A poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril placed in our state’s Capitol begins, “Here is a land where life is written in water.” As we found out last year, even Northwest Colorado can suffer tremendous drought, and most droughts last for multiple years. That’s why Colorado’s water is carefully managed through a well-organized system of water divisions that control and enforce our prior appropriation doctrine, which spells out that the first people who file for use of the water are the people who have the No. 1 right to use it in times of scarcity.
Colorado is divided into seven water divisions, each organized around a major drainage basin or group of rivers. Northwest Colorado is covered by Water Division Six, which contains the Yampa, White and North Platte rivers and their tributaries.
The Yampa River historically has been considered under appropriated, meaning in theory that there is water that hasn’t been claimed that is available for beneficial use. When water supplies were low this past summer, though, there wasn’t enough water in the system to satisfy all water rights. When this happened, some sections of the Yampa and Elk rivers came under administration, meaning the water diversions in these sections were being controlled by Water Division Six. Junior water rights holders and those whose water diversions didn’t meet Colorado rules were shut off to help fulfill the needs of senior water rights and in-stream flow rights.
Administration of water in the Yampa basin has been a rarity but could become commonplace in the basin if drought continues. As such, water right holders need to be prepared for future calls. Because we typically haven’t been prepared for this type of administration, many of our water right holders are wondering what they need to do to ensure they have the continued right to divert water.
If a call is placed in the basin:
■ You need a water right recorded with the division engineer’s office. The right will include the amount of water that has been decreed, what the water can be used for and the date of appropriation.
■ You need an operable, controllable head gate or diversion structure that can control the flow of water into your ditch.
■ You need a measuring device that provides an accurate indication of the amount of water you’re diverting from the source. If you lack any of these things, your water right is at risk of being curtailed in the event of administration on the basin.
Recently, a water measurement workshop was held in Steamboat Springs to help people learn how to deal with water administration. If you missed it and you have questions about the subject, call the Division of Water Resources in Steamboat Springs at 970-879-0272 or stop by the CSU Extension office.
All water users in the Yampa Valley need to prepare for the new future of water in Northwest Colorado.
Todd Hagenbuch is the agricultural extension agent for Routt County. He can be reached at 970-879-0825 or firstname.lastname@example.org.