State official to discuss water administration changes today in Salida

Division 2 Engineer Rachel Zancanella addresses attendees at the 2023 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in Colorado Springs. Zancanella will discuss changes to Arkansas River Basin water administration today at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds (photo by Joe Stone).

Rachel Zancanella with the Colorado Division of Water Resources will lead an educational meeting today at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds to discuss changes to the way some water is administered in parts the Arkansas River Basin.

As the division engineer for the Ark Basin (Division 2), Zancanella oversees basin-wide water rights administration. She will attend two meetings today – one at 10:30 a.m. and another at 5:30 p.m. – at the Fairgrounds on County Road 120 in Poncha Springs.  

The topic of the meetings is the plan to phase out “futile calls” in the Arkansas Basin. According to a CDW pamphlet, “There is no hard timeline at the moment, but the Division of Water Resources is considering making this change before the start of the 2025 irrigation season.”

A futile call allows junior water rights holders to use water out of priority – ahead of those with more senior water rights – when the water used would not otherwise reach more senior water rights downstream.

Futile calls have been allowed in places where surface water disappears into the ground downstream from a junior water right, leaving the streambed dry in a section between the junior right and the senior right.

More recently, however, a better understanding of the interconnectivity between groundwater and surface water has prompted changes in water rights administration.

For example, studies proved that wells in the Lower Ark Basin were pumping water from aquifers connected to the Arkansas River. Therefore, the wells were using water out of priority and reducing the amount of water available (i.e., causing injury) to owners of senior water rights, including water rights in the Upper Ark Valley.

As a result, since 1969 groundwater has been administered as part of the Prior Appropriation System (Colorado constitutional law) unless it can be proven that a source of groundwater is not hydrologically connected to surface water, usually a stream or river.

Similarly, the DWR now recognizes that allowing futile calls can cause injury to senior water rights downstream because of the connection between surface waters and groundwater.

In the Arkansas River Basin, water users in certain areas have routinely used water under a futile call, even though senior water rights downstream call for water year-round.

Recognizing that most of these calls aren’t truly “futile,” the DWR plans to phase out the general use of futile calls without proof that surface water and groundwater are not connected in areas with senior water rights downstream.

This change in administration will reduce or eliminate the times that some junior water rights holders can use water.

In addition to the two meetings today in Poncha Springs, two on-line meetings are scheduled for 4 p.m. March 12 and April 16. To join these virtual meetings, go to, or dial: 929-266-1295 and enter PIN 543 570 826#.

The meetings are expected to last an hour-and-a-half. An informational pamphlet provides more information about this process.

Joe Stone