The town of Basalt has budgeted to spend more than $1.6 million this year to complete a long-awaited park along the Roaring Fork River.
The second phase of Basalt River Park will include construction of a band shell, water-misting and play features, and extensive landscaping and sod. In addition, a new bus station with a bathroom will be constructed on Two Rivers Road at the park’s edge.
The work will require most of the 2022 construction season so the park won’t be fully ready for prime time until possibly late in the year, town manager Ryan Mahoney said. He believes the completed park will be a “crown jewel” for the town since it is so close to downtown…
The park is located at the town’s main intersection at Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road, and a portion of it extends downstream. A contractor finished phase one this winter, including final grading and constructing a sitting wall from large boulders. About $886,000 was spent on that phase…
Basalt struggled for years with its vision for the property. Two roughly equally sized factions duked it out over how much of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site should be developed and how much should be open space and a park. Belinski and Light crafted a compromise that included selling additional square footage to the town for parkland.
“Here is a land where life is written in water.” — Thomas Hornsby Ferril, Colorado Poet Laureate
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr. was a respected authority on Colorado water law, and his recent death represents a great loss to Colorado, the state’s water community in particular. Justice Hobbs was also an excellent writer, a poet, actually, and Coloradans are fortunate to have his writings about the state’s unique system of water allocation. In the “Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law,” Justice Hobbs describes the history of the framework for using and managing Colorado water.
As Hobbs notes in the “Citizen’s Guide,” Colorado’s system of water allocation and management began to take shape 170 years ago when the first settlers arrived from New Mexico, bringing their Spanish tradition of community irrigation ditches, or acequias. The oldest continuous water right in Colorado, the 1852 People’s Ditch of San Luis, dates to this period.
In 1858, gold-seekers swarmed into the region, and mining operations were some of the first to claim water, loosely following an appropriation system established during the California gold rush. Most mining operations were short-lived, but the miners helped establish Colorado’s system of water rights.
Early settlers found good farmland in the Lower Arkansas Valley and diverted water from the Arkansas River into the Rocky Ford High Line Canal to irrigate their crops. The canal has an 1861 water right.
After Congress created the Colorado Territory in 1861, federal court rulings established a water law framework different from the Riparian Doctrine of Eastern states, which provides a water right to anyone who owns land adjacent to a body of water.
The 1862 Homestead Act and 1866 Mining Act allowed Colorado settlers to build ditches and reservoirs to divert water from public land to locations where it was needed for mining and agriculture. Otherwise, Congress allowed Western territories and states to create water law through legislation and court rulings.
In “Chaffee County: Our Water Story,” Kay Marnon Danielson describes early settlers in the Upper Arkansas Valley as predominantly farmers and ranchers. With a growing season of about five months a year, farming in the valley was limited, but large tracts of government land provided opportunities for grazing cattle.
Cattle require winter feed, so alfalfa became, and still is, a major crop. Cattle and food crops were raised to feed growing Front Range cities in addition to the boomtowns in mountain mining districts. These Upper Ark Basin agricultural activities required water, which required irrigation ditches like the Trout Creek Ditch, the oldest ditch in Chaffee County with an 1864 appropriation date.
Adopted in 1876, the Colorado Constitution formalized the Prior Appropriation System as the basis for state water law. Under Prior Appropriation, water users with earlier water right decrees hold a “senior” right and can take water to meet their needs before holders of more recent or “junior” rights.
As an example, the Rocky Ford High Line Canal’s 1861 appropriation date gives it priority over the Trout Creek Ditch’s 1864 water right. So, in a dry year water diversions for the Trout Creek Ditch can be curtailed to ensure that the High Line Canal receives its water (because the High Line has the older water right, i.e., the earlier appropriation date).
In 1882, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that, under the Prior Appropriation System, water can be appropriated in one watershed and imported to a different watershed to be put to beneficial use (Coffin v. Left Hand Ditch Co.).
The Arkansas River Basin is no exception. It has the largest land mass of Colorado’s river basins, but it yields one of the smallest quantities of native water, contributing to its status as the most over-appropriated basin in the state.
