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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

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Water Education Colorado

Republican River Compact

Between: Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas

When: 1942

Geography: The Republican River flows out of eastern Colorado into southwestern Nebraska, and then into northern Kansas. The Republican joins the Kansas River and flows into the Missouri River.

In Colorado: although sparsely populated, the Republican River basin is an active agricultural region.

Overseen by: a commission

Terms:

  • An 11-year study, from 1929-1938, determined the average virgin water supply, defined as water within the basin 'undepleted by the activities of man'. Based on these numbers, the states were allocated the following amounts of river water:
    • Colorado gets 54,100 acre-feet each year
    • Nebraska gets 234,500 acre-feet each year
    • Kansas gets 190,300 acre-feet each year, as well as the entire water supply originating in the basin downstream from the lowest crossing of the river at the Kansas-Nebraska state line
  • If the water supply of any sub-basin varies by more than 10 percent of the 11-year average used as the basis for the compact, the allocations also change by the same percentage.

 Challenges:

  • The states entered a settlement in December 2002 to determine how river depletions from groundwater pumping wells affect river flows and compact compliance.
  • Colorado and Nebraska have struggled to come into compact compliance.
  • Colorado created the Republican River Water Conservation District to assist compliance efforts, including retiring irrigated lands.  

 

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

 

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Costilla Creek Compact

Between: Colorado and New Mexico

When: 1944, amended 1964

Geography: Costilla Creek begins in northeastern New Mexico and flows through Colorado for a few miles before crossing back into New Mexico and joining the Rio Grande.

In Colorado: this section of the San Luis Valley has rich American Indian, Hispano, and Anglo history.

Overseen by: a commission, composed of Colorado’s and New Mexico’s state engineers

Terms/Conditions:

  • Colorado gets 1/3 of the water and New Mexico gets 2/3

Challenges:

  • During the 1950s drought, disputes over Costilla Creek erupted in violence, destroyed headgates, ditches and even death threats.
  • Operation of Eastdale Reservoir on the Colorado side, and use of extra water in wet years, have both been controversial.

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

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Rio Grande Compact

 

Between: Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico

When: 1938

Geography: the Rio Grande begins in the San Juan Mountains and flows through New Mexico and Texas to the Gulf of Mexico.

In Colorado: the San Luis Valley is home to many farmers.

Overseen by: a commission

Terms/Conditions:

  • The compact divided the water based on how the river behaved during a study period from 1928 to 1937.
  • In a nutshell, the more water that flows through the Rio Grande, the more water Colorado owes to downstream users.
  • Colorado must deliver water through two delivery schedules: one for the Rio Grande and one for the Conejos River.
  • Diversions on the Rio Grande and Conejos River are usually shut off between November 1 and late March or April, to ensure sufficient water deliveries.
  • A runoff forecast is used to estimate how much water Coloradans can divert. The forecast is updated throughout the season, and water users may give up additional water.
  • Since natural variations can result in over- or under-delivery, the compact has a system of credits and debits.
  • If the Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico spills because it is full, or if water is released for flood control, the upstream states have no obligation to deliver for the rest of the calendar year.
  • Mexico receives 60,000 acre-feet.

Challenges:

  • The amount of water in the river varies from year to year, so the amount of water Colorado owes to downstream users varies tremendously each year.
  • If the river receives late-season rain, increasing the amount of water in the river, Colorado is obligated to deliver more water-- which can mean substantial late-season reduction for Colorado water users.
rio grande compact and basin

 

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

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Colorado River & Upper Colorado River Compacts

The 1922 Colorado River Compact

Between: the Upper Basin – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico – and the Lower Basin – Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico

When: 1922

Geography: the Colorado River begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows 1,450 miles to Mexico. The dividing point between the Upper and Lower basins is at Lee Ferry, Arizona.

In Colorado: the river provides water for both east and west slope entities-- it is the lifeline of the West.

Overseen by: State engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Geological Survey

Terms/Conditions:

  • Each basin has the right to use 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year in perpetuity.
  • The Upper Basin states must ensure that the river flow at Lee Ferry does not fall below 75 million-acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years.
  • If the cumulative flow falls below this level, the Upper Basin states must curtail the use of any post-1922 water rights until the Lee Ferry obligation is restored.
  • To see how the Upper Basin States divided their 7.5 million acre-feet, check out the 1948 Upper Colorado Basin Compact.
  • The Lower Basin States divided their 7.5 million acre-feet as follows:
    • California receives 4.4 million acre-feet
    • Arizona receives 2.5 million acre-feet
    • Nevada receives 0.3 million acre-feet
  • Mexico receives 1.5 million acre-feet, as established in the 1944 Treaty.
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Challenges:

  • The Colorado River's flow varies dramatically, from 5 million acre-feet to 24 million acre-feet annually.
  • The compacts and treaties affecting the Colorado River assume annual flows of 17.5 million acre-feet. Some studies suggest that the river's natural flows are closer to 13.5-14.8 million acre-feet. Tree ring studies also suggest that past droughts were more severe and lasted longer than those witnessed after 1905.
  • Future climate change poses unknown changes to river flow.
  • The Lower Basin system supply and demand are so closely matched that small changes in river flow could cause serious problems.
  • The United States can reduce the 1.5 million acre-feet owed to Mexico in times of 'extraordinary drought,' but the treaty does not define what makes a drought 'extradordinary' versus 'ordinary'.
  • The 1944 Mexico Treaty does not say if the 1.5 million acre-feet should come from the Upper or Lower Basin.
  • Increasing population in both basins will create further demand.

