“No water. No business,” stated Glen Austin of Austin Farms in Paonia, Colorado . Water, the lifeblood of Western Colorado, has been a hotly debated topic since the West was settled. Access to clean water is something that people take for granted. However, to ensure that there will be enough clean water for residential, recreation, municipal, and agricultural use, the water in Western Colorado is heavily regulated. These regulations are necessary to ensure that there will be enough clean water for everyone in Western Colorado for generations to come. While having water is a right in Western Colorado, water users must ensure they are using their water responsibly. Federal and state water laws are designed to ensure responsible water usage.
The basics of Colorado Water Law are important to know before a full understanding of this topic can be reached. The people own the water but individuals own rights to use it . The water of every natural stream is public property but it can be apportioned for personal use; water users own the right to use the water . “First in time, first in right,” is also important to Colorado Water Law . Senior water rights have precedence over junior water rights . A senior water user could shut off a junior user’s
water until the senior user’s need was met . For example is one user has a right to the water from 1869, that right would be considered senior to a right from 1904. Colorado Water Law is extremely complex but understanding the basics makes it easier to comprehend.
Water for Western Colorado comes from precipitation, and snowfall. Precipitation in Western Colorado comes from the Pacific Ocean . Western Colorado averages only 8-14 inches of rainfall per year . Snowfall is the largest contributor to water in the region. Water for the Gunnison River Basin and the entire Colorado River Basin comes from winter snows above 8,000 ft. The mountains in the region can receive on average 40-400 inches of snow . Precipitation and snowfall are very influential in the amount of water supplied each year to water users.
The construction of the Gunnison Water Tunnel gave Uncompahgre Valley water users new rights. Work began in November 1901 but in the fall of 1902 work was abandoned due to a lack of state funds (Uncompahgre Project). In 1906 the project was transferred to the federal government and work continued (Uncompahgre Project). The tunnel was completed in 1909 (Uncompahgre Project). At 5.8 miles long, it was the longest water tunnel in the world when it was completed . The tunnel brought water to the semi-arid Uncompahgre Valley from the Gunnison River .Water from the tunnel turned the valley, which had inadequate water but fertile ground, into a prime agricultural area .The Gunnison Water Tunnel originally allowed farmers to grow Moravian Barley, but now it allows them to grow apples, cherries, pears, potatoes, and corn .Since agriculture has always been an important part of the Western Colorado economy, the Gunnison...