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The model used in the study found that if new depletions increased by 12%, it would increase the likelihood of compact call by 46% — if the goal was to deliver 82.5 million acre-feet a year to the lower basin on a 10-year running average.If the goal was to deliver 75.5 million acre-feet over 10 years, the model indicated a 0% increase in risk, primarily because of a new agreement to use reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell, mostly Flaming Gorge Reservoir, to send water downstream.The study found that if the state needed to send 100,000 acre-feet downriver to the lower basin, it would have to curtail post-compact water rights dating to July 1957.That’s a notable date, because the water rights for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project — which diverts about 52,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers — have a 1957 priority date and could be curtailed early in the process.But, Carron noted, “all models are wrong, some are useful,” and said the risk of a compact call could be higher if there is less water in the future than the amount used in the model.The study also asked if a compact call were to materialize, how far down a list of post-compact water rights, prioritized by dates, would the state have to curtail in order to send significant amounts of water downstream?
Front Range water managers seem to have two options in the face of a compact call: Buy up land on the Western Slope with senior water rights, and then fallow the land and send the water downstream; or ask the state to not strictly apply the priority system, based on the dates of water rights, in order to avoid junior, post-compact, rights being curtailed.
The study also provides an overall portrait of how Coloradans are using water from the Western Slope basins.
Of the 2.5 million acre-feet of water that Coloradans are now using from the state’s rivers that send water down to Lake Powell, including use tied to both pre- and post-compact rights, 1.2 million acre-feet is being depleted from the Colorado River Basin, or Division 5.
Of the 626,200 acre-feet of average annual post-compact use in the Colorado River basin, 532,000 acre-feet is attributed to transmountain diversions.
This isn’t breaking news for Front Range water managers, who have long known that their water from the Western Slope is based on post-compact water rights.“I would be very surprised if any of this is a surprise to them,” said John Carron of Hydros Consulting Inc. He is the engineer managing the study and its complex hydraulic model.