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Colorado Foundation for Water Education 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org

A CKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks all the people and organizations that provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue.


The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. STAFF Karla A. Brown Executive Director Carrie Patrick Assistant

LETTER FROM EDITOR ..........................................................1 IN THE NEWS .....................................................................2


CFWE HIGHLIGHTS ............................................................3

President Diane Hoppe State Representative, R-Sterling

LEGAL UPDATE ..................................................................4 CHANGING TIMES: CHANGING USES ......................................5 Municipal.................................................................................. 6 Industry .................................................................................... 8 Instream Flows........................................................................ 10 Recreation ............................................................................... 12 Lynne Bixler, water commissioner, page 17.

Young Hee Kim Programs Specialist

Agriculture.............................................................................. 14

PROFILE ...........................................................................17 Water Commisioners Celebrate their 125th Anniversary

VOICES.............................................................................20 River of Words

ORDER FORM ...................................................................21

1st Vice President Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. Colorado Supreme Court 2nd Vice President Becky Brooks Colorado Water Congress Secretary Wendy Hanophy Colorado Division of Wildlife Assistant Secretary Lynn Herkenhoff Southwestern Water Conservation District Treasurer Tom Long, Summit County Commissioner Assistant Treasurer Matt Cook Coors Brewing At Large Taylor Hawes Northwest Council of Governments Rod Kuharich Colorado Water Conservation Board

Gary Lacy, whitewater park designer, page 12.

Lori Ozzello Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Trustees Rita Crumpton, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

Coors Brewery, 1886, Golden, page 6.

Lewis H. Entz, State Senator, (R-Hooper) Frank McNulty, Colorado Division of Natural Resources Brad Lundahl, Colorado Water Conservation Board

About the Cover: Water demand, law, use and ownership have evolved since this turn-of-the-century farm picture was taken near Greeley. Early water commissioner log books are a background to images representing important water use sectors such as the environment, storage, recreation, municipalities, and agriculture. Historic photo courtesy of the City of Greeley Museums. Inset images (l-r) by Getty Images, City of Pueblo, Whit Richardson, Richard Grant (Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau), Cynthia Hunter.

David Nickum, Trout Unlimited Tom Pointon, Agriculture John Porter, Colorado Water Congress Chris Rowe, Colorado Watershed Network Rick Sackbauer, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Gerry Saunders, University of Northern Colorado Ann Seymour, Colorado Springs Utilities Reagan Waskom, Colorado State University

WATERMARKS: Looking Back, looking Forward

Spring issue of Headwaters invesT hetigates how water use in Colorado

has changed over the years. A series of vignettes give a glimpse into the past, as well as current and future challenges faced by major water use sectors in the state – industry, agriculture, recreation, environment, and municipal. Each story reflects a history of adaptation and change. From watersheds all over the state, themes of growth, innovation, changing social values and collaboration, reoccur throughout. Growth provides a strong undercurrent in our feature on irrigated agriculture, as we focus on farmers in the South Platte River Basin struggling to find a way to legally keep their groundwater wells pumping. Changing social values underpin our overview of the state’s new whitewater parks. This newly defined use of water has raised issues of how best to accommodate new water uses, without undermining existing and future needs. Looking at changes in industrial water use through the lense of Coors Brewery, we see how industrial water supply has changed significantly, from predominantly individual systems to delivery by municipal taps. Themes of innovation and collaboration are prominent in our story about the Animas River Basin. Putting recent legislation to the test, a determined group of local stakeholders took advantage of the state’s new ability to acquire water rights to improve stream segments. The results of their cooperation will benefit several high mountain streams degraded by mining impacts. Consistent throughout all these stories is the reality of increasing competition for finite water resources. Yet future water management will depend not just on the environmental and economic realities of our times, but on individual attitudes as well. In a recent speech to the American Bar Association titled “Reclaiming the

Cynthia Hunter

Headwaters is a quarterly magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2004 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584

Spirit of Reclamation” Ed Marston, publisher emeritus of the High Country News, opines: “If we Americans had a lick of sense.… we’d bless our dams and dammed rivers, and we’d bless our undammed rivers, and we’d kiss our children and relax and cut our work weeks to 10 hours or so. But we don’t have a lick of sense. I know I don’t. We live as if saber tooth tigers were still at our heels, and adrenaline still courses into our systems at the slightest provocation. Individually and as a society we’re addicted to adrenaline, so we will keep on churning.”

Karla Brown, CFWE executive director and Chuck Waneka pause during a chilly February photo shoot on Waneka’s Lafayette farm. Waneka was suggesting we stand over by the ‘Hay for Sale’ sign.

Karla Brown Editor and Executive Director



Interstate Compacts and Treaties: Then and Now DENVER – The Colorado Section of the American Water Resources Association and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education invite you to the 2004 AWRA Annual Symposium, Apr. 30 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada. This year’s conference examines the past, present, and future implications of Colorado’s interstate water compacts and treaties. Speakers from all the major river basins will address:

• Compact histories and development • Tribal reserved water rights • Transbasin diversions and compact compliance (Cameo & Shoshone calls) • Endangered species and water quality • Future well use in the Republican Basin • Updates on the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) • Water and growth.

Costs for conference registration before April 15 are $85 for AWRA members, $100 for non-members. After April 15, costs are $110 for AWRA members, and $125 for non-members. For a detailed conference agenda and registration form, visit www.cfwe.org or www.awra.org/state/colorado or contact Beorn Courtney at (303) 455-9589, courtney@lrcwe.com.

Funding Under way to Construct Poudre Learning Center GREELEY, CO – A unique community resource is coming to the banks of the Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado. The Poudre Learning Center, scheduled to open in April 2005, will soon be available to enrich both children and adult academic programs in economics, history, culture, ecology, science, geology and the aesthetics of the Platte River system. Situated on a 65-acre conservation site donated by the Hall Irwin Corporation, the learning center grounds sit adjacent to the Poudre River. In addition to classes, the center will also eventually provide Xeriscape demonstration gardens, water features, wetlands and outdoor classrooms. Other water education programs will include elder hostels, adult seminars, and community workshops. Currently, local Rotary Clubs are coordinating a fundraising campaign to complete the construction of the classroom building. Charitable gifts as well as the donation of in-kind services are being sought to complete this first phase of construction. The idea for this unique community resource was developed through many years of partnerships between various northern Colorado organizations. The Rotary Clubs of Greeley and Windsor, school districts of Eaton, Evans, Greeley, Johnstown, Milliken and Windsor, Poudre Trail Education Group, Historic Hazelton School Preservationists, and many others, all worked together to make this vision become reality. For more information on the Poudre Learning Center and sponsorship opportunities, contact Poudre Learning Center Board Chair, Ray Tschillard at (970) 348-6278 or rtschillard@ greeleyschools.org.



