History & Accomplishments
1975 Taylor Park Reservoir Operation and Storage Exchange Agreement
With the completion of Blue Mesa Reservoir in 1966, an opportunity was created for Taylor Park Reservoir to be operated not only for irrigation of the Uncompahgre Valley, but also to provide benefits in the Upper Gunnison Basin. In 1975, the Upper Gunnison District entered into the Taylor Park Reservoir Operation and Storage Exchange Agreement with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA), and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The purposes of the Agreement are to stabilize flows on the Taylor and Gunnison Rivers, to facilitate the management and exchange of water between Taylor Park Reservoir and Blue Mesa Reservoir, to provide flood control, to supplement irrigation uses, and to optimize fishery and recreation conditions in the reservoir and the Taylor and Gunnison Rivers.
The exchange of water authorized under the 1975 Agreement continues to the present day and operates as follows: When releases from Taylor Park Reservoir are greater than the amount required by the UVWUA for immediate irrigation use at the Gunnison Tunnel, the excess is stored in Blue Mesa Reservoir for the credit of the UVWUA. When releases from Taylor Park Reservoir are not sufficient to meet the needs of the UVWUA at the Tunnel, the United States releases from the Aspinall Unit the water credited to the UVWUA. In the event that the UVWUA’s credit in the Aspinall Unit is insufficient to meet its needs for irrigation, the United States releases water stored under its Aspinall Unit decrees to the Gunnison Tunnel and the United States receives credit for a like amount in Taylor Park Reservoir. In 1979 the Agreement was amended to allow the UVWUA credits to be carried forward from year to year in Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Paragraph 8 of the Agreement provides:
The parties hereto agree that an application for a water right may be made by the Gunnison District on all surplus flows in Taylor River above Taylor Park Reservoir . . . Taylor Park Reservoir will be operated in such a manner to assist the Gunnison District in using such water provided all other purposes herein and the original purposes of said reservoir are accommodated.
Based on this agreement, the District obtained a decree for the second filling of Taylor Park Reservoir.
The District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District pay an annual fee to the UVWUA for the benefits received in the Upper Gunnison Basin under the Agreement.
Taylor Park Reservoir Refill Decree
This water right, also referred to as the Refill Right, was obtained by the District in 1990 (Case No. 86CW203). The total amount of the water right decreed to the reservoir is 106,230 acre-feet. The refill right has an appropriation date of August 28, 1975 and a priority date of December 31, 1985. Of the total decreed in 1990, 44,700 acre-feet was decreed absolute and 61,530 feet conditional. While the water is impounded in Taylor Park Reservoir, it is decreed for use for recreational purposes, including fishery and wildlife. The decree further provides that the impounded water shall be released at times and in quantities calculated to enhance the fishery and recreational uses of the Taylor and Gunnison Rivers above Blue Mesa Reservoir. Of the total amount of the 1990 decree, 19,200 acre-feet (13,777 acre-feet absolute and 5,423 conditional) has the additional use for increased and supplemental irrigation within the District. The decree provides administration and accounting for storage and release of water in the reservoir (Schedule A).
The District assigned the Refill Right to the United States by an Assignment executed by the District and the United States in April, 1993. The Assignment was made pursuant to an agreement signed by the District, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the UVWUA and the United States on April 16, 1990 (1990 Agreement). The 1990 Agreement provides that:
The United States shall continue to use and hold the water rights for the adjudicated purposes subject to the 1975 Agreement or any subsequent operational agreement between the United States, Gunnison District, Colorado District and the Association.
Thus, even though the United States is the owner of the Refill Right, it is contractually obligated to “use and hold” that right for fishery, recreation, flood control and irrigation purposes for the benefit of the District.
In May of 2016, the conditional portion of the Refill Right was made absolute in Case No. 11CW31. The Refill Right was modified slightly to provide for additional uses in Case No. 2015CW3064 signed by the water court judge on December 28, 2016
Taylor Park Reservoir Refill Decree
Recreational In-Channel Diversion Water Right
The Gunnison River Whitewater Park has been in the planning stages since 1996. In March 2002, the District entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement with Gunnison County to design and develop the Whitewater Park. Under the agreement, the District is responsible for obtaining a water right for the Whitewater Park while Gunnison County is responsible for construction of the physical structures and facilities. By the spring of 2003, design, permitting, and most of the construction work were complete and the Gunnison Whitewater Park was open for its first operational season. In January, 2006, the District obtained a conditional recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right for the “Gunnison Whitewater Course” (Case No. 02CW38). In 2007, in response to concerns of its constituents, the District adjudicated a change of water right that allows appropriations junior to the RICD water right to be made without the need for augmentation where such appropriations would otherwise be required to provide augmentation to the RICD water right (Case No. 07CW71). Construction of all of the designed features was completed in 2011.
