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The Rio Grande Basin Water Plan Addresses Water Administration - Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative
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The Rio Grande Basin Water Plan Addresses Water Administration

This is the fourth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan.

The last decade has brought many changes to Colorado’s water supply outlook. Even with the recent economic recession, the state will continue to experience significant population growth. Other pressures on Colorado’s water supply include: severe drought, meeting multiple needs (e.g., municipal, agricultural, environmental, and recreational) with existing resources, and agricultural impacts due to water shortages, urbanization and transfers to new uses.

The state’s river systems generate an average 16 million acre feet of renewable water each year, however two-thirds of this water is obligated to leave the state under various interstate compacts and agreements. In addition, of the 16 million AF, about 80% of the water is on the Western Slope, while approximately 80% of the state’s population resides on the Eastern Slope. Most of the irrigated agriculture lands are on the Eastern Slope as well. Colorado’s dry climate creates many challenges for water users, who frequently move water vast distances from its source to its area of use.

These types of challenges made the water law structure that is common in the eastern United States, (riparian law) unrealistic. Riparian law says that only those with land adjoining the stream have a right to use the stream water. Colorado adopted a different system - prior appropriation. This system is commonly summed up as “first in time, first in right.” This means that those with senior (older) rights can begin to use water before junior (newer) rights holders in times of water shortages. (CFWE, 2014)

Colorado needed a clear classification of law to recognize and protect water rights, with consistent administration and enforcement, yet with the flexibility to allow those rights to be transferred, sold, or exchanged. The Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a set of laws governing water use and land ownership adopted by the people of Colorado starting in the 1860s.

The four major principles are:

All surface and groundwater in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons, and entities; A water right is a right to use a portion of the public’s water resources; Water rights owners may build facilities on the lands of others to divert, extract, or move water from a stream or aquifer to its place of use; and, Water rights owners may use streams and aquifers for the transportation and storage of surface water and groundwater to meet ownerswater supply needs.

Today’s water managers are tasked with solving the state’s water issues against overwhelming obstacles, this why the State Water Plan is so important. The plan will provide a framework for water managers as we move forward. The plan will allow for wise and thoughtful water supply planning that addresses critical issue with in each basin securing our future water needs across the state. The plan must be done in a manner that considers all solutions and addresses the varied water needs of Colorado and its citizens.

The Rio Grande basin Roundtable has been tasked with preparing a multi-dimensional basin plan for the upper Rio Grande. Water management is an issue that touches every resident in the San Luis Valley, particularly as it pertains to Aquifer Sustainability.

The basin’s water is under continuous curtailment as it works to meet Compact Compliance. This is why water users in the Basin keep water inventory current and are taking steps to ensure reservoirs can store constructed volumes. The Rio Grande Basin Plan will provide a variety of tools that all water administrators can use to preserve the social, cultural and economic resilience of the Rio Grande Basin.

As the Water Administration goals are formed the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like your input to be considered. The most effective methods for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at and; 3) attend any one of the five BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, Tom can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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