Register for the Upper Colorado River Basin Tour, June 23-25, 2004 Start the summer off right. Experience the Upper Colorado River firsthand, listen to expert speakers discuss the latest issues in water management, and meet new peers and colleagues. Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education as it presents the first Upper Colorado River Basin Tour, June 23 – 25, 2004. “Whether your job is in engineering, law, science, or politics, there is no substitute for getting out into the field and touring the river, talking to the people whose lives and livelihoods rely on these resources, and listening to their concerns,” says Karla Brown, CFWE executive director. “From the headwaters to the Utah line, this tour is designed to increase your technical knowledge and practical appreciation of this vitally important watershed.” Costs and Registration: Tour registration costs are all-inclusive, covering tour transportation and lodging, meals, all activities and background materials. Early registration (Friday, April 16, 2004): • $495 single occupancy* • $395 double occupancy* Late registration (Monday, May 3, 2004): • $550 single occupancy* • $450 double occupancy* For registration forms: • Call the CFWE office at (303) 377-4433; or • Download a printable form at www.cfwe.org. *Membership discounts are available.

Scholarships The Colorado Association of Conservation Districts is sponsoring seven tour seats for state legislators. For details contact Callie Hendricks with CACD at (303) 232-6242, (970) 8588560 or callie@cacd.us. Can’t attend the entire tour? Contact Young Hee Kim at (303) 3774433 or youngk@cfwe.org to find out how to participate in our evening social events scheduled for June 23 in Keystone and June 24 in Glenwood Springs.


2004 AWRA Symposium April 30 th

Springtime in the Upper Colorado River Basin




Wednesday, June 23 – Urban Water Supply Dillon Reservoir Farr Pumping Plant (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) Wolford Reservoir Town of Heeney and Green Mountain Reservoir Additional topics: Upper Colorado River Project Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District programs Middle Park Conservation District programs Thursday, June 24 – Recreational Water Use Clinton Reservoir Vail Whitewater Park Colorado River Water Conservation District programs Rafting – Colorado River Shoshone Hydropower Plant (optional) Additional topics: Instream flows Snowmaking Recreational in-channel diversions SnowTel sites Mining and water quality Friday, June 25 – Agricultural Water Use Cross Orchards – Histories of Grand Valley agriculture Colorado State University, Fruita Research Center Additional topics: Noxious weeds, tamarisk removal efforts Endangered fish habitat recovery program Salinity and selenium water quality issues Learn to set a siphon tube



Water in an arid land is revered, collected, anticipated, manipulated – but most of all, it is used.

Groundwater Update

Colorado Supreme Court decided that the rules regarding rates of groundwater pumping should be uniform throughout the Denver Basin aquifer, including both designated and undesignated basins. Specifically, the court held that the Colorado Ground Water Commission, which manages the designated groundwater basins, would be required to limit all new wells to an annual pumping rate of 1/100th of the amount of Denver Basin groundwater existing under the landowner’s property. The Denver Basin aquifers (right) include the Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Fox Hills. There are on-going concerns that non-renewable deep groundwater is being unsustainably pumped from these aquifers.

Colorado Supreme Court decided the State Engineer lacked legislative permission to authorize annual substitute supply plans allowing junior groundwater wells to pump out-of priority, if the well owners had not filed for court-decreed augmentation plans. Augmentation plans are required when a shallow well pumps groundwater that would otherwise flow to the stream and supply senior water rights. In these situations, the law requires such wells to replace the water they consume, perhaps through purchase of additional surface water rights, or by facilitating groundwater recharge through unlined ditches and ponds, for example. This court decision meant that entities, such as the Groundwater Appropriators of the South Platte (GASP), that had been relying on the State Engineer’s annual approval of their collective substitute supply or “replacement plans,” would be forced to stop pumping their wells unless they could obtain court-approved augmentation plans. This decision applied specifically to tributary groundwater wells in the South Platte Basin, and not to groundwater depletions in the Arkansas Basin. This is because the General Assembly had already approved a set of rules governing groundwater depletions in that area. In the same week as the Supreme Court’s decision, Governor Bill Owens signed legislation authorizing the State Engineer to approve temporary replacement (substitute supply) plans for junior wells, if adequate replacement water could be found and supplied to the stream. This legislation also gave South Platte well owners three years to file their augmentation plan applications in water court.

Human water needs have shaped Colorado’s water resources since native peoples first dug modest reservoirs into the valley floors. Water use can mean many things. Legally, we refer to “beneficial uses” of water. The list ranges from the very specific such as “dust suppression,” to the very general such as “irrigation.” Over time, the uses of water considered beneficial have increased to reflect changing social and economic values. In Colorado today, water from rivers, lakes, and groundwater wells, while it serves many beneficial uses, is allocated predominantly to agriculture, municipalities, industry and commerce, recreation, and the environment. The following articles provide snapshots of how use and appreciation of water is changing over time.

John Fielder

Designated groundwater is water that under natural conditions would not recharge or supplement continuously flowing streams. There are currently eight designated basins (below, right) located on Colorado’s eastern Plains. Groundwater management districts consult with the Ground Water Commission on groundwater use in these basins.


Changing times and a changing landscape. This view of Pikes Peak, circa 1890, now serves as the backdrop for the Austin’s Bluff Parkway connecting the suburbs of Colorado Springs. 4



Colorado Historical Society





Municipal Water Pueblo’s journey from wooden pipes to high-tech treatment By Dan MacArthur tic uses. Although still a long way behind agricultural water deliveries at 85 percent, municipal water use is growing. Faced with sometimes dire predictions of exponential growth and urban sprawl, it is worth looking back to see just how far our municipal systems have come in a brief 100 years or so. From brackish water delivered in whiskey barrels, to water treated with ozone and UV light, a lot has changed. Looking at our progress, it shows that change will happen, and with it, the opportunity to make better choices.

Greg Emens (3)

Municipal water systems in Colorado vary throughout the state: from mature regional systems developed over the last century, to smaller metropolitan or sanitation districts serving growing suburban communities. Each entity has different strategies to meet their population projections: build new infrastructure, buy available water from other communities and watersheds, reuse, drill more wells, conserve more. Currently, the State Engineer estimates that some 6.7 percent of water deliveries in Colorado go to municipal and domes-