The Course is located within the channel of the Gunnison River, downstream of U. S. Highway 50 West of the City of Gunnison. The Course has been the site of the Gunnison River Festival each year since completion, and has been used by Western Colorado University and local outfitters as a kayak training course, as well as thousands of private recreational boaters and kayakers. In October, 2012, the Water Court issued a decree that made the RICD water right absolute (Case No. 12CW4).
Recreational In-Channel Diversion Water Right
Opposing Transbasin Diversion: The Union Park Reservoir Litigation
In a series of water court filings beginning in 1982, the Natural Energy Resources Company (NECO) owned by Dave Miller applied for water rights for components of the Union Park Reservoir Project. NECO sold the project to Arapahoe County. Arapahoe submitted a revised water rights application for the project in 1988. The project would have included an extensive diversion and water collection system in the headwaters of the Taylor and East River drainages, a 900,000 acre-foot reservoir located south of Taylor Park Reservoir in Union Park, and a system of tunnels and canals to convey up to 100,000 acre-feet of stored water annually to the South Platte basin. The Upper Gunnison District, among others, opposed the applications.
Following a five-week trial held in June 1991, the water court ruled that not more than 20,000 acre-feet of unappropriated water on an average annual basis was available for the Union Park Reservoir Project (1991 Water Court Decree). Arapahoe County determined that 20,000 acre-feet was insufficient to build an economically feasible project, and appealed the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court (1992 Appeal). On February 21, 1995 the Supreme Court remanded the case to the water court for an additional trial on water availability.
On April 6, 1998, based on new evidence presented during the second trial, the water court found that not more than 15,000 acre-feet of unappropriated water on an average annual basis is available to the Union Park Reservoir Project from the points of diversion claimed in the case (1998 Water Court Decree). Since Arapahoe County had previously acknowledged that 20,000 acre-feet of unappropriated water available on an average annual basis would be insufficient for its project, the water court dismissed the application with prejudice. Arapahoe again appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. On November 20, 2000, the Supreme Court affirmed the water court’s judgment (1998 Appeal Ruling), ending Arapahoe County’s effort to divert water out of the Gunnison Basin. The District led the efforts of a number of opposers during extensive pre-trial preparation and motions, both trials and both appeals.
Opposing Transbasin Diversion: The Union Park Reservoir Litigation
Aspinall Plan for Augmentation
In 2002, a significant number of non-exempt domestic wells providing water for household use within the District were subject to curtailment as a result of a Gunnison Tunnel call on the Gunnison River. Curtailment of these wells by a Gunnison Tunnel call during 2002 was averted by the District in two ways: (1) by releases of water stored in priority under the Refill Decree in Taylor Park Reservoir; and, (2) by releases of storage from Blue Mesa Reservoir pursuant to resales of water acquired by the District under a Temporary Water Service Contract with the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2003, to provide long-term protection the District filed an application for approval of a plan for augmentation. The plan relies on releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir pursuant to resales of water acquired by the District under a long-term Water Service Contract with the Bureau for 500 acre-feet of water. The District operated this plan under a substitute water supply plan that prevented curtailments in 2003 during the Gunnison Tunnel call. The plan for augmentation was approved by the water court (Case No.03CW49) and as of April 30, 2019 the District has sold 277 acre-feet of water to augment domestic wells, lawn and garden irrigation, pond evaporation, stockwater, commercial and industrial uses within the District.
Aspinall Plan for Augmentation
Meridian Lake Reservoir Plan for Augmentation
The drought which the Upper Gunnison River Basin experienced in 2002 and 2003 focused attention on the vulnerability of domestic and other water users in the basin to calls from senior irrigation water rights within the basin as well as senior water rights downstream from the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit. Even though neither the senior irrigation rights diverting from the Slate River nor the Colorado water Conservation Board (CWCB) instream flow rights in the Slate River had ever placed a call when water was in short supply, it became apparent that a significant number of domestic wells diverting from the Slate River had been issued permits based on plans for augmentation which were inadequate. In some cases, the replacement water supply was based upon rights that are curtailed during dry years. In other cases, augmentation ponds were never constructed or were not functional due to sediment, inoperable outlet works or other defects. In 2003, the Division Engineer advised well owners that the Division of Water Resources would begin administering domestic wells with non-functioning plans for augmentation. This announcement placed a significant number of domestic wells in the Slate and East River drainages at serious risk of curtailment as a result of calls by senior irrigation ditches diverting from those streams and the CWCB instream flow water rights. The District’s Meridian Lake Reservoir project was initiated to respond to this need for replacement water.
