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Drought management in northeastern Colorado




Zimbelman, Darell D., author
U.S. Committee on Irrigation and Drainage, publisher

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The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (the District) has established a set of policies and procedures and constructed a water storage and distribution system that allows for the effective and efficient transfer of water, on an annual rental basis or on a permanent basis, to meet changing demands or climatological conditions, including drought. In fact, the District was created and the Project designed during and following the drought of the 1930's. The District operates and maintains the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which captures runoff from the head waters of the Colorado River on the West Slope of the Rocky Mountains. The stored water is then transferred to storage reservoirs on the East Slope of the mountains, for subsequent delivery to District allottees. The District delivers an annual average of 240,000 acre-feet to supplement the runoff of six East Slope drainages, namely the Cache la Poudre River, the Big Thompson River, the Little Thompson River, and St. Vrain River, Left Hand Creek, and Boulder Creek. The amount of water delivered by the District is directly related to the anticipated runoff from the East Slope drainages, and in most years can offset the impact of below normal runoff. Approximately 30 percent of the deliveries are for municipal and industrial uses, with the remainder being for agricultural uses. The District's policies and procedures allow water to be transferred from one allottee to another on an annual rental basis, without regard to type of use or location, simply by filling out a post card type form and mailing it to the District offices. This is a powerful management system which allows water transfers to be made on an annual basis to the individual or entity with the "greatest" demand. Water can also be transferred permanently. While administratively a permanent transfer is a bit more lengthy, it allows water to be transferred to meet the overall changing demands of the area, namely from agriculture to municipal use. These transfers can occur without being encumbered by the very lengthy, and on occasion costly, process placed on other water supplies by the Colorado water rights system. The Colorado water rights system is a judicial process in which a transfer in water right must be submitted to the water court along with necessary legal and engineering reports which demonstrates that senior water rights holders will not be adversely impacted by the transfer. Since this process is open to legal objection, it can, if the transfer is protested, result in a substantial delay in time and a significant commitment of funds to complete the transfer. Ultimately it may result in less water being transferred than was desired.


Presented at Planning for water shortages: water reallocations and transfers drought management: proceedings from the 1989 regional meetings held on August 24-25, 1989 in Boise, Idaho and on October 19-21, 1989 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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