 

 

 

1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact

Between: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

Geography: the Colorado River begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows 1,450 miles to Mexico.

Overseen by: Upper Colorado River Commission

Terms/Conditions:

  • The Upper Basin states must divide the 7.5 million acre-feet per year granted through the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
  • Arizona receives 50,000 acre-feet of water, and the other states receive percentages of the remaining water as follows:
    • Colorado: 51.75%
    • New Mexico: 11.35%
    • Utah: 23%
    • Wyoming: 14%

Challenges:

  • In wet years, the Upper Basin states can store water in reservoirs, but in dry years they may need to limit their use to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
  • Some experts are concerned that the existing demands in the Upper Basin already exceed supply, preventing future development.
  • Increasing population creates new demand on water resources.
  • New water-intensive industries, such as shale-lil development, could require much of the river's undeveloped water.

 

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

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The La Plata River Compact

Between: Colorado and New Mexico

When: 1922

Geography: the La Plata River begins near Durango and flows through southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. It joins the San Juan River near Farmington, NM.

In Colorado: the La Plata irrigates about 11,000 acres.

Overseen by: state engineers of Colorado and New Mexico

Terms:

  • Colorado must maintain gauging stations at Hesperus and the state line to record river flow from a period between February 15 and December 1.
  • Colorado's right to use water during this period is restricted if the mean daily flow at the interstate gauge is less than 100 cubic feet per second. Colorado must then send half the flow from the Hesperus station to the interstate gauge.
  • Colorado and New Mexico have unrestricted use of the water within their state boundaries from December 1 to February 15.

Challenges:

  • New Mexico has wanted Colorado to provide it with more water, even though irrigation in New Mexico's portion of the basin has declined. Colorado claims it has no obligation to provide water for New Mexico outside the La Plata basin.
  • The river can go dry in a stretch between Hesperus and the interstate gauge, meaning no water reaches New Mexico.

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

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Animas La Plata Project Compact

This compact is unusual because it concerns a water project, rather than sharing the water in a natural stream.

Between: Colorado and New Mexico; also fulfills settlements to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and provides water to the Navajo Nation

When: 1968

Geography: Lake Nighthorse, the new reservoir built through the project, is near Durango.

In Colorado: the project stores water needed to make up shortages.

Overseen by: the Animas-La Plata Project Operations, Maintenance, and Replacement Association – composed of representatives from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, the San Juan Water Commission, the La Plata Water Conservancy District, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and the Navajo Nation

Terms:

  • The project was proposed to help Colorado store water and fulfill its obligations in other basins. It was also intended to settle water rights disputes involving the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
  • The project has gone through many changes since its initial authorization in the 1950s and 1960s
  • Lake Nighthorse Reservoir, which can hold 120,000 acre-feet of water, was built to store water for the project.
  • A pipeline from the pumping plant near the reservoir will provide water to the Navajo Nation.
  • The project will deliver municipal and industrial water to the two Ute tribes, the Navajo Nation, the San Juan Water Commission, the La Plata Conservancy District, and the state of Colorado.

Challenges:

    The project requires the cooperation of many agencies.

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts. 

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Arkansas River Compact

Between: Colorado and Kansas

When: 1948

Geography: The Arkansas River begins near Leadville and flows through southeastern Colorado.

arkansas river basin and compact

In Colorado: the Arkansas has provided irrigation since 1859.

Overseen by: an interstate agency, the Arkansas River Compact Administration

Terms:

  • This compact is unusual in that it does not divide the river water in specific amounts or as a percentage of river flows.
  • The compact is designed to protect the existing uses in both states from depletions due to future developments. These uses are not quantified, either.
  • Colorado and Kansas can develop new uses as long as they do not materially deplete the water available to the other state.

     

Challenges:

  •           Colorado well users must make sure that they are not “materially depleting” the river.
  •           As surface water irrigation becomes more efficient, less water returns to the river, raising the possibility of “material depletions.”
  •           The Arkansas River receives little snowmelt and is one of the most over-appropriated basins in Colorado.

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts.

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South Platte Compact

Click the fluent water facts below to learn about Colorado's other interstate compacts.

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Between: Colorado and Nebraska

When: 1923

Geography: the South Platte forms from many tributaries along Colorado’s Front Range, gathers at the junction of the Poudre River near Greeley and flows into Nebraska below Julesburg. The South Platte joins with the North Platte (which flows through Wyoming) to form the Platte River in Nebraska.

In Colorado: the South Platte serves urban, agricultural, and industrial needs.

Overseen by: State Engineers

Terms:

  • Between April 1 and Oct. 15 of each year, Colorado must curtail appropriations in the lower part of the river that impact flows at the state line and whose decrees are junior to June 14, 1897, when the flow at the state line is less than 120 cubic feet per second.
  • Colorado is entitled to full and uninterrupted use of the waters of the South Platte River at all times between Oct. 15 and April 1 in the lower part of the basin.
  • Nebraska may build a canal that would divert water near Ovid, CO at a rate of up to 500 cubic feet per second.  Nebraska could use this water from Oct. 15 to April 1.  Nebraska has not yet built this canal.
  • Nebraska gets full use of the water flowing in Lodgepole Creek above the point of diversion two miles north of the two states’ boundary.

Challenges:

  • Population growth increases demand – Two out of every three Coloradans are projected to live in the South Platte basin by 2050.
  • Because the Platte River provides migratory habitat for several endangered bird species, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Department of the Interior work with water and environmental interests to preserve water rights and protect habitat.

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