Recent rains are filling McPhee Reservoir, improving its outlook for next season.
The reservoir's elevation is 4½ feet higher than this time last year, reports Vern Harrell, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer.
"This latest storm produced 1,676 acre-feet of storage," he said. "Irrigation outflow is pretty much done, and the inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously."
Carryover storage as of Oct. 1, 2014, is at 34,185 acre-feet, compared with 21,943 acre-feet carryover for the same day last year, an increase of 12,242 acre-feet.
Last year, farmers suffered severe shortages, receiving just 25 percent of their normal water allocation because of poor snowpack and early hot weather.
This year, farmers from Dove Creek to Towaoc received 90-100 percent of their allocation, and monsoon rains reduced overall irrigation demand.
"It turned out to be a good water year," Harrell said.
On Sept. 29, the Dolores River hit a record peak of 1,060 cubic feet per second - up from 100 cfs the day before - because of a massive rainfall event in the San Juan Mountains over the weekend. The previous record on that day was 626 cfs in 1927. On Oct. 1, the river at Dolores was flowing at 456 cfs, a boatable level.
Also this fall, significant upgrades to McPhee's irrigation infrastructure will begin. This year, the Bureau and the Dolores Water Conservancy District secured $4.5 million in funding for the improvements.
Automated pumping stations at Fairview, Pleasant View, Ruin Canyon, Cahone, and Dove Creek are all slated for upgrades, said DWCD engineer Ken Curtis.
"They are 25 years old and ready for replacement," he said.
The majority of the funding ($4 million) for the upgrades comes from revenues generated at the Glen Canyon hydro-electric power plant. DWCD pitched in $465,000.
"The Colorado Basin Power funds were used to pay for new reservoir projects, but there are no more of those, so now it distributes the money for upgrades and maintenance of existing facilities," Curtis said.
The Fairview Pumping plant, which feeds off the Dove Creek canal, will receive the first overhaul at a cost of $1.6 million.
"The $500,000 needed for installation came in and construction is slated to begin in November," Harrell said.
Now that the farming season is over, three variable-speed pumps and their 500-horsepower motors will be replaced, along with associated electronics and transformers.
The Fairview station delivers pressurized irrigation water through underground pipelines to 8,000 acres of farmland southwest of Yellow Jacket.
The company supplying the equipment, Yellowstone Electric, out of Montana, was also the low-bidder for the installation.
"We'd really hoped for a local contractor, but nobody bid," Harrell said. "The three new pumps will be up and running by April 15, be tested, and ready to take full demand."
A wet fall and some carryover storage is a good sign for boaters as well. Officials say the reservoir needs an above-average winter snowpack to fill. A super stellar winter could create the "fill and spill" scenario coveted by boaters hoping for a rafting season on the Lower Dolores River. The last whitewater release for the Dolores River below McPhee dam was in 2011.
"Looking at the mountains, they are already white, so we're off to a good start," Harrell said.
Montezuma Valley Irrigation service will be shut off Oct. 15, and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe will end its irrigation season Nov. 1.