The South Pueblo Water Works (top) supplied water to southern Pueblo around the turn of the century. Portions of the system are still in use today. The city’s continued investment in water supply infrastructure is an often-overlooked component of Pueblo’s redevelopment, including more visible projects such as renovation of its once derelict train station (center) and construction of the Arkansas River Walk (left). Municipal water deliveries irrigate the fairways at the city’s Walking Stick Golf Course (right). 6


ater has divided and united the City of Pueblo literally since the birth of the nation. The first division dates back to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Flowing through the middle of present-day Pueblo, the Arkansas River formed the southern boundary of the purchase – lands north of the river belonged to the United States, south of the river remained part of Mexico. The City of Pueblo grew amid the ruins of a trading post. Abandoned after a massacre in 1854, the “fort” sat on the north banks of the Arkansas River at its confluence with Fountain Creek. Pueblo pioneers first quenched their thirst with murky water scooped directly from the Arkansas River. Water by the barrel cost 25 cents. Shortly after the Civil War, as the settlement became more substantial, residents hauled their water from the Mill Ditch, which carried Arkansas River water through the community. By the time the City of Pueblo was incorporated in 1870, water barrels for both domestic use and fire control stood beside most buildings, according to local historian Joanne West Dodds. Residents could also purchase water from private purveyors who delivered supplies from horse-drawn wagons. But serious efforts were needed to improve this untreated and potentially disease-causing water supply. The plan was to contract with a private ditch company to construct a 13-mile canal tapping nearby Rock Canyon. Financial difficulties delayed the canal’s completion until 1873. Eventually, the canal was abandoned and the company’s assets sold after buildings below the canal were damaged by seepage. Still without a safe source of drinking water, in 1874 Pueblo taxpayers approved construction of yet another water works project. Built at a cost of some $130,000, completion of the Holly Water Works marked a new era for the bustling town. In addition to fire protection, the project included a basic water treatment plant. First, the system diverted water directly from the Arkansas River to a filtering well. From there, a brick conduit carried it to a pump station for distribution through

a four-mile pipeline system. According to historian Ralph C. Taylor, “No longer did men haul muddy river water in whiskey barrels to the houses of the residents.” Just as today, businesses needed good infrastructure in order to thrive. A sense of community pride shows through in this advertisement from the local “WaKee and Partner” laundry. “We have introduced water from the Holly Water Works into our house and have recently purchased a LARGE steam boiler which enables us to finish all the washing by Saturday morning of each and every week.” And Pueblo was thriving. As early as 1878, the original Holly system was already inadequate. To supplement, a series of wells were sunk along the river. But those too soon proved insufficient to serve the growing city. In 1881, three surface water reservoirs were constructed west of Pueblo. Two sedimentation ponds added in 1888 remain in use today. The Holly system eventually became known as the North Side Water District—and later the Pueblo Water Works. Meanwhile, new communities were sprouting south of the river. The towns of Central Pueblo and South Pueblo developed their own water delivery systems, largely financed by the coal and steel companies who were rapidly developing the area. Yet while the towns north and south of the river merged to form what we now think of as the City of Pueblo in 1886, such unity eluded the water districts. They continued to operate independently until 1957 when citizens voted to consolidate the districts into the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “But the newly-formed Board of Water Works soon found it had a very old transmission and distribution system barely able to meet the demands of residents and businesses,” says Alan Hamel, who has served as the board’s executive director for the past 16 years. The system did not have enough water delivery capacity for growth, a problem that became unavoidably apparent when Eastman Kodak in 1968 rejected Pueblo in favor of the northern Colorado community of Windsor as the site of its new factory. In a town struggling to recover from HEADWATERS


its failing steel industry, that loss led to a turnover among the board trustees, and significant investment in improving Pueblo’s municipal transmission and distribution system. Modernization included construction of a new water treatment plant completed in 1977, and further expanded in 1983. Another $54 million upgrade and expansion completed last year is expected to meet Pueblo’s needs for the next 25 years. Today, almost 80 percent of Pueblo’s drinking water comes directly from the Arkansas River, with water rights dating to 1874 and before. The board also has rights to transbasin water diverted from the Western Slope. An additional 61,000 acre feet (an acre foot equals approximately 326,000 gallons) are stored in the federally-funded Fryingpan-Arkansas project, as well as Twin Lakes, Clear Creek, Pueblo, and Ivanhoe reservoirs. This supplies some 8.8 billion gallons of water annually to almost 106,000 Pueblo residents. Residential use accounts for some 64 percent of total water demand, with the rest going to parks, municipal facilities, and commercial/industrial customers such as Rocky Mountain Steel Mills and the Colorado Mental Health Institute. The board also provides untreated raw water to the Comanche Power Plant south of the city. Back in 1874, residential water cost about $2 per month. Today, Pueblo rates are still second-lowest among Front Range cities. At around $26 monthly for up to 13,000 gallons, Pueblo comes in well below the Front Range average of $33 a month. The Board of Water Works estimates their current water rights are adequate to serve a population of 245,000 during a drought year, and will meet Pueblo’s needs through 2040. However, the board is facing increasing pressure to take a more vocal role in preventing further transfers of water out of the Arkansas Valley. It’s a role that Hamel welcomes and believes can be accomplished through cooperation rather than continued conflict. “We’re in transition,” he says. “Just as many entities are coming together in the Denver area, we need to come together now.” ❑ 7


“From a water rights development and a water operations standpoint, we had the ability to continue full production throughout the worst drought in 300 years.” – Matt Cook, Manager of Water Resources Operations, Coors Brewing

Industrial Water Use Coors Brewery Charts its Own Course

John Fielder

By CFWE Staff

Coors Brewery figures prominently in the center of the Clear Creek Valley in this photo taken from Lookout Mountain.


Brian Gadbery

ndustry necesgrowth for Coors as sitated some of the company expandColorado’s first ed into 11 states. Then diversions of water as in the early 1950s, miners sluiced highColorado was struck mountain streams for by a severe multi-year gold and other predrought. A critical cious metals. In the period, it was at this early years, without time that the company From its main production facility in Golden, Coors Brewery manufactures some 22 regional or municipal began to fully realize million barrels of beer annually. Relying on groundwater springs that Adolph Coors water delivery systems, the limitations on its pronounced “perfect for brewing water,” that translates into more than 2,000 acremany of the state’s first water resources. feet of beer each year. Director of Water Resources and Real Estate, Neil Jaquet manufacturing and Today, Coors takes (center), Manager of Water Resources Operations and CFWE Board Member, Matt mining companies had planning for drought Cook (left), and Manager of Water Resources Development, Ken Vaught, oversee the to provide their own very seriously. Cities company’s extensive portfolio of land and water resources. water supplies from or farms can decrease groundwater wells or diversions of river Currently the largest beer production their water use substantially by enacting water. Today, as industry has expanded facility of its kind in the world, Coors watering restrictions or fallowing fields. and diversified, a majority of the state’s Golden facility produces more than 22 But for Coors, no water…no beer. industries now rely on water that flows million barrels of beer annually – all Under the guidance of Bill Coors, from a municipal tap. Presently, there are brewed with Rocky Mountain water. Coors engineers spent the ensuing only a few companies in the state that In its early years, Coors was a decades looking to ensure that the brewcontrol all aspects of their own water regional brewery distributing to the ery would have the necessary land and resource management: Coors is one. mining towns and cities of Wyoming, water to grow and expand. In an old tannery just east of Colorado, even San Francisco. Then Initially, they concentrated on acquirdowntown Golden, Adolph Coors came Prohibition. ing available property in the core of the helped found the Golden Brewery in One of the first states to go dry, Clear Creek Valley, as far west as the old 1873. Coors had discovered numerous Colorado enacted Prohibition in 1916. historic brewing site and east to I-70. groundwater springs flanking South Only half the breweries in existence prior Coors also began to aggressively buy Table Mountain that he declared “per- to Prohibition would emerge still intact. water rights, primarily from local agriculfect for brewing water.” By 1880, this Although the original Adolph Coors tural irrigation ditches, searching west small company became Coors Brewery, would never live to see its end, during the up Clear Creek canyon, and as far east producing some 3,400 barrels of beer 18 years until Prohibition was repealed in as Adams County. Trying to acquire the annually. Today, the first ingredient in 1933, the company survived by manufac- most senior rights possible, the company Coors beer is still groundwater from turing everything from non-alcoholic purchased controlling interests in two dozens of shallow springs located on beer, to malted milk and ceramics. ditch companies, the Rocky Mountain Coors’ property in Clear Creek Valley. The post-war years were a period of Water Company and the Wannamaker 8


