Elk River: Late summer water rights administration has water commissioners hopping

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Elk just above its confluence with the Yampa was flowing at 29 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, well below its median flow of 100 cfs for the date…

Water Commissioner Brian Romig has shut down eight ditches because they had no flow-measuring device to confirm the water rights holder was not taking more water from the Elk than he or she was entitled to. In addition, Light said, Romig has pulled 20 pumps from the river. That step was taken because the pump owners did not have a decreed water right, did not have a measuring device or were removing water under a right that was junior to the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ right to protect a baseline flow, which dates back to 1977.

In two cases, Romig required water users to reduce the amount of water they were taking out of the river…

Even though the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ minimum flow right is junior to most of the agricultural water rights along the Elk, it takes precedence when those rights holders do not use proper measuring devices on their head gates, [District 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light] explained. An improperly installed flow-measuring device can indicate that a water rights holder is removing more water than he or she is entitled to, she said…

The Colorado Division of Water Resources has the right to put a call on the Elk when its flow dips below 65 cfs, Light said. But that doesn’t mean the result will be that the river is restored to that level. So far, she said Romig’s efforts have increased the flow of the river by 6 to 10 cfs, and he may not be able to find much more water that can remain in the Elk in order to protect the natural systems…

The enforcement of water rights comes at the end of the irrigation season when most of the hay crop has been harvested and irrigators are turning water on their hay fields to generate some regrowth in order to pasture cattle and to demonstrate continuous use of their water rights.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

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