“What it really means is the seep ditches can come into priority” — Steve Witte #ArkansasRiver

John Martin Reservoir back in the day
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

High flows in the Arkansas River are satisfying more water rights than have been met in 14 years.

Colorado’s water rights system gives priority to water rights based on the earliest dates that water was put to a beneficial use. A call is placed on the river according to the most junior right entitled to water.

For the Arkansas River below John Martin Dam, that call sat at 1949, the year of the Arkansas River Compact, for the first time since 2000.

“That means we can put water in John Martin Reservoir, which is then divided between Colorado and Kansas,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

Throughout the year, flood events briefly raise Arkansas River levels high enough to allow storage in John Martin Reservoir. But the prolonged levels above 4,000 cubic feet per second have allowed storage to continue for days, rather than a few hours, as typically happens in a flood.

Actually, the river had a split call Wednesday, with water above John Martin flowing into the Great Plains Reservoirs (via the Fort Lyon Canal).

Water below is going toward the 1949 compact. That satisfies all but a few water rights in Colorado.

“It’s being fed by return flows. What it really means is the seep ditches can come into priority,” Witte said.

The state four years ago shut down seep ditches, because they captured return flows that should have been going to Kansas, under the state engineer’s interpretation.

Witte expects the river conditions to continue for the next few days.

Meanwhile, about 23,000 acre-feet of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water has been imported through the Boustead Tunnel into Twin Lakes.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

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