‘Longmont’s oldest water rights today come from the Beckwith Ditch, which dates back to March 1861’ — Longmont Times-Call

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It’s an exciting time of year if you’re a water supplier, farmer or rancher. The irrigation ditches are turning on for the season. Here’s a history of St. Vrain Valley ditches from Tony Kindelspire writing for the Longmont Times-Call. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

Two ditch companies were established in 1860, 11 years before Longmont became a city, and Longmont’s oldest water rights today come from the Beckwith Ditch, which dates back to March 1861.

Many of the names of the ditches that date back a century and a half are familiar: Left Hand, Highland, Pella, Rough & Ready, Niwot, Oligarchy and Clover Basin.

And so are the names of some of those associated with the founding of those ditches: George L. Beckwith sold the first 80 acres of what later became Longmont to the Chicago-Colorado Colony and was one of four original shareholders in the Beckwith Ditch. Morse Coffin settled Sandstone Ranch but, more importantly from a water perspective, was the namesake in a landmark Colorado Supreme Court ruling — Coffin vs. Left Hand Ditch — that still governs water law today. And L.C. Mead was the superintendent on the Highland Ditch project, which is one of the largest ditches in the region…

Today, Longmont owns water rights in dozens of ditches in the area, with the percentages of ownership ranging from less than 2 percent of the Left Hand Ditch to 100 percent of the Longmont Supply and the Palmerton ditches. The ditch companies, as do the ditches themselves, vary in size. Most of them usually have a superintendent and a board of directors, but the smaller companies could just be one person, Huson said. One thing every ditch company has to have is a ditch rider. Maintaining proper water flow and cleaning up debris are the ditch rider’s primary responsibilities.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: Project could signal a big turn in how Colorado views and measures agricultural consumptive use

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Whatever else it may do, the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has already sparked a change in thinking about water rights for farmers in the valley. For decades, farmers have operated under a “use it or lose it” philosophy. Water must be applied in priority or it passes to the next user along the river. In a complicated system like the Arkansas River basin, operating under the doctrine of prior appropriation, that’s not always the next downstream headgate.

At a meeting in Rocky Ford last week, farmers began a conversation about flexibility of use. They talked about the possible benefits of quantifying consumptive use, claiming it for other uses in water court, selling the water and even reselling the return flows. It’s a strategy cities have worked with for more than 40 years as they acquired farm water and converted it to municipal use, said Heath Kuntz, an engineer hired by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The cities have models that account for everything from toilet flushes to water that flows off lawns.

With Super Ditch, the farmers could have the same ability to maintain control over water whether it’s on a field or flowing through faucets.

Water rights in Colorado are decreed in courtrooms, with the earliest dates of use receiving the highest priority…

A change in water court adds another dimension to the water right. Because deliveries up and down the river could be affected, big changes draw a big crowd of water attorneys. Differences are usually settled outside the courtroom, and that means compromise. In recent talks, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs has warned ditches that there is a risk in changing senior agricultural water rights. Decisions in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins have put more limits on how the water can be used once the water right is changed.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

‘Watershed’ movie: ‘I think we have such a tendency to think short, short term, and therefore apply short term solutions to longer term problems’ — Robert Redford

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From Reuters (Robert Muir):

[Robert] Redford, 76, who lives in Utah, traveled to Washington, D.C. along with Jamie Redford, a Northern California resident, to discuss the urgency of the message in their film, “Watershed,” featured recently at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival.

Both father and son have been tireless vocal advocates for conservation, particularly in the western United States. Their documentary, produced by Jamie Redford and narrated by his father, draws attention to the enormous and, they say, unsustainable demands on the Colorado River system that provides much of the American west with water…

The film opens with an explanation of the history of the Colorado River system’s development, starting with the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which provided for the equitable division and apportionment of the water among seven states in the U.S. and two in Mexico.

But “Watershed” holds that the compact, 90 years later, has transformed one of the world’s wildest rivers to the point where it will soon be unable to provide sufficient water for the populations dependent upon it.

“With population in the region expected to reach 50 million by 2050, temperatures rising and precipitation patterns becoming more erratic, demand will outpace supply unless we embrace a new water ethic” Redford says in the film…

The film illustrates the various demands on the Colorado River through the eyes of the people who live on it, from a fly-fishing instructor near the river’s source to farmers and families living downstream. Jamie Redford said that by enlisting real people in the project, the issue was more likely to resonate with audiences.

“It was pretty clear from our point of view that what we wanted to do was specifically focus on people, and we wanted to take a positive look at what is a challenging situation,” he said.

“So, in that regard, we found characters up and down the river from the headwaters all the way out to the Colorado delta in Mexico that are fighting to make a difference and are making a difference and setting an example of what you can do.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Western Resource Advocates’ report ‘Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin’ may be too optimistic regarding conservation impacts

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A report, “Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin,” by Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition states that the projected 2050 urban water demand for El Paso and Pueblo counties can be met by a combination of conservation and the completion of Southern Delivery System and the Eagle River joint use project.

But the 34 percent reduction in per capita demand may not be realistic or desirable, said Alan Ward, water resources director for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “A 1 percent per year reduction in per capita water use for the next 50 years is a realistic goal that will require a sustained, long-term effort, yet will not entail draconian measures, onerous lifestyle changes or landscaping modifications beyond those already being implemented in many areas across the West,” the Filling the Gap report states.

“At this point we cannot concur with that opinion,” Ward said last week. “Additional study needs to be done to fully understand how a 34 percent reduction in per capita water demand would impact the socioeconomic and quality of life issues unique to the Pueblo community.”[…]

Water Works Executive Director Alan Hamel said the Filling the Gap report errs in applying water savings in Pueblo to the overall gap in the Arkansas River basin, where most of the need will be in El Paso County. Those savings will be applied to Pueblo’s need if they materialize.

More conservation coverage here.