Roan Plateau, Upper Arkansas predator issues, Front Range water purchases are concerns

The strategic use of water remains an issue of concern and debate across the West, particularly as recent findings indicate reducing a diversion does not mean losing part of the right.

High water temperatures in Montana’s Yellowstone River in August were partly blamed for the deaths of more than 4,000 trout and whitefish. Similar conditions have become “the new normal,” said a supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

What we’re watching these final weeks of summer:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues its public relations push for the two predator management projects planned for the Roan Plateau and the Upper Arkansas Basin.

These areas long have been prime mule deer areas but in recent years the population has declined, as have deer populations across the West.

The problems confronting deer on the Roan Plateau, the Upper Arkansas River Basin and elsewhere have several causes and this time the state is addressing what may be over-abundance of predators — specifically bears and mountain lions — keeping deer numbers lower than the habitat will support.

The plans — which constitute a turnabout for an agency that has long preached habitat, not predators, is what ultimately limits ungulate numbers — call for bears and lions being actively removed in May and June, the period when newborn fawns are particularly susceptible to predation.

It’s also a sign that the agency recognizes other factors — habitat loss and fragmentation, development, increased human activity — are less manageable.

Daily Sentinel reporter Dennis Webb wrote a fine article about the Roan project in the Aug. 21 edition of The Daily Sentinel and it’s worth your effort to read it again.

The projects will be funded through the agency’s game cash fund from license sales and federal sportsmen excise tax dollars. Expect the non-license-buying public to voice its concern Sept. 19 when CPW hosts a meeting in Denver.

Buy-and-dry: Broomfield recently spent $3.2 million of taxpayer money for 120 shares of Colorado-Big Thompson water, which starts as snowmelt in western Colorado and ends up in some Front Range car wash.

At nearly $27,000 per share, that’s more than double the cost a decade ago.

Broomfield’s purchase continues a long trend of buy-and-dry by Front Range cities. Broomfield has spent $12.6 million since the beginning of 2016 on acquiring water, with another $2.6 million deal in the works.

“It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once … and you get it forever,” Melanie Calvert of Broomfield’s water resources department told The Broomfield Enterprise.

More than 180 miles of the Yellowstone River in Montana were closed to recreational use on Aug. 18 after more than 4,000 mountain whitefish were found dead from a microscopic parasite and exacerbated by high water temperatures.

While some of the sections have since re-opened, Sam Sheppard, region 3 supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said low water flows and high water temperatures are becoming the “new normal.”

The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will host on Sept. 16 the annual Colorado River District Seminar, this year focusing on challenges facing water managers as warmer temperatures affect water resources.

On Nov. 2-3, it’s the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at CMU, with the topic “Complex Systems in Flux.”

More information is found at the Water Center website,

Unquestionably part of the discussions will look at controlling excessive water diversions, a topic to which many Western Slope irrigators pay little heed.

Not so much on the Front Range, though, where irrigators for years have watched out for and reported water wasters.

An article titled “Don’t take more than you need: Wrangling water on the Western Slope” published earlier this summer by Aspen Journalism addressed challenges facing water managers when irrigators ignore state laws prohibiting wasteful use of water.

Part of the problem is the misunderstood (and misapplied) so-called “use it or lose it” doctrine.

Last February, a report from the Colorado Water Institute said reducing a diversion doesn’t mean losing part of that water right.

During the 41st Colorado Water Workshop last June in Gunnison, deputy state water engineer Kevin Rein said the law doesn’t mean “divert it or lose it.”

“There needs to be balance between use and waste,” Rein said.

Author and Quivira Coalition founder Courtney White suggested the water dictum is better explained as “use it beneficially or lose it.”

And along this vein, in his latest book titled Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West (available in print and e-book), author John Fleck argues that “When people get scared, they fight for the last drop of water; but when they actually have less, they use less.”


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