Ditch Company. The company also purchased potential reservoir sites from gravel mines along Clear Creek. Its first reservoirs were constructed in the early 1970s. In the next decade, Coors would then go on to construct a total of five reservoirs that today can store some 8,000 acre-feet of water. “That’s what makes Coors unique among breweries,” says Neil Jaquet Coors director of water resources and real estate. “Other major breweries like Anheuser-Busch in Fort Collins and most microbreweries, they basically buy a tap from the city. They bring the water in, remove the chlorine, and they make beer out of it. But they certainly don’t usually worry about water rights. That was the decision Coors made in the 1950s, that we were going to control our own fate in terms of water rights. That’s why we’re sitting here talking to you today, versus you talking to somebody from the city of Golden or Denver about our water supply.” To brew beer, Coors currently pumps some 3-5 cubic feet per second of alluvial groundwater each day from numerous Clear Creek Valley springs. Surface water from Clear Creek is diverted at around 13-15 cfs daily for processing requirements such as malting barley and power generation. Water for evaporative cooling can divert as much as 70 cfs daily. Some two-thirds of the surface and

ground water Coors pumps or diverts is returned to Clear Creek as treated wastewater. The difference between what is removed and what is returned, also known as “depletions,” must be returned or “augmented” to Clear Creek according to state law. Augmentation plans are a major focus for Coors water resources staff. Over the last 30 years, the company has conducted extensive engineering studies to evaluate and formally adjudicate its augmentation plans through the water court decree process. Like any junior water right holder that pumps shallow groundwater hydrologically connected to the nearby stream, Coors is required to augment (replace to the stream from some other source) the amount of water it actually consumes. Currently, Coors has two augmentation plans in place with a third pending. Replacement water generally comes from surface water rights purchased over the years, from treated discharges, or from developed water rights. Augmentation has to occur on a realtime basis, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. To monitor compliance, on a daily basis Coors reports its diversions, return flows, and augmentations to the local Water Commissioner and State Engineer, and this data then becomes part of the public record. The company manages to do all of this with three full-time employees and four water superintendents and ditch riders who man the headgates. HEADWATERS – SPRING 2004

But the Coors system and years of planning were put to the test during the severe drought year of 2002, as flows in Clear Creek dropped to some of the lowest levels ever recorded. According to the people who ran the system like Matt Cook and Ken Vaught, it was a defining moment. “All the foresight that William Coors started back in the 1950s was put to the test. And it worked. That was the greatest thing. From a water rights development and a water operations standpoint, we had the ability to continue full production throughout the worst drought in 300 years,” says Cook. Coors water management system is the embodiment of some three generations of effort: planning for growth, building water storage, and ensuring compliance with state law. Given the size of its water rights holdings, what makes Coors extensive water storage and delivery system unusual – in contrast to municipal and Bureau of Reclamation projects, for example – is that no public funds are involved. However, in terms of industrial water use challenges for the future, Jaquet concedes, “We’re in the same boat as everyone else. We are aware of the pecking order of water rights, and we’re not number one. But I think people in the state are pretty mature in terms of realizing you can’t take away water rights from industry without significantly impacting the jobs of thousands of employees both at Coors and our suppliers statewide.”❑ 9


Instream Flows Improving and Protecting our Streams and Lakes By CFWE Staff


ust over 30 years ago, the Colorado Legislature added the instream flow to the state’s list of water rights. Coming at a time of increased local and national interest in environmental protection, the legislature allowed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to become the only entity in the state able to acquire water rights for flows to remain in the stream. Presently, the CWCB holds instream flow rights on some 8,500 stream miles and supports water levels in 486 natural lakes. The statutes were specific about the size of the water rights the CWCB could pursue, allowing the state to acquire only minimum stream flows or lake levels needed to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. But as times and societal values changed, political pressure began to mount for the CWCB to have greater flexibility to do more than the minimum to help restore and rejuvenate degraded stream reaches with additional infusions of water. This momentum culminated in 2002, when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 156, allowing the CWCB to acquire water rights in amounts appropriate to not only preserve but also improve Colorado streams and lakes. Less than a year since this bill was signed, the CWCB put this legislation to use for the first time in helping the Animas River Stakeholders Group achieve its watershed protection goals. For more than a decade, this local watershed group has been working to improve and restore the Upper Animas River Basin north of Durango, which historically has experienced significant impacts from mining. Over the years, 10

the group commissioned numerous studies to evaluate all sources of minerelated water quality degradation, and investigated ways to remediate the high levels of copper, zinc, mercury and lead prevalent in the area’s sensitive high mountain streams. Early on, the Kohler Tunnel northwest of the town of Silverton, was targeted as one of the basin’s primary sources of mine-related pollution. In fact, according to Bill Simon, ARSG coordinator, the tunnel was found to be the “single worst polluter” in the Animas watershed. Drilled through the side of Red Mountain, Kohler Tunnel accumulated seepage waters from the numerous mine shafts of the now defunct San Antonio Mine. The main source of this seepage water coming into the mine was the Carbon Lake Ditch – an earthen agricultural irrigation canal diverting water from nearby Big Horn Gulch. Water seeping from the ditch would become laden with metals from the mine, accumulate in the tunnel, and then discharge into North Mineral Creek, significantly increasing its concentrations of lead, aluminum, and copper to levels detrimental to fish and aquatic life. Constructed in the 1950s, Carbon Lake Ditch diverted water from the cold snowmelt flows of Big Horn Gulch and transported these waters some 1.25 miles to the Uncompahgre River. Its primary purpose was to supply irrigation water downstream to a dozen Montrose County farmers. Looking for ways to mitigate the Kohler Tunnel drainage, keep water in the Upper Animas River Basin, and improve

water quality in Mineral Creek and downstream in the Animas River, the Animas River Stakeholders began searching for cooperative solutions with other regional water management organizations. “From the time ARSG was formed, we wanted to involve diverse groups from the community and clean up the Animas River Basin on a local level without intervention from the Federal government,” says Simon. Working with this mission in mind, ARSG, in cooperation with the San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council, jumped at the chance to purchase the Carbon Lake Ditch water rights for future instream flow protection. With a $50,000 Environmental Protection Agency Non-Point Source Grant, the Council, with legal services donated by the Southwestern Water Conservation District, purchased the entire water right of the Carbon Lake Ditch – some 15 cubic-feet-per-second. One of the most important potential roadblocks to the project was getting the Carbon Lake Ditch irrigators to agree to sell their water. Luckily, according to Simon, the Montrose farmers were willing to sell their water rights because Ridgway Reservoir, located closer to home, had proved able to supply the farmers with adequate water. After the Carbon Lake Ditch water right was acquired, it was then donated to the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Program, and is now awaiting water court approval for its change of use from agriculture to instream flows. Crucial to the deal was the state’s ability to acquire all the water available.


