Grand County is the headwaters of the Colorado River, probably the most managed, controversial, and litigated river in the world. Starting as a trickle of snowmelt in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado River is 1,450 miles long, it has more than 20 dams, supplies water to more than 30 million people in the United States and Mexico, irrigates around 3.5 million acres of farmland.
Back in the late 1800s, farmers and people on the Front Range had a need for the water coming from this side of the mountains to their side on the plains. Before the Titanic sailed the ocean blue, water was being allocated throughout Colorado via a complicated series of laws which facilitated transport of west slope water to people on the other side of the 12,000ft peaks. We didn’t think about it because the water was right in front of us and there appeared to be plenty for all. Now we live with laws that are more than 100 years old and growth that requires more water.
Controversies over water rights in Colorado have been an issue among the states for years. In Grand County alone there are over 2,500 claims to water. These include wells, springs, creeks, and the river itself. If a right has a “call on,” meaning it is exercising its senior right to the water, upstream junior users must stop diverting water so that it reaches that calling water right. Today, because of all the rights, special arrangements, and reservoirs, it is a serious accounting problem to make sure the correct amount of water is going to the proper place on time. There are people keeping track of every drop of that water. The state engineer is responsible for making sure all rights are used in accordance with the water right decrees. In Grand County two water commissioners work for the division engineer appointed by the state engineer. Their job is to make sure no one is abusing their water rights. Water rights are so important that they are often sold for huge sums of money. You may have the best land with the best view, but even more valuable are the water rights to the river flowing through your land.
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Grand County Water Commissioners
- East Grand (includes Hot Sulphur Springs), contact Sue Avre at (970) 531-2696
- West Grand, contact Tim Ritschard at (970) 319-5291
- Lead Water Commissioner: Neal Misbach (970) 531-1159