Dr. Morrison Canal revamped in time for spring irrigation

Southern Ute Tribal Council members listen as Vickie Begay, Bureau of Indian Affairs describes the ways that the Dr. Morrison Canal can be tested at alternating sites along the infrastructure.
Pete Nylander, Soil and Water Conservationist for the Southern Ute Water Resources Division took members of the Southern Ute Tribal Council to tour the Dr. Morrison water delivery infrastructure on Friday, April 16.
Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Melvin Baker shares with Councilwoman Vanessa Torres history and updates about the Dr. Morrison water canal while on a tour with the Water Resources Division on Friday, April 16.
After meeting with staff members of the Southern Ute Water Resources Division, Tribal Council members leave the Dr. Morrison water delivery infrastructure.
Vickie Begay with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Branch of Roads shows Tribal Chairman, Melvin Baker and Kathy Rall, Water Resources Division Head the new Dr. Morrison canal. The new system will improve water delivery to users downstream.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

The Southern Ute Tribal Council toured the Dr. Morrison Canal project site and water delivery infrastructure with the Southern Ute Water Resources Division (WRD) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on Friday, April 16. This newly renovated canal system has undergone complete reconstruction and features robust technology improvements to help manage water delivery to irrigation users for many years to come.  

The Southern Ute Water Resources Division completed the rehabilitation of the historically problematic section of the Dr. Morrison Canal over the last two years. “It has been a joint BIA and Tribal effort to get this fixed and completed, the hope is to no longer have it be an issue,” said Pete Nylander, Soil and Water Conservationist with the Southern Ute Water Resource Division. “There was a lot of seepage that would cause periodic blowouts [along the canal] and the whole thing would end up in the valley below. The idea now is that won’t happen any more in this section of the infrastructure.” 

The problematic section of the canal is perched on a hillside and had issues with seeps and blowouts of the ditch, often impacting the ability of the ditch to deliver water.  

“I had seen before pictures of this project and I had seen how damaged and eroded the canal was and to see it now — it’s a beautiful and efficient facility that I really appreciate,” expressed Councilwoman Linda Baker.  

The Dr. Morrison Canal is currently the largest canal within the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project (PRIIP), it serves 3,100 irrigable acres. 2,250 of these acres are irrigable tribal lands and 850 acres are non-tribal. The Canal had failed approximately one mile downstream of the canal heading in the fall of 2019; making irrigation water undeliverable, which impacted 34 tribal irrigators as well as 12 non-tribal irrigators.  

In addition to direct impacts to irrigators off the Dr. Morrison Canal, there were also impacts to the Dry Creek, Goodnight, Potter Pierce, Dale, and Town Ditches which all receive return flows from the Dr. Morrison Canal.  The Goodnight Ditch also provides raw water to the Town of Ignacio for lawn and garden irrigation. 

The long-term fix of the Dr. Morrison canal was to pipe approximately 4,100 feet of the Dr. Morrison Canal with two 48-inch pipes to eliminate canal blowouts and seepage issues. “It should provide better access and require less maintenance; inspections of the pipeline can now be made through manhole access along the canal,” Nylander explained. “The new emergency spillway will help prevent future blowouts because they will empty into the fields below.”  The Southern Ute Water Resources Division contracted with WCA Construction Inc., for the construction of the rehabilitation project.   

WCA began the first phase of the project during the winter of 2020 and the first phase was completed prior to the 2020 irrigation season. The first phase included the piping of the first 800 feet of canal, the remainder of the construction began after the 2020 irrigation season and was then completed before the start of the 2021 irrigation season. 

“I think it’s great that we get the opportunity to see the improvements in person that we have reviewed on paper and in meetings,” Councilwoman Marge Barry said. “It’s really valuable to see it in action.” 

The project’s total cost was $2.38 million with $1.5 million of the funds coming from the BIA and used the remaining $0.88 million from Tribal AnimasLa Plata Project Resource Funds.  If there are any questions from Tribal irrigators or the public, please contact the Southern Ute Water Resources Division at (970) 563-9482. 

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