Limited quantities of native water have also prompted “trans-basin diversions,” which bring an average of 130,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River Basin into the Arkansas River Basin – nearly 15% of the Ark Basin’s water supply, as calculated by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
The Prior Appropriation System provides a process by which water users can obtain a court decree for their water rights. That process, called adjudication, sets:
The date of the water right.
The source of the water.
The point from which that water is diverted.
The type of beneficial use.
The place where the water is used.
To legally appropriate water in Colorado, the water user must put the water to a “beneficial use,” which requires a plan to divert and/or store the water for a legally recognized beneficial use. Colorado water law defines beneficial use as a lawful “appropriation” of water employing efficient practices to use the water without waste.
According to Justice Hobbs, the goal is to avoid waste so that as much water as possible is available to as many right holders as possible.
Water uses recognized as “beneficial” have expanded through the years and include, among others: agricultural irrigation, municipal uses, commercial uses, domestic uses, industrial uses, recreational uses and snowmaking. In-stream flows were legally recognized as a beneficial use in 1979. Since then, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has claimed in-stream flow water rights for thousands of miles of Colorado waterways, but those rights remain junior to most other water rights.
For more than 125 years now, the Colorado Division of Water Resources has fulfilled the responsibility of administering the Prior Appropriation System. Directed by the State Engineer, this work is carried out through the Division Offices – one for each of the Colorado’s seven major river basins – each led by a Division Engineer. The Arkansas River Basin is administered by Division 2.
There are many TV and private business meteorologists in Colorado. But let’s take a look at the accuracy and lead time of the National Weather Service’s snow total forecast for the biggest snowstorm this season for the Interstate 25 corridor.
You might be surprised how accurate the forecast was.
Fort Collins forecast accuracy
Fort Collins received 9 inches of snow during the two-day storm, with 1.2 inches on Tuesday and 7.8 inches Wednesday, according to the Colorado Climate Center. Reports from around the city varied from 7.5 inches to just more than 10 inches.
On Monday, the National Weather Service forecast for Fort Collins was 4 to 6 inches, but the weather service doubled its forecast to 8 to 12 inches Monday evening as the storm approached.
The weather service also has a feature called a probabilistic snowfall forecast that is a percentages-based model of varying snow totals for various cities in Colorado.
The low-end forecast for Fort Collins was 5 inches, the high-end forecast was 12 inches and the expected amount was 10 inches.
That forecast indicated Fort Collins had a 100% chance of seeing more than 2 inches of snow, 97% chance of more than 4 inches, 72% chance of more than 6 inches, 54% chance of more than 8 inches and 14% chance of more than 12 inches.
Predicting heavy snow isn't always based on just upslope! An area of convergence (similar to the Denver Convergence Vorticity Zone, or DCVZ), played a huge role last night – see radar loop between 9 pm and 630 am, showing evolution of heaviest snow (dark green). #COwx (1/4) pic.twitter.com/axIR9lGRbj
The National Weather Service forecast for Greeley predicted 6 to 8 inches of snow, and reports from the city ranged mostly from 5 to 8 inches.
The weather service forecast for Boulder was 8 to 12 inches, and reported totals ranged from 8.3 to 10.5 inches.
Like with Fort Collins, by Monday night the weather service doubled Denver’s expected snowfall from its morning forecast, making the city’s forecast total 8 to 12 inches. Reported totals ranged from 6.3 inches in Denver to 10.5 inches in Aurora, with many stations reporting 8 to 9 inches.
Heavy snow bands formed from the Denver Convergence Vorticity Zone that rolled over Boulder, Denver and Aurora.
Sometimes referred to as the Denver Cyclone, this condition forms east of Denver when a low-level moist, southeasterly flowing air mass meets the Palmer Divide, a ridge that extends east of the Front Range between Denver and Colorado Springs.
The convergence of this air mass and winds coming off the foothills creates what’s called an enhanced cyclonic vorticity. The effect is most noticeable in warmer months and plays a role in creating tornadoes.
