Water Conservancy District, Chaffee County condemn Aurora water plans

The Arkansas River at Salida.

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners recently approved resolutions objecting to the City of Aurora’s purchase of Arkansas River Basin water rights.

Aurora has completed its $80-million purchase of an Otero County farming operation and associated water rights. As previously reported, Aurora’s plan to export that water into the South Platte Basin prompted the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District to condemn the move as a violation of a 2003 intergovernmental agreement (IGA).

The Upper Ark resolution asserts that Aurora’s plans violate its own IGA with the city, which was “intended to protect future agricultural water ownership and use in the Arkansas River Basin.”

A key element of all Colorado water rights is the source of the water – i.e., where the water is diverted from its natural flow.

The historical points of diversion for Aurora’s newly acquired water rights are downstream from Pueblo Reservoir, but the only means for Aurora to export its water out of the Arkansas Basin is through the Otero Pipeline, upstream from Buena Vista.

The Otero Pump Station below Twin Lakes diverts water from the Arkansas River into the Otero Pipeline for use in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

The Upper Ark resolution states, “The export of the Purchased Rights via the Otero Pipeline will dewater the Arkansas River between the Otero Pipeline and the historical points of diversion of the Purchased (Water) Rights below Pueblo Reservoir.”

In other words, Aurora’s plan would reduce Arkansas River flows between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoir.

To transport water to its customers, Aurora must “exchange” its water upstream into Pueblo Reservoir (when river flows are sufficient), trade that water for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water stored in Twin Lakes and then export Fry-Ark water via the Otero Pipeline.

The 2003 IGAs between Aurora and the conservancy districts permitted this unintended use of Fry-Ark infrastructure (Pueblo and Twin Lakes reservoirs) to deliver Rocky Ford Ditch water purchased by Aurora along with the assurance that Aurora would not attempt to export more water out of the Arkansas Basin.

Representatives from Aurora gave a presentation at the Chaffee County Commissioners’ board meeting and shared information detailing a proposal to construct Wildhorse Reservoir in Park County.

According to the Commissioners’ resolution, “During the presentation, Aurora clearly stated that construction of the reservoir would not require, result in, or utilize any new water rights, decrees, or exchanges of Arkansas River water.”

The resolution then reiterates the Commissioners’ “understanding that a central purpose of the 2003 IGA is to prevent Aurora from purchasing any additional agricultural water rights and permanently transferring those water rights out of the Arkansas River Basin for municipal use.”

A representative from Aurora is scheduled to speak at the next Upper Ark District board of directors meeting on June 13.

Joe Stone