The Prior Appropriation System
Water rights in Colorado are unique when compared to other parts of the United States. The use of water in this state is governed by what is known as the "Prior Appropriation System". This system of water allocation controls who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed, and when those waters can be used. The first person to appropriate water and apply that water to use has the first right to use that water within a particular stream system. This person (after receiving a court decree verifying their priority status) then becomes the senior water right holder on the stream, and that water right must be satisfied before any other water rights can be fulfilled.
Unfortunately, most of the stream systems have been over-appropriated since the 1890\'s. The term "over-appropriated" means that at some or all times of the year, a call for water by a senior appropriator is not being satisfied. This process of allocating water to various water users is traditionally referred to as "Water Rights Administration," and is the responsibility of the Division of Water Resources.
What this means is that while Walsenburg has senior water rights, there are still times in the year when water may not be available and the City's storage rights become essential.
Colorado Water Knowledge from CSU
Water Supply Overview
The City has a robust water supply system, including some of the most senior water rights on the Cucharas River basin and an extensive system of storage reservoirs. The wise acquisitions by early decision makers allowed Walsenburg to establish significant water rights early and the City has continued to acquire them to ensure Walsenburg has enough water to serve significant and sustainable future growth.
The City continues to expand and strengthen its municipal supply system to serve its current and future customers. Walsenburg's long-term water supply and demand planning for 2015-2065 modeled key attributes of the City's water supply system to determine its ability to meet future demand. The recent average water demand of 900 acre-feet per year is expected to more than double to 2,020 acre-feet per year by 2065. Analysis shows that City supplies are adequate to meet these projected demands.
Drought Planning and Water Conservation
Drought is a common natural phenomenon in Colorado and can significantly reduce available municipal water supplies. It is imperative for municipal water providers throughout the state to anticipate and plan for droughts. The main objective is to preserve essential public services and minimize the adverse effects of a water supply emergency on public health and safety, economic activity, environmental resources, and individual lifestyles
While the analysis of the Walsenburg water supply indicates an adequate supply through 2065, the modelling indicates that during a prolonged drought excessive reservoir drawdown could occur. This is a particular concern because most of the City's reservoirs are multi-purpose for both the municipal water supply and recreational purposes.
The City is proactively planning and implementing water projects to prepare for the anticipated growth including, infrastructure, additional water rights, and operational modifications. In addition wild-fire suppression, drought management, water conservation, recreational use, and water sold for domestic or livestock use outside the City are important considerations.
More information is available at the Water and Sewer Department page.