Under the old statutes, the CWCB could only acquire the minimum amount of water necessary to preserve the natural environment. Now, given the added flexibility provided in SB 156, the CWCB was able to acquire additional water to improve flows, benefiting water quality and the overall health of the stream. “Without SB 156, local groups could have donated all their water rights, but the CWCB could not have used the entire 15 cfs to protect and improve the natural environment and water quality in the Mineral Creek,” says Anne Janicki, CWCB scientist and water acquisition coordinator. As a matter of course, when water is donated to the state’s instream flow program, the Division of Wildlife applies a standard methodology (called the R-2 Cross Method) to determine how much water is needed to “preserve the natural environment.” In the case of Mineral Creek, this was determined to be between 2.5 and 6.6 cfs. Under the old law, the CWCB would have had to relinquish the excess water rights, and would not have been able to provide additional water to this degraded reach of stream. Once the water was donated to the CWCB, the Animas Stakeholders began ecological restoration of the ditch and surrounding areas. Their first task was to remove the ditch, and put measures in place to minimize the amount of water that could infiltrate into the San Antonio Mine. Throughout the next six months, ARSG also removed the diversion struc-

ture on Big Horn Gulch and graded over the ditch, finally reclaiming the exposed area with native vegetation. It then “plugged” the Kohler Tunnel to stop any further discharges to Mineral Creek. By eliminating the highly polluted discharges from Kohler Tunnel, Simon says the group expects a 50 percent reduction in metal concentrations in Mineral Creek. And this should go a long way to improving water quality not only in Mineral Creek, but further downstream in the Animas River as well. In addition, the 15 cfs previously diverted to the Uncompahgre Valley will now stay in the Animas Basin, further helping to improve water quality and restore the natural function of the watershed. In the future, ARSG also plans to stock the creek with native greenback cutthroat trout as part of its plans to establish a sustainable fishery in the North Fork of Mineral Creek. Following the success of the Animas instream flow initiative, the CWCB has received several proposals to improve stream segments in the Colorado and Yampa river basins, among others. In addition, it is currently working with the Colorado Water Trust, an independent non-profit, to negotiate donation of water rights that would improve the natural environment of the Blue River drainage. Cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the CWCB is also evaluating how this new initiative can be used with endangered fish recovery programs. ❑

“Without [this recent legislation], local groups could have donated larger water rights, but the CWCB wouldn’t necessarily have been able to acquire the entire donation to help improve the natural environment” – Anne Janicki, CWCB scientist and water acquisition coordinator

Before cleanup efforts led by the Animas River Stakeholders Group, metal-laden water from the San Antonio Mine pooled in this reddish pond before discharging to the North Fork of Mineral Creek (above). Applying new legislation passed in 2002, local stakeholders donated the entire water right from a nearby leaking irrigation ditch to the state’s Stream and Lake Protection Program. With the leaking ditch gone, pond reclaimed, and more water in the creek, stakeholders are now hoping for a 50 percent reduction in metal concentrations downstream.




peak runoff in the spring, and ensuring base flows for the rest of the year, is critical to create the powerful hydraulic waves that attract crowds of boaters. Between 1998 and 2000, the cities of Golden, Breckenridge, and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Vail) all applied for water rights to support their new whitewater parks. All three entities successfully obtained water court decrees for peak flows of up to 1,000 cubic feet per second. Promptly, all three applications were contested in court by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, State Engineer’s Office and other objectors. Each time, the Supreme Court with a split 3-3 vote, could not come to a decision and therefore upheld the lower court rulings allowing the flows requested. In response, in 2001 the State Legislature passed a new law specifying that cities, counties, and water districts could obtain water rights for “recreational in-channel diversions” (RICD) for rafting and kayaking. By statute, the amount of water allowed is the minimum necessary for a “reasonable recreational experience.” The Colorado Water Conservation Board is required to make recommendations to the Water Court regarding all applications for these water rights. Board guidelines recommend flow rates between 50 and 350 cubic feet per second. But the future of the recreational inchannel diversion has not yet been decided. Because the Supreme Court could not come to a decision in the Golden, Breckenridge, and Vail cases, and because


Whitewater Parks Recognized as State’s Newest Beneficial Use By CFWE Staff


Whit Richardson


Angelina Shure paddles against whitewater and spray from the Colorado River.

Court made a landmark decision that would open the way for whitewater parks around the state. In the City of Thornton v. City of Fort Collins case, the court ruled that controlling and directing the flow of water through a structure such as a boat chute, constitutes a “diversion” and is therefore fair-game for obtaining a water right decree. Around this same time, the sport of kayaking was also starting to change rapidly. Boats were becoming shorter and lighter, more maneuverable. Social trends were changing as well. Lacking time to drive hours to a recreation destination, an increasingly health-conscious outdoororiented public wanted parks and recreation close at hand. And so the urban whitewater park was born. Minutes from home, boaters can stop in for a few hours after work or on the weekends to test their skills. Nearby bike paths and clean, accessible river corridors draw pedestrians and spectators. Cities were lured by the potential economic benefits of whitewater parks. Fast becoming a mainstream sport, boaters and spectators frequenting the parks had disposable income and were ready

to spend. In 2001, studies commissioned to assess the economic benefits of the Vail and Breckenridge whitewater parks estimated they contributed up to $1.2 million dollars annually to Breckenridge, and $1.9 million annually to Vail and the surrounding communities. Towns all over Colorado took note and jumped to capitalize on this newly discovered opportunity for community and economic development. Yet as municipalities and recreation districts around the state looked at the feasibility of installing their own whitewater parks, they also recognized there was one key factor needed to draw the crowds and protect their investment of taxpayer dollars – flowing water in the stream. Until recently, the only kind of water right in Colorado allowing water to stay in the stream channel was an “instream flow right.” These water rights are designed to preserve the natural environment and can be held only by the state. But course builders needed long-term assurances there would be water in the stream, assurances that future development wouldn’t someday leave their projects high and dry. Getting sufficiently high flows during


