creating a positive outlook for local crop growers.
There have been a high number of visitors at Ute Lake State Park on both Memorial Day and Father’s Day weekends, said Logan Village Manager Larry Wallin.
Memorial Day was a bit slow, but on Father’s Day weekend it was very busy, said Joann Franco, owner of Minnow Ranch bait shop in Logan.
Franco said since the lake levels have remained steady, business during weekends has been good in general and not just on holidays. She said there are already a number of campers setting up at Ute Lake.
The bait shop is near the Ute Lake State Park entrance and from the storefront Franco said she can see a lot of traffic in the park with campsites filling up rapidly.
“I’ve had several calls from people asking if any electrical hook up sites are still available for this weekend,” Franco said.
The current water level at Ute Lake’s is 3,778.96 feet above sea level, which is 9.9 feet away from the spillway, said Rex Stall, Ute Lake Reservoir caretaker.
Stall said Ute Lake has received more than 10 inches of inflow to date from rain and snowcap runoff. He said he the current water elevation is just more than 2 feet from the magic number of 3,786.68 feet. Should the reservoir’s water level reach that mark, water will be released into the Canadian River to flow toward Texas. The last time a water release occurred at Ute Lake was from Sept. 6-30, 2006, Stall added.
According to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, Logan and Ute Lake region received 8.39 inches for the months of April and May, said NWS meteorologist Chris Luckett.
Wallin said much of the state and West Texas have received a good amount of rain this spring and several lakes have water for recreation. It is uncertain how that will affect the Fourth of July visitation at Ute Lake.
“You’ve got to be happy with the fact that we’ve had two good wet springs,” Wallin said. “It may affect our visitation this weekend but all we can do is wait and see.”
Stall said he is looking through the Interstate Stream Commission records to find out when the last time Ute Lake was near the same level for consecutive years. He said last year, Ute Lake’s water level was at 3,780 feet above sea level at the start of the summer.
The water level at Conchas Lake recorded on Monday was 4,181.75 feet above sea level, which is 4.59 feet higher than the 4,177.10 elevation, recorded on Jan. 1, said Joe Martinez, work supervisor U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Martinez said because of the inflow of water from the snowcap melting and rain runoff, Conchas started the year only .40 hundredths below the recorded elevation on June 29, 2014. He said currently, the water elevation is 19.25 feet below the spillway, which sits at 4,201 feet above sea level.
Luckett said the NWS recorded 2.96 inches of rainfall during April and May around the Conchas area.
Martinez said the water level at Conchas is dropping a little each day as water is being released into the Arch Hurley Conservancy District’s irrigation canal.
Conchas Lake is the sole source of irrigation water for the 42,000 acres of farmland in Quay County that the district serves.
This year the district has allocated and released a total of 1 foot per acre from Conchas for irrigation of crops, said Franklin McCasland, district manager.
McCasland said having the lake level near the same elevation that was recorded during last year’s water release has been a huge benefit for the district’s members as they continue to plan for harvesting and future crop planting. He said in March the district allocated 6 inches of water to its members and because of rainfall in the region, the water was turned off during April and May. “The water we received from the rains helped reduce the need for irrigation water letting the lake level to rise again and allowing the district to allocate the release of another six inches in June,” McCasland added.
McCasland said having water stored at Conchas early in the year has allowed farmers to better plan for crop planting this year. He said in 2014, there were small allocations throughout the summer, totaling 15 inches of water; this year there was an advance notice to farmers that a larger allocation of water would be available.
McCasland said this allowed the farmers to plant more acreage — or more permanent crops like alfalfa — with the water being available for the next year, should the inflow continue. He said many acres of positive impact crops being planted, such as sunflowers and milo, have been planted and there is a lot of wheat in the district that expected to be harvested.
McCasland said farmers are harvesting the alfalfa that was planted last year with plans for planting more this fall. He said slowly the farmers are coming out of this drought planting more crops and harvesting those crops.
Last year’s rainfall allowed the district members to harvest their first irrigated crops of corn, hay grazer feed, sunflowers, milo and alfalfa since 2010. The estimated economic impact from the harvested crops is between $10 million and $13 million, McCasland added.