The Jackson Lake canal is no longer in danger of crumbling into a canyon, and its life expectancy is now about 50 years after $3.9 million in improvements.
The canal, originally built in 1940s, winds its way for several miles along the edge of the mountain by way of closed pipes, box flumes and open canal and provides water to about 250 irrigators and storage for the town of Mancos. The final section of canal repairs was completed last year.
The canal is capable of carrying 258 cubic feet per second during runoff. Based on snowpack this spring, the superintendent is hopeful the canal may fill the reservoir to 70 percent of capacity.
The design work for the rehabilitation project started in 2003, and Mancos Water Conservancy District focused on the areas of the canal that were at risk, said Gary Kennedy, the superintendent of the district. In several areas, the canal was accessible only by a walking path.
"There was no way we could have got a crew in here," he said. The only options would have been for a crew to pack in tools and to repair it by hand or repair in a helicopter.
In addition, there was no way to measure the volume of water at the inlet to the canal and compare it with the volume entering the reservoir, making it difficult to detect major leaks.
Before repair work could start, the district broke up boulders above the canal using a compound that slowly expanded and broke apart the rocks that could have fallen. They also replaced the path with a road using industrial wire to hold the gravel.
As part of the project, the district put in 2,000 feet of pipe, mainly in areas where the canal is threatened by falling rock and sealed the mile and half of concrete box fumes with Xypex.
Xypex is a product that seeps into concrete to seal and reinforce it. Since the Xypex was applied, all but 10 percent of the cracks have been sealed, said Kennedy. He said the price of the Xypex was equivalent to putting in a liner.
The project was initially estimated to cost $6.2 million in 2004. The district examined what the community could absorb as a property tax increase and what federal funding could cover. The district board and superintendent decided it only afford a $2 million state loan if a mill levy increase was passed.
"It was really scrutinized," he said.
In 2005, the voters approved a property tax increase of 5 mills to fund the project. A mill is equivalent to $1 of property tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Three years later, the project received Congressional authorization that promised the district 65 percent of the funding.
However, the federal government has only provided $1.75 million, or about 45 percent of the total, and no more funding is expected after Congress passed anti-earmark legislation.
"The chance of it ever getting appropriated is slim to none," he said.
As part of the improvements, the district replaced the office building and bought property so the new office would belong to the district, rather than the federal government like the previous office.
The previous office had a bowed roof, problems with the floor and a heating unit in the basement, which is illegal.
While planning to do remodeling, the district discovered that hazardous material may have been buried on-site, and disposing of that material would have come with unknown price tag.
Instead of exposing the district to the risk, the district decided to buy the 20 acres across the street. Now the district is hoping to expand Jackson Lake storage on the new property.
"Additional storage is something the district has been looking at for 20 years," Kennedy said.
The next stage of the process will be replacing the inlet drop shoot with 500 feet of pipe next year. After that, the project will look at repairing the drop shoot below the dam.
Replacing and improving the drop shoots will be the last of the major projects. The remaining projects are estimated to be in the $100,000 range
All the upcoming work will be completed with in-house funding. The project doesn't plan to take out another loan or ask for a mill levy increase.