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Dividing the Water. An Introduction to Western Water Rights and Resources by Charles M. Brendecke PhD PE September 12, 2008. The Hydrologic Cycle. Key Terms for Flow and Volume. CFS: cubic feet per second…Boulder Creek flow is now about 57 cfs (near tunnel)

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dividing the water

Dividing the Water

An Introduction to Western Water Rights and Resources


Charles M. Brendecke PhD PESeptember 12, 2008

key terms for flow and volume
Key Terms for Flow and Volume
  • CFS: cubic feet per second…Boulder Creek flow is now about 57 cfs (near tunnel)
  • AF: acre-feet (1 acre 1 foot deep)…a football field one foot deep is about 1.1 af
  • 1 cfs for an entire year yields 724 af
western water development
Western Water Development
  • 19th Century: mining claims, small irrigation projects (private)
  • Early 20th Century: large projects by Federal government, and by some states and cities
  • Late 20th Century: environmental laws and policies, water right transfers between users
what is a water right
What is a water right?
  • A property right that can be sold
  • A right to use, but not to own or hoard
  • A way to allocate the supply when there’s not enough to go around
  • A way to define what can be bought, sold and transferred
origins of western water rights
Origins of Western Water Rights
  • Early “placer” mining activities used water to separate valuable metals
  • Competition between miners led to water allocation by date of claim
  • Water law still influenced heavily by mining law
water rights overview
Water Rights Overview
  • Each state has its own code of water laws
  • Two basic doctrines – Riparian and Prior Appropriation
  • Riparian Doctrine common in eastern states
  • Prior Appropriation Doctrine common in western states
elements of a water right
Elements of a Water Right
  • Source
  • Priority Date
  • Amount
  • Type of use
  • Period of Use
example of a water right
Example of a Water Right
  • Boulder and White Rock Ditch
  • Source: Boulder Creek (in Central Park)
  • Priority Date: May 1, 1868
  • Amount: 5.3 cfs
  • Period of Use: April 15 – October 15
  • Type of Use: Irrigation
water right administration
Water Right Administration

3rd Priority

2nd Priority

1st Priority

water right administration1
Water Right Administration
  • Applies to all connected stream systems
  • Literally 1000’s of water rights
  • 78 administrative Water Districts in Colorado (Boulder Creek is District 6)
  • 7 administrative Water Divisions
  • New rights and changes must be approved by Water Courts
allocation between states
Allocation Between States
  • Most rivers either define or cross state lines
  • Each state has its own water laws
  • How to allocate water between states?
  • Two basic methods – Compacts and Decrees
interstate water compacts
Interstate Water Compacts
  • Formal agreements between states
  • Ratified by state legislatures and U.S. Congress
  • Take many different forms
  • Enforced like contracts
  • Colorado is a party to 7 interstate compacts
interstate water decrees
Interstate Water Decrees
  • Disputes between states go to U.S. Supreme Court
  • Court appoints a Special Master to hear facts and make recommendations
  • Court issues Decree based on Master’s recommendations
current and looming challenges in water allocation
Current and Looming Challenges in Water Allocation
  • Water quality
  • Habitat restoration
  • Impacts of ground water use
  • Climate change
some further reading on western water and natural resources
Some Further Reading on Western Water and Natural Resources
  • “Cadillac Desert”, by Marc Reisner
  • “Beyond the 100th Meridian”, by Wallace Stegner
  • “Encounters with the Archdruid”, by John McPhee
  • “A Sand County Almanac”, by Aldo Leopold
  • “Desert Solitaire”, by Edward Abee