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.

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