Conservation Board recreational in-channel diversion guidelines contend that world-renowned whitewater parks such as the La Seu d’Urgell course in Spain, which hosts numerous Olympic and world cup slalom kayaking events, can still operate at flows as low as 210 cubic feet per second. Fundamentally, the conservation board is concerned about the size of the water rights requested for whitewater parks. The state’s instream flow water rights are generally the minimum flows necessary to protect the environment. Recreational water rights demand much higher flows, often as much as 1,000 cubic feet per second or higher, and therefore have greater potential to limit future water storage and development projects. Looking at water development from a statewide perspective, the board appears concerned that large recreational water rights holdings may hamper the state’s flexibility to exchange, move, and store water on a regional basis. Today, Colorado has more whitewater parks than any other state in the U.S., with Wyoming and California quickly following suit. Course designs are evolving with the installation of moveable hydraulic structures that can be raised or lowered to improve drops during the wide range of flow conditions common to Colorado streams. Given these trends, it is certain that the controversy over recreational in-channel diversions will continue. The immediate consequence: further sharpening of the debate regarding the maximum utilization of Colorado’s limited water resources. ❑

Gary Lacy (2)

here’s a whole new rodeo coming to town. But don’t go looking for ropes and spurs down at the fairgrounds, this rodeo’s on the river. Freestyle playboating or “rodeo” kayaking has rapidly emerged as one of the state’s hottest recreational trends, adding to the list of Colorado’s new uses of water – the whitewater park. Popping up on rivers across Colorado, kayakers and boaters are arriving in increasing numbers to “park and play,” spending hours on the same stretch of river or even the same wave, practicing gymnastic cartwheels, spins, and rolls. River parks are not entirely new to Colorado. One of the first such projects, Confluence Park, was constructed in the 1970s at the intersection of the South Platte and Cherry Creek in Denver. During those years, boat chutes were often developed under the auspices of river restoration – removing obstructions from the river and making channels safe and navigable for boaters. “When I started restoring river corridors 22 years ago,” says Gary Lacy, today one of Colorado’s premiere whitewater course designers, “people would have laughed at the idea that we were redoing the stream for a boat course. Instead we focused on fish habitat improvements, aesthetics, building greenways in urban areas.” In the 1970s and 1980s, several more small boat chutes were carved out of dams or other obstructions. In towns such as Durango and Steamboat, dedicated groups of volunteers would remove debris and obstructions from the river channel, place a few boulders, cleanup trash and other hazards. Largely unfunded and unrecognized by the local community, these efforts still focused primarily on river restoration. Back then, the idea of freestyle or playboating was not even considered. Then in 1992, the Colorado Supreme

a RICD was not even defined until 2001, there has been no statewide precedent to determine how future requests for RICD flows will be handled. Issues such as what is a “reasonable recreation experience,” the significance of the CWCB’s recommendations, and how recreational in-channel diversions fulfill the statutory requirement to “promote maximum utilization of the waters of the state,” remain to be decided. The first case to address these new issues is the City of Gunnison v. State of Colorado, which is currently under appeal to the State Supreme Court, and likely to come before the court in the fall of 2004. This case will ask new questions about what a recreational in-channel diversion means and how it should be applied. And the outcome of this case could change the size of the waves at all future whitewater parks in the state. Not surprisingly, at the center of the debate is the definition of a “reasonable recreational experience.” Ask course designer Gary Lacy what is reasonable, and he is quick to respond that it depends on the purpose of the park itself. “If the community wants to create a world-class whitewater park for freestyle boating, the purpose is big dynamic water features. Generally that requires significantly more water than what the state considers ‘reasonable.’ But if they just want something you can float a boat down, with no attraction for visitors, then that is an entirely different proposition.” To counter, Colorado Water

Construction of the Clear Creek Whitewater Park began in 1997. Viewing areas, a slalom course, and specially designed in-channel water features (right) replaced concrete rip-rap and limited access (left). Expanded in 2003, the park now provides more than seven city blocks of pools, drops, and surf waves. With water rights allowing high flows of up to 1,000 cfs, the park hosts numerous national and international-level competitions. Lower flows provide recreation for boaters of all skill levels. HEADWATERS – SPRING 2004



Irrigated Agriculture Colorado farmers find themselves at the forefront of increasing competition for limited water resources

Cynthia Hunter (2)

By CFWE Staff

For almost 70 years, Chuck Waneka (above) irrigated this portion of his farm just west of Lafayette with groundwater pumped from the shafts of an old coal mine. Finding himself in what is now a suburb of north Denver, with difficulties meeting requirements to replace his groundwater depletions, Waneka is looking hard at his options for the future.


cross America, agriculture is changing. In Colorado, irrigated agriculture is changing in particular. When our native grasses were first tilled to furrows some 145 years ago, Colorado farmers relied entirely on surface water to irrigate their crops. Historians often credit David Wall with being the first modern irrigator along the Front Range. Arriving with the goldhungry 1859ers, Wall dug a short, crude irrigation ditch, planted his seeds, and began to irrigate a small plot along Clear Creek near Golden to sell vegetables to the miners. Without electricity or modern well pump technology, extracting large quantities of groundwater to irrigate a field was 14

not an option. Vulnerable to drought, early farmers focused on building reservoirs, diversion dams, canals and laterals to meter scarce river and creek flows to their fields and livestock. Then in the 1950s, new high-volume well pumping technology coupled with several years of severe drought prompted many farmers to drill groundwater wells. Wells were seen as providing additional insurance against dry periods, supplementing and stabilizing often fickle irrigation diversions. Well drilling was particularly common in the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande river basins. But these wells were junior to senior surface water rights. And science showed that pumping groundwater could intercept water connected or “tributary” to the

stream – the same water needed to fulfill senior surface water rights. So in 1969, the state passed a law requiring tributary well users to return a certain amount of water to the system to keep senior water rights whole. This strategy appeared to be functioning correctly until the 2002 drought, when along the South Platte River very senior surface water rights were shut down by river calls, while junior groundwater wells pumped right next door. This comes at a time when competition for finite water supplies is growing increasingly intense. With the state’s population pushing some 4.4 million, growing municipalities need more water. And conservation measures or new reservoirs aside, there are few cheaper places than


agriculture to go and find it. Weld County and the South Platte River Basin are the state’s most productive agricultural areas. In fact, Weld is the 5th most productive agricultural county in the nation. Not surprisingly, Weld County farmers and livestock producers find themselves at the forefront of increasingly heated competition for the state’s limited water resources. Their stories provide a real-life backdrop to our state’s changing uses of water in agriculture, and foreshadow future trends. ••• Henry Adolf Waneka homesteaded near the small coal-mining town of Lafayette some 124 years ago, near the border of present-day Weld and Boulder counties. To irrigate his crops, he purchased shares in the Goodhue Ditch and Reservoir Company decreed in 1879, one of several such ditch companies diverting water out of South Boulder Creek. Around the turn of the century, Waneka’s water right provided sufficient water to irrigate corn, alfalfa, and hay. According to his great-grandson Chuck Waneka, in those days the other ditches along South Boulder Creek had not yet “grown into their rights,” and there was more water returned to the stream. But over the years, nearby cities and other farms began to claim all the water in the creek, and senior calls started coming earlier each year. By the time Chuck took over the farm in 1936, his grandfather’s 1879 water right only supplied flowing water till the beginning of July – not enough to grow many crops. Looking for supplemental water, Waneka purchased a nearby farm bordering the Lafayette city limits, particularly attractive because it came with a producing groundwater well. Historically the well was used to dewater the Simpson Coal Mine, with the owner of the surrounding property having rights to all the water pumped. When the mine closed in 1924, the mineshafts filled with water producing a steady artesian supply of groundwater that Waneka used to irrigate some 200 acres of his farm. But pumping of tributary groundwater can intercept water connected to the stream and needed to fulfill senior surface water rights. Required by law to return some of his groundwater to the river, in the 1970s Waneka joined the Groundwater Appropriators of the South Platte (GASP), a cooperative association of

