Colorado Water 2012: As both an importing and exporting basin the Arkansas Basin’s history is interesting

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series, written by Terry Scanga the General Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

…the Arkansas has some remarkable features that distinguish it from others in the state. By 1890 most of the basin’s reliable water was appropriated and decreed. One of the more distinguishing characteristics is the number of trans-basin diversions that import water into the Arkansas.

Further, a substantial amount of both native water, as well as trans-basin water previously imported into the basin, is diverted from the Arkansas to other Colorado basins. It is the largest in land area of all water basins in Colorado…

Early in the state’s history the major use of water was for mining and milling. As the state matured and mining became less significant agricultural uses of water for irrigation of crops became the dominate use of water. Today irrigation consumes nearly 80 percent of the water diverted within the basin.

Since the 1950’s population growth in the cities along the Front-Range of Colorado have exerted tremendous pressure for the change of the irrigation water rights to municipal uses. Farmers seeking water to supplement their native water supplies developed most of the major trans-mountain diversions by successfully capturing un-appropriated water supplies from the wetter Colorado River Basin. Many of these were open ditches that were dug from the Western side of the divide to the Eastern slope. Others were major diversions transiting the continental divide through tunnels bored through the mountains…

One of the benefits of the trans-mountain projects are the storage vessels built at the headwaters and lower downstream at critical terminal points such as Pueblo. In recent years Upper Arkansas River flows became contentious as recreational activities such as boating and fishing developed into a major economic force. Water entities became involved and agreed to a Voluntary Flow Program to provide consistent and dependable minimum river flows to sustain boating through August 15th and maintain even flow in the critical Fall period to assist the fishery with spawning. With reservoir storage at both the upper and lower ends of the Arkansas River, releases and exchanges can be timed to coincide with these recreational and environmental events.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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