Following two years of negotiation and due diligence, and obtaining a decree approving a plan for augmentation (Case Nos. 03CW107 and 2018CW3002), the District purchased Meridian Lake Reservoir in August, 2005. The District then made improvements to the dam and outlet structure to improve its efficiency and to comply with requirements of the State Engineer. The total cost of the purchase and improvements was approximately $1,400,000.00.
Under the plan for augmentation, the District sells Augmentation Certificates in increments of 0.05 acre-feet of water per year (Base Units) which entitle the holder to have water released from Meridian Lake Reservoir to replace out-of-priority depletions. The owner of an Augmentation Certificate is entitled to the benefits of the District’s plan for augmentation and is not required to implement or amend an individual plan. As of April 30, 2019, the District has sold 561 Base Units.
The Meridian Lake Reservoir plan for augmentation has two unusual features. First, owners of existing wells whose wastewater is piped to the East River Treatment Plant would have had to purchase nine Base Units if required to replace their depletions from domestic indoor use for 365 days per year. At the initial price for Base Units, the cost to augment domestic indoor use only for a well serving a single dwelling unit connected to the treatment plant would have been $13,500.00. For virtually all of these existing well owners, local residents who work in the area, such a requirement would have made the such augmentation unaffordable. To solve this problem, the District negotiated a settlement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board – holder of senior instream flow water rights in the Affected Reach – that permitted these well owners to satisfy their augmentation requirements by purchasing two Base Units.
Secondly, depletions to senior instream flow water rights occurring during the Winter months cannot be replaced by releases from Meridian Lake Reservoir at the time they occur because of icing at and below the outlet works of Meridian Lake Reservoir and because any water released must be passed through Meridian Lake Park Reservoir No. 1. The latter reservoir is normally frozen over in Winter, making it difficult or impossible to pass releases of replacement water through the reservoir. Consequently, injury could result to the CWCB instream flow rights during the rare periods of shortage occurring in the Winter months. The District negotiated a settlement with the CWCB that provides a “Winter mitigation pool” created by assessing each Base Unit an amount of water approximately equivalent to ten days’ depletions (in addition to actual depletions and transit loss). Pursuant to the settlement, the CWCB is be entitled to request that the Division Engineer order releases from Meridian Lake Reservoir at any time during late Fall or Winter when conditions (or future improvements in technology) would permit the discharge from the reservoir to flow to a reach of the stream protected by an instream flow right. The CWCB may request the release in any amount up to the total Winter mitigation pool, whether or not the instream flow rights could be calling.
MeridIAn Lake Reservoir Plan for Augmentation
Lake San Cristobal Plan for Augmentation
Approximately 700 years ago, the Slumgullion landslide dammed the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, impounding what is now known as Lake San Cristobal. Efforts to impound the waters of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River above the natural lake level commenced in the late nineteenth century. Court records disclose diversion of water into “Lake San Cristobal Reservoir” and application to a beneficial use as of August 3, 1898. Plans for construction of a dam and pipeline from the reservoir were filed in the office of the State Engineer on February 18, 1910. Subsequent filings reflect approval of diligent efforts to complete construction of the project. On May 11, 1928, the district court of Montrose County entered a decree awarding the Lake San Cristobal Reservoir Priority No. 141 from the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, determining that the reservoir had an “area [at] the high water line” of approximately 330 acres and a capacity of 9,786 acre-feet of water.
In 1956, the County sought and received from the State Engineer permission to install a baffle board on the dam for the purpose of raising the Lake level an additional eight to ten inches during low water periods in order to inundate the South end of the Lake to provide “food for the fish” and “a place for spawning”.
At that time, reservoirs with a capacity of 1,000 acre-feet or less were exempt from approval and inspection by the State Engineer, and no official state inspection record for the dam exists prior to 1971. However, since at least 1970, Hinsdale County Road and Bridge Department employees have performed annual maintenance on the dam. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the maintenance consisted of annually placing rocky material on top of the wooden structure following Spring runoff to restore any material washed away by the runoff and to maintain a stable Lake level during the Summer. By the late 1980s the wooden structure had deteriorated significantly, and the annual lake level maintenance began to be accomplished by placing large boulders in the Lake a few feet above the dam following Spring runoff in order to maintain a higher lake level during the “non-runoff time”. Various reports during this period establish that installation of the boulders raises the Lake level by two feet or more above the remains of the 1954 dam. This annual impoundment work has continued without interruption to the present.
Thus the Lake is, at least in part, a reservoir. The dam has been periodically inspected by the State Engineer since the minimum threshold for non-jurisdictional dams was reduced to a capacity of 100 acre-feet or less. Division of Water Resources records contain dam safety inspections of the wooden structure and the impoundment by boulder placement procedure from 1971 through 1990.