farmers who paid dues annually to collectively lease or purchase water rights to replace their groundwater depletions. For over 30 years, more than 3,000 wells in the upper and lower South Platte Basin operated under substitute supply plans coordinated by GASP and approved annually by the State Engineer. Today the 300 remaining acres of the Waneka farm sit in a much different landscape than 100 years ago: to the east, a carefully-manicured private golf course irrigates its fairways with wastewater treatment plant effluent. Directly to the west, the city of Lafayette is drafting plans to zone his farm for “open space.” What really changed Waneka’s water use however, was a letter from GASP that arrived during the hot cloudless summer of 2002. It said effectively that replacement water GASP previously leased from cities would no longer be available. Since they would be unable to cover Waneka’s well depletions, he would likely be required to stop pumping his well completely. In good years, cities can rent water to organizations like GASP for augmentation. But in dry years like the 2002 drought, this water was unavailable. To further complicate matters, senior surface water right holders along the South Platte River were alleging that wells such as Waneka’s were unfairly intercepting water needed in the river. The result was a Supreme Court decision ordering the State Engineer to shut down all groundwater wells without sufficient augmentation plans. Over the last two years, Waneka and many others in the South Platte Basin have been hustling to figure out how to keep their wells pumping. Engineers and lawyers have been called in, as well as other consultants and local water conservancy districts. Of the more than 3,000 wells that fell under GASP’s network, some 760 are still “on their own” for finding augmentation water, says Jack Odor, manager of GASP. In the end, some people will find a way to legally keep pumping, others won’t. According to Waneka, he’s probably out. Faced with potentially substantial engineering and legal fees, as well as costs for additional water in the tens of thousands of dollars, Waneka looks around at the urban development encroaching on all sides and concedes, “At 83, I’m looking to slow down. We thought we were covered by GASP, but they got pinched HEADWATERS – SPRING 2004

“These barns sure could use another coat of paint,” Waneka worries as he looks at the buildings on his 124 year-old farm. “But why? These buildings and corrals will never be used for agriculture again.”


Cynthia Hunter

Skylar Loeffler and her son walk beneath a sprinkler system used to irrigate alfalfa at the family’s farm southeast of Greeley.


by drought and the cities. Urban development has played a big part in my decision whether to pursue finding more augmentation water or not. But I’ll probably never grow another crop of alfalfa. At this point, I think it looks like we’ll just do winter wheat and fallow the rest.” Waneka seems less upset with the inevitable transfer of agricultural land and water to urban use, than he is concerned that those transfers be fair and justified. Faced with pressure to sell his water and convert his land to open space

for substantially less than development prices, Waneka notes. “They say we have to preserve our agricultural heritage. But I maintain that government-owned ground with picnic tables and bike paths, trails and parking areas, that is not our agricultural heritage.” Skylar Loeffler and her family represent a new generation of Coloradans invested in farming. In 1989, she and her husband bought their current farm in the BeeBee Draw area west of Kersey. Today they own or lease about 1,800 acres, growing hay and running some 300 head of cows and calves. The majority of their operation relies on irrigation from surface water ditches. One groundwater well drilled in the 1950s irrigates approximately 160 acres. Like Waneka, the Loeffler’s well was part of the group of wells augmented by GASP agreements. In the last two years, Loeffler has been an astute and determined advocate to resolve this well augmentation controversy without forcing farmers out of business. But even if short-term solutions can be put together, financially and logistically it is still too early to tell if Loeffler will be able to keep pumping her well in the long-term. Not ready to retire, in the immediate future one of Loeffler’s basic goals is to remain as financially whole as possible. If it turns out she cannot afford to augment her well, and is forced to convert 160 acres to dryland, it would turn her land values inside out. Although it might not cripple her family’s operation, it would present a major setback. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘Well, you guys are going out anyway’,” she relates. “And yes, possibly that’s a fact of life. But people don’t need to be broken to get us out of here. This sort of change of use and drying up farms is irrevocable. No one can afford to put [the water] back. But it needs to be fair and equitable. In 100 years, will we look back and say, ‘Yes, we managed our resources correctly. We managed growth correctly.’ I dare say we might not.”❑


Photos courtesy of the Russ Johnson Collection, Sterling, Colorado


Celebrating the 125 th Anniversary of the Water Commissioner By Dan MacArthur

For 125 years, water commissioners have stood on the banks of Colorado’s rivers turning innumerable headgates to make the landscape bloom.

Water commissioners are men and women in local communities all over Colorado who work for the Division of Water Resources, opening and closing irrigation diversions, monitoring streamflows, and allocating the state’s precious river and creek flows according to water right priorities, senior to junior. In recent years, their work has grown much more sophisticated, with satellites replacing saddle horses as the means of access for monitoring stream and river flows. But one thing has remained the same—it’s a passion and not just a profession for the 140 water commissioners assigned to 78 water districts across Colorado. It started back in 1861, the year the Territorial Legislature made its first water law decision, concluding that water could legally be diverted from streams, and ditches built to convey water across public and private lands. But in an arid land where unsuccessful irrigation could mean the end of a homestead, the Legislature soon realized it needed some method to dispense a little order among the first water users whenever supplies became scarce and disputes erupted. The Territorial Legislature’s first solution was to authorize the nearest justice of the peace to appoint three residents in every

major river drainage as “commissioners”. These unpaid, oftentemporary commissioners were charged with resolving all water disputes as they arose. “However, the earliest pioneer irrigators had limited need for a law of this kind during most years,” says Dick Stenzel, a retired state water resource engineer and avid historian. “Their ditches were small and the water in the rivers abundant.” Throughout the 1860s, Colorado used this initial method to develop something considered entirely unnecessary in the water-rich east, a system of water allocation. Today known as the Colorado Doctrine, it outlined the relationships between water use and land ownership, and pioneered the “first in time, first in right” priority system. Yet by the time Colorado’s second general assembly convened in 1879, the days of abundant unclaimed water were over. Most of the state’s rivers and creeks already had a great many irrigation ditches with the ability to divert more water than flowed in the stream during most years. Water disputes were on the rise. So the question before the Legislature became not what water allocation method to use, but how to apply it. The solution: In 1879 Colorado became the first state in the nation to appoint public

Early water commissioners monitored the development of water projects including this Sterling area headgate (above) and Sedgwick canal (below), which was built with teams of oxen.



