The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) has entered into a one-year agreement to lease up to 12,000 AF from Ute Water Conservancy District (“Ute Water”). The water will be used to increase streamflows in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River, a critical stretch that is home to four endangered fish species: the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub. In addition, the water will benefit the local community by generating power as it passes through the power plant at Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.
CWCB is paying $7.20/AF for the water, which will be released from Ruedi Reservoir. Ute Water purchased 12,000 AF of Ruedi Reservoir marketable yield from the Bureau of Reclamation in 2013 at a price of $1,239.80/AF and is responsible for a proportional share of Ruedi Reservoir’s annual operations, maintenance, and repair costs. The lease price helps to offset the district’s costs for the water that was otherwise being reserved as a back-up supply.
This year’s lease is the second renewal of a lease initially executed in 2015. Both the initial contract and the 2016 renewal had the same price as the current agreement. Due to complaints from anglers that the releases increased streamflows too much for wading, a condition has been added regarding flow rates. CWCB has agreed to coordinate with the Bureau of Reclamation so that the releases of the leased water will not cause the total releases from Ruedi Reservoir to exceed 300 cfs, and the flows in the Fryingpan River below the reservoir will not exceed 350 cfs.
The 15-Mile Reach is a principal component of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Major diversions upstream of the reach have caused districts to increase attention on the reach and work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CWCB to manage flows. In addition to efforts from west slope interests (like the agreement presented here), east slope interests also provide water for the reach. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (“Northern Water”) has dedicated Red Top Valley Ditch rights (providing 5,400 AF per year from Lake Granby) and cash to the project. The total value of Northern Water’s dedication is $17.2 million, of which $8.9 million was reimbursed by other east slope water users.
Written by Marta L. Weismann