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Aurora’s use of Fryingpan River water challenged

An organization that looks out for Western Slope water interests is challenging a Front Range city’s diversions from the Upper Fryingpan River.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, better known as the Colorado River District, contends that the city of Aurora has taken water improperly since acquiring a 50 percent interest in the Busk-Ivanhoe system water rights. The city accumulated shares between 1987 and 2001.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District placed a call on junior, upstream water rights this year that challenged Aurora’s water use. The river district has the ability to call junior water rights when Ruedi Reservoir isn’t expect to fill, according to John Currier, chief engineer with the Colorado River District.

“Honestly, it was to fire a shot across the bow of Aurora,” Currier said last week during the annual State of the River meeting, which brings water managers and conservation groups from the Roaring Fork River Basin together to discuss issues.

The Colorado River District contends that the water Aurora diverts from the Upper Fryingpan Basin is decreed in water court for agricultural uses. Aurora is using it for municipal purposes, which are unpermitted, the river district claims.

Aurora, through Busk-Ivanhoe Inc., responded with an application in state water court to change the use of the water. Numerous parties have joined one side or another in the case. The Pitkin and Eagle county commissioners have sided with the Colorado River District. They and other parties are known collectively as “Western Slope opposers” to Aurora’s attempt to change water uses.

A trial is scheduled in Pueblo in July to resolve the issue.

The amount of water on an annual basis is relatively small. An earlier court case found that the annual average amount of water diverted by the Busk-Ivanhoe system was 5,187 acre-feet between 1925 and 1992. The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns 50 percent of the water rights. Pueblo obtained a decree in 1993 to switch to municipal uses. In a pretrial ruling on April 18, a judge determined that the decree didn’t cover the 50 percent share of Aurora’s Busk-Ivanhoe Inc.

Ruedi Reservoir stands to receive 2,593 acre-feet of water that it otherwise wouldn’t get this year. The trial also will examine the issue of Aurora’s past use of undecreed water and how to resolve it.

The Busk-Ivanhoe system isn’t the only diversion on the Upper Fryingpan River. The Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion system takes an annual average of 54,000 acre-feet east over the Continental Divide, according to the U.S. Bureal of Reclamation.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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