Colorado Water 2012: ‘Anyone in the basin will say that North Park remains a quiet and unique place’ — Caitlin Coleman

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Caitlin Coleman takes us on a tour of the North Platte River Basin. Here’s an excerpt:

The North Platte Basin—a 2,050 square-mile area that encompasses all of Jackson County and a portion of Larimer County—is nestled up against the Continental Divide in north central Colorado between the Front Range, Routt County and the Wyoming border. About 65 percent of Jackson County is public land, managed by state and federal agencies; still there is plenty of room for the basin’s small population of about 1,400 people.

Anyone in the basin will say that North Park remains a quiet and unique place. Bearing the headwaters of the North Platte River and connected by this artery to Wyoming and Nebraska, the North Platte Basin is somewhat insulated from the booming population and water worries of the rest of Colorado. Geography, lack of major development and a U.S. Supreme Court Decree governing water development have protected the basin…

The basin’s first water rights were adjudicated in 1892. Until then, there were no water districts, no water commissioners, and no official water appropriations in the North Platte Basin, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t water diversions and development. Rather, the basin slowly developed throughout the 1880s, according to former water commissioner and historian Eric Wagner.

The water adjudication system began as a response to droughts in 1891, when people faced with stressed water resources wanted legal recognition of their water diversions. In the North Platte Basin, this precious water is used mostly for flood irrigation—watering meadows to produce a crop of high mountain hay, which sustains cattle locally or is trucked outside the basin and sold as a commodity, such as horse or cattle feed. That’s the way it’s been for years. Ditches wind across the basin, transporting water from rivers, streams and reservoirs to nourish agricultural land.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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