In December 1977, the Colorado Water Conservation Board filed an application for a water right to insure the preservation of a minimum lake level in Lake San Cristobal to protect the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The Application claimed that “The lake in its natural condition contains approximately 13,545 acre-feet and the elevation of the natural water surface is approximately 8,995 feet, as derived from the applicable U.S.G.S. quadrangle” (which depicts 40 foot contour lines), with an appropriation date of May 12, 1976. A decree awarding that
water right was entered in January, 1980. The CWCB subsequently obtained decrees awarding instream flow water rights in the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River above and below the Lake.
The drought of 2002 and 2003 drew local government’s attention to the Lake as a potential source for augmentation water. Calls by senior downstream rights on the Gunnison River produced an increased awareness in the Lake Fork Basin of the need for a dependable supply of replacement water for augmentation of local depletions that does not require an exchange from Blue Mesa Reservoir. (CWCB instream flow water rights in the Lake Fork are senior to many diversions in the area, and interrupt the Blue Mesa exchange upon which their augmentation plans depend.) The County approached the District for assistance in developing an outlet structure for the Lake that could be operated to provide, among other things, a source for replacement water for the basin. To initiate the process, the District filed an Application for Storage Water Right seeking to appropriate 960 acre-feet of water – three vertical feet over 320 acres of surface area – to be stored in the Lake by means of an improved outlet works. The Application was based on general information and no plans had been developed for improvement of the existing outlet structure or construction of new outlet works.
The District entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Hinsdale County and the Town of Lake City which provided that the County would create a Water Activity Enterprise that would construct a permanent outlet control structure at the site of the 1954 dam and operate a plan for augmentation to respond to calls by senior downstream water rights. The Lake San Cristobal Water Activity Enterprise is governed by a board of six directors, two appointed by
In the Fall of 2012, the Enterprise completed construction of a permanent controlled outlet structure to replace the existing rock and timber structure that (1) continues Lake level management as it has been conducted for the past many years, with greater dependability and efficiency, with no resulting negative impact on the natural environment and no new inundation of the lake shore; (2) permits storage of replacement water needed for augmentation for the Town’s municipal water supply and for domestic wells in the Lake Fork Basin and a small area within the Upper Gunnison Basin; (3) simultaneously provides augmentation of the CWCB instream flow water rights in the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River downstream from the proposed structure; (4) provides the opportunity to enhance recreational use of the Lake and the fishery in the Lake and in the Lake Fork downstream from the Lake and (5) improves mitigation of high flow events in the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.
The outlet structure is an Obermeyer Spillway Gate, a row of steel gate panels supported on the downstream side by inflatable air bladders By controlling the pressure in the bladders, the water elevation maintained by the gate can be infinitely adjusted from fully open to fully closed. Because water is constantly flowing over the structure, and because other structural elements have been given a natural appearance, it has minimal visible impact. Gages have been installed to measure the amount of storage and the rate of release.
The outlet structure has a maximum height of approximately three feet, and fully elevated will impound approximately 950 acre-feet of water at a surface elevation of 8,995 feet above sea level. The outlet structure is operated to store water during Spring runoff, and then maintain the
surface level of the Lake at an elevation of 8,995 feet throughout the Summer and Fall through adjustments to the gate elevation. Releases for augmentation will be made as required by the Division Engineer. The Enterprise has obtained a decree for a second annual filling in the event that releases are required and water is available for storage in priority thereafter. This operation replicates the historical practice described above, but with greater efficiency and with provision for administration. The total cost of the project was $532,340.00 – about $560.00 per acre-foot.
The Plan for Augmentation.
The District filed an Application in the Division 4 Water Court for a water storage right in Lake San Cristobal and for approval of a plan for augmentation in 2003 (amended in 2008). The court entered a decree which awarded a conditional storage right for 950 acre-feet and approved the plan for augmentation on December 5, 2011 (Case Nos. 03CW108). The storage right was made absolute in Case No. 11CW61.
The stored water is “to be used for domestic, municipal, commercial, industrial to include mining, milling and reclamation, irrigation, recreation, and fishery and wildlife habitat, and be released to augment out-of-priority depletions by such uses (including pond evaporation and livestock watering)” with a second filling for the same purposes.
The Lake San Cristobal Water Activity Enterprise operates the plan for augmentation. The Enterprise offers Augmentation Certificates for sale which entitle the holder to a release of a specified amount of water from Lake San Cristobal that will provide replacement water for out-of-priority diversions by the certificate holder during dry conditions. Augmentation releases are limited to 475 acre-feet for the first forty years of operation. The plan also dedicates 200 acre-feet to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to further protect the instream flows in the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.