Brian Gadbery

water officials, and the position of “water commissioner” was born. Initially, the state created two water divisions in the river basins with the most significant irrigation development at the time: the Arkansas and South Platte. These divisions were further classified into districts, with nine districts in the South Platte and one in the Arkansas. The Governor then appointed one water commissioner to each district to “divide the waters of public streams in times of scarcity among the ditches and canals according to the prior rights of each.” Most notably, he gave water commissioners the significant enforcement authority to “shut and fasten” the headgates of anyone diverting out of priority. Although this legislation went a long way toward defining the duties of the commissioners, state policy makers did forget one important component – how to measure the streams. “The first commissioners were put in the unenviable position of not knowing how much water was in the stream, and in most cases not even knowing how to measure water. They also found they had no way of measuring how much water was being diverted to a ditch,” Stenzel explains. Some of this ambiguity was cleared up in 1881 when Colorado created the Office of the State Hydraulic Engineer, later renamed simply the Office of the State Engineer. The Hydraulic Engineer’s principal task was to determine the amount of water available in each stream system and make that information available to the water commissioners. At the same time, the Hydraulic Engineer designed measuring weirs and required ditch owners to install water-measuring devices to enable water commissioners to determine the amount of water a ditch was diverting. By 1887, five more water divisions were created, bringing the total to seven. These seven divisions remain the same to this day. Division offices are currently located in Greeley, Pueblo, Alamosa, Montrose, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs and Durango. During this period, the state also established the position of Superintendent of Irrigation, known today as the Division Engineer, charged with overseeing all the water commissioners in his or her area. These innovative precedents in Colorado water law earned the state 18


widespread recognition and plaudits from those concerned with water management in the arid West. “To Colorado belongs the credit of having been the first state to enact a code of laws for the public administration of streams, and these laws have directly influenced more people than those of any commonwealth,” proclaimed Elwood Mead, the namesake of Lake Mead, who served as an assistant Colorado State Engineer, and also headed the Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 until his death in 1936. Despite this progress, Colorado water commissioners remained in an awkward limbo during the early years. Although appointed by the governor, water commissioners were nominated and paid by county commissioners, which created the potential for political patronage and undermined their credibility. It was not until the 1960s that commissioners became official state employees. Back in 1879, the first crop of water commissioners earned all of $5 a day and were allowed to work no more than 80 days a year. Their assistants fared not much better at $3 a day for a maximum of 25 days. Early on, many commissioners were paid only once a year. The risk of violence was always close at hand, too. Water is a serious and sometimes nefarious business. Shots were fired and weapons brandished. In 1888, the Boulder Creek water commissioner wrote in his log book of several threats to his life, noting that he patrolled at night to ensure headgates remained closed. In another instance during the summer of 1896, some 40 farmers took control of the Handy Ditch headgate near Berthoud, accusing the local water commissioner of diverting water into a canal that served farmlands he owned. A little later, the farmers hung the commissioner in effigy and drove away the assistant commissioner at gunpoint. Denver newspapers issued special editions with bold headlines declaring it an armed rebellion. There was talk of calling out the state militia, but further crisis was averted when the local deputy sheriff was finally able to negotiate a compromise. That’s not to say military force has never been necessary to assist a beleaguered commissioner. According to Stenzel, in 1934 during a particularly dry dust bowl year in the Arkansas River Valley, the National Guard was actually

called out to enforce the Rocky Ford Ditch call on the river. Troops traveled into the mountains to shut down illegal diversions by junior irrigators. Fortunately, today’s water commissioners can report significantly fewer heated clashes, as most water users respect the system and the rights of their neighbors. “Excellent commissioners in the past have established a good rapport so there aren’t many major conflicts,” says Division 1 water commissioner George Varra who administers the Cache la Poudre River out of his home in Fort Collins. But the job of today’s commissioner is not just turning headgates and monitoring flumes. Much of the job is dealing with people. “One of my main tasks is working with people and resolving conflict,” says Lynne Bixler of Delta, who for 10 years has served as a Division 4 water commissioner. She said most difficulties arise with recently arrived residents who don’t realize they can’t necessarily take water from the ditches crossing their property. In many ways, as rivers become more tightly allocated, demands on water commissioners are constantly increasing as they struggle to maximize the availability of water. A good commissioner needs to be able to juggle his or her water to make it go as far as possible. They must be intimately familiar with a given stream system’s water demands, the timing of runoff, when and where return flows can be expected. “Rivers and streams fluctuate daily and annually and it takes many years of trial and error for a water commissioner to become experienced in a river basin,” notes Dick Wolfe, chief of water supply for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “Water commissioners must act as diplomats, peace officers and water professionals. They must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to requests for water. Complete and accurate records must be kept of where they have been, what they have done, and what they observed,” Wolfe adds. “It is incredibly sophisticated,” acknowledges Monte Vista area water commissioner, Steve Baer. Modern realtime gauging systems at locations up and down the stream can tell Baer how much water is available at any given moment. He uses that information to manage the river most efficiently, which can make the HEADWATERS – SPRING 2004

Steve Baer, water commissioner and president of the Colorado Water Officials Association, has been turning headgates for the state for more than 15 years.

difference whether irrigators get a crop or not. Their work can also still be physically demanding, especially for commissioners serving rural areas. But that’s perhaps the part many like best. Bixler says it’s not uncommon for her to hike half-an-hour or more to reach headgates not accessible by road. She also is not adverse to clearing and burning brush. “I’m out there turning headgates. I’m out there in the mud,” she concedes. “I’m pretty much an outdoors person. For me, it’s an ideal job.” And the demands on water commissioners vary greatly depending on the locale. In the San Luis Valley, Baer estimates some 85 percent of the water he administers still goes to individual farmers. Bixler deals primarily with one dominant water user group, which in turn parcels out water to individual users. And Varra often works closely with municipalities continuously increasing their shares of the Poudre River. Varra said he enjoys the interaction with water users and seeing that the water gets where it belongs. “You have something you can move,” he says. “It’s real. It’s not something made up.” But regardless of their differences, there’s a commonality water commissioners share in celebrating 125 years of dedicated service. “We live this job,” explains Steve Baer, water commissioner in the Monte Vista area for 15 years and president of the Colorado Water Officials Association. “It becomes a piece of you.” ❑ 19

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Mail this form with your payment to CFWE, 1580 Logan Street, Suite 410, Denver, CO 80203, or fax to (303) 377-4360. HEADWATERS – SPRING 2004


Spring high water, Rifle Falls Photo by Eric Wunrow

1580 Logan St., Suite 410 Denver, Colorado 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org


Profile for Water Education Colorado

Headwaters Spring 2004: Changing Uses  

The Spring issue of Headwaters investigates how water use in Colorado has changed over the years. A series of vignettes give a glimpse into...

Headwaters Spring 2004: Changing Uses  

The Spring issue of Headwaters investigates how water use in Colorado has changed over the years. A series of vignettes give a glimpse into...

Profile for cfwe