Three-seminar water law series on way

Anglers at the Pleasure Park reach of the Gunnison River this week found the North Fork and the mainstem Gunnison choked with ice.

Whether it’s simply a coincidence or divine intervention, the water course being offered next month by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University comes at an opportune time.

The three-seminar series on water law, policies and management begins Feb. 11 with other sessions Feb. 18 and 25.

It seems a lot of people last year would have profited from knowing more about how water policy, and specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation, decides who gets water in a year when there isn’t enough to go around.

Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said Thursday many people holding water rights were surprised last summer when the expected irrigation water never arrived.

Speaking during Thursday’s Aspinall Unit operations meeting in Montrose, Hurford said it was people who had moved into the region within the past decade and hadn’t gone through a year of under-supplied and over-appropriated water.

“People were saying, ‘But I own water rights, why aren’t I getting any water?’ ” Hurford recalled. “They couldn’t understand why they didn’t have water and yet the farmers did.”

Hurford said the water shortages appeared much earlier than most people expected.

“If you didn’t take your water before May 1, you probably weren’t getting it,” he said. “The Uncompahgre Valley was on call by May 2.”

It was particularly severe in the North Fork Valley, which Hurford called “extremely, highly over-appropriated,” where water rights dating to 1882 take precedence over those coming later.

That means those using the Fire Mountain Canal, with 1934 water rights, saw its water dry up after mid-July.

“People were outraged,” Hurford said. “But it’s because they didn’t understand how prior appropriation works.”

With this year’s water year shaping up as challenging or more so than 2012, the Water Center’s seminar series is bound to help. Information is available at, click on Water Center.

Don’t go near the edge

With reports coming from around the Western Slope of anglers being knocked down by ice flows or falling through the shelf ice forming along rivers, it’s time for discretion, not valor.

“It’s dangerous,” said Marshall Pendergrass of Montrose, who has slipped though thin ice once or twice himself. “It’s also scary, because you don’t know if you can get out after falling in.”

A recent trip to the Pleasure Park in search of open water revealed the North Fork nearly ice covered with shelf-ice, with only a narrow ribbon of open water running into the Gunnison River.

Similar conditions (except where the rivers were frozen) were noted last week on the Eagle, lower Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers.

Open water can be found below dams, where water temperatures in the low 40s keep the rivers open.

You’ll find open water, and crowds, at Ruedi Dam (Fryingpan River), Ridgway Dam (Uncompahgre River) and Taylor Park Dam (Taylor River).


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