June 27, 2013--Ouray plunges into effort to fendoff downstream water call (Telluride Watch)

In the face of changing weather patterns and projected water scarcity, the City of Ouray has made a bold move, demanding that the Colorado Division of Water Resources retabulate the water rights within its Division 4 (which encompasses Ouray) to protect the municipality from future water calls by downstream agricultural users in Montrose and Delta counties. If the effort is successful, the city will be immune to another water call from the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and it’s M&D Canal, such as the one that took place last summer, City Attorney Kathryn Sellars told the Ouray City Council last week. The City of Ouray may be much further upstream than the M&D Canal’s multiple agricultural users, but proximity to a watershed’s headwaters does not factor into the complicated calculus of Colorado water law. What matters most, under the state’s prior appropriation doctrine, is who filed and adjudicated their water rights first. As the Colorado Division of Water Resources puts it: “The essence of a water right is its place in the priority system.” And when it comes to priority water rights on the Upper Uncompahgre River, the M&D Canal is the biggest dog in the fight.  Sellars, on behalf of the City of Ouray, argues that back in the 1870s, 80s and 90s when city forefathers started taking (or appropriating) water from the Uncompahgre watershed for what would be considered municipal purposes in today’s terminology, the state’s water adjudication system was set up in a way that inherently favored agricultural users.

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