Colorado Springs area sees biggest snow totals
The Monday night forecast for the Colorado Springs area was 8 to 12 inches. Many of the reporting stations in the city measured 7 to 10 inches.
However, three sites southwest of the city reported 24, 18 and 22 inches, the highest totals from the storm. Even then, the weather service forecast called for 12 to 18 inches of snow for a small pocket in that area.
State officials on [January 26, 2022] announced an education campaign aimed at water conservation that emphasizes the role of individual consumers in their everyday, in-home water use.
At the bi-annual meeting of the Colorado Water Congress, Governor Jared Polis unveiled the Water ’22 campaign, a year-long, statewide initiative that aims to educate Coloradans about one of the state’s most important resources. The program encourages conservation in the face of climate change-fueled drought by asking people to take a pledge to conserve water and protect water quality in their daily lives by taking part in 22 small actions.
Polis proclaimed 2022 the “Year of Water” in Colorado, marking the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact and an upcoming update to the state’s 2015 Water Plan.
“We have a shared responsibility to steward this incredible natural resource and make sure it’s there for our people, our places, our ecosystems, our industries that need it to thrive because it all starts here in Colorado with us,” he said.
Water ’22, which is being spearheaded by Water Education Colorado, lays out 22 simple things individuals can do to save 22 gallons of water a day. They include things like turning off the water while brushing your teeth, fixing leaky fixtures, watering outdoor lawns and landscaping at dawn or dusk and using phosphorus-free fertilizer. The initiative is an effort at education and engagement and is not designed to result in measurable water savings or improvements to water quality.
The campaign focuses on the voluntary actions of individual municipal water customers instead of policy changes to conserve water. And although the agriculture industry represents 86% of the state’s water use, according to numbers provided by Water Education Colorado, Water ’22 does not include ways for agriculture to conserve water.
“The main thrust of the campaign is targeting consumers at the domestic-use level,” said Jayla Poppleton, executive director of Water Education Colorado. “Our message to Coloradans is that they have a role to play. It’s up to all of us to do our part.”
According to its website, Water Education Colorado is a nonprofit organization charged with ensuring a sustainable water future by educating and engaging citizens around water. It also publishes the Fresh Water News website…
Sponsors and supporters
Water ’22 promotional materials highlight the connection between climate change, drought, wildfires and water shortages.
“The Water ’22 campaign was created to educate Coloradans about how the state’s water is one of its most important resources and to encourage conservation and protection in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has led to persistent drought conditions,” reads a press release.
There is no doubt climate change is robbing the Colorado River of water and driving shortages.
Scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck showed in a 2017 paper that rising temperatures are responsible for roughly one-third of declining flows. Hot temperatures and dry soils have contributed to record-low spring runoff in recent years and the basin’s two largest reservoirs — lakes Powell and Mead — stand at less than one-third full, their lowest levels ever. In 2021, federal officials declared the first-ever shortage in the lower basin and began emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs to prop up Lake Powell and maintain the ability to make hydroelectric power…
…presenting sponsors who have contributed $10,000 to the campaign include Molson Coors Beverage Company and Boulder-based cannabis edibles company Wana Brands. It is also being funded with $35,000 of state grant money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board…
Several environmental organizations prominent in the water sector are also participating in Water ’22. Water for Colorado, which represents a coalition of groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Western Resource Advocates, Audubon Rockies and American Rivers, is supporting it as well.
Water for Colorado Communications Coordinator Ayla Besemer said things in the Colorado River basin are dire and it’s important for Coloradans to know where their water comes from and do all they can to conserve on a personal level.
“Between the destructive wildfires, the first-ever basin shortage declaration, emergency reservoir releases, and ongoing megadrought, the need to support Colorado’s fragile water resources is so urgent as to rise above one, specific donor,” she said, referring to funding from Chevron. “We trust this campaign will have a positive effect on water and Coloradans’ understanding of the current situation, aiding in collaborative efforts to confront climate change.”
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story appeared in the Jan. 28 edition of The Aspen Times and the Craig Press, and the Jan. 29 edition of the Vail Daily and Sky-Hi News.