Ouray: The city is trying to bolster its water rights to protect against a downstream call


From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Thus the City of Ouray has been forever saddled with junior water rights compared to thirsty downstream irrigators, who are more and more likely to place a call on the city’s water supply as that water becomes ever scarcer in future years. This is the basic problem which the city seeks to resolve.

CDWR conducts tabulations of water rights throughout its various districts every two years. Water rights holders have one year from the time of the tabulation to object to a particular determination. The last tabulation of water rights affecting the City of Ouray took place in 2012, and the next one occurs in 2014.

The City of Ouray, through [City Attorney Kathryn Sellars], intends to file an official objection to the CDWR’s 2012 tabulation which enabled the M&D Canal to make a call on the city’s water supply last year.

In a position paper sent to to Division 4 Water Engineer Bob Hurford on June 13 outlining this objection, Sellars related the complicated history of water adjudication in Colorado and exposed special circumstances which, she argued, underline several flaws in the system when applied to Ouray.

Central to her argument is the so-called “subordination clause” in the first general adjudication decree in Division 4 in 1888 which “subordinates” agricultural water uses to so-called domestic water use but has been interpreted narrowly so as not to equate “domestic” with modern-day municipal water use…

“We don’t have the authority to tabulate a water right in the way the City of Ouray is asking,” [Jason Ullman, Assistant Division Engineer for CDWR’s Division 4] argued. “We have told them we would not oppose them if they filed with the water court to request that the seniority of water rights be clarified, and see what the water court judge says. They really need to take the matter to someone who has the authority to direct us to retabulate.”

CDWR’s research has not produced any other examples of other Colorado municipalities in the same situation as Ouray.

“It’s just the way the priority system was developed in Colorado,” Ullman said. “They couldn’t foresee this problem back then. It’s worked well for over 100 years, but there are some quirks in the system. The point is, we would not file an opposition to their request for retabulation, but the court needs to give its blessing to that. Because there is no other municipality in this situation.”

More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.

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