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Rifle water rights supply in good shape

The City of Rifle has enough water for a population of more than 26,000, thanks to past work to secure some strong water rights, according to the city’s water attorney.

The rights date back to shortly after the turn of the last century, continuing through Rifle’s more than 100-year history and, most recently, the 2011 acquisition of 550 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir. One acre-foot is roughly enough to cover a football field a foot deep in water.

Attorney Michael Sawyer reviewed the long water rights history of the city and other issues at a May 7 City Council workshop.



All but a small amount of the city’s municipal water comes from the Colorado River, with other sources including Beaver Creek and several area irrigation ditches, Sawyer said.

The most senior water right is 1.6 cubic feet per second from the Excelsior Ditch, he noted, and dates back to 1883.



“That’s a very old, historic, great senior water right,” Sawyer said.

One cubic foot of water is enough to irrigate 40 acres of land, he added.

Some water rights – the Rifle Pipeline rights adjudicated in 1940 and 1952 – are protected by what is called the “historic users pool” from Green Mountain Reservoir, Sawyer added. The pool is a 100,000 acre-foot compensation for Front Range water diversions, he said.

Among the larger water rights are 23.1 cfs for the Colorado River intake #1, acquired in 1981; and 26.3 acre-feet for the Rifle Pond in 2002, Sawyer said.

Retaining water rights under Colorado water law means proving a water rights owner has done “due diligence” in putting that right to a “beneficial” use with state water court officials every six years, Sawyer stated.

“Rifle does a good job of protecting its water rights,” he said. “And it’s an integrated system, so if you do something in one area, it applies to the entire system,” which helps prove the city is putting its water to beneficial uses.

However, the city has few senior rights, so much of its water can be subject to “calls” by more senior right holders, Sawyer said. But no calls on city water have ever occurred, he added later in an interview.

The city has a diversion and treatment facility on Beaver Creek, but only for two cfs. Sawyer noted the creek often does not have enough water to meet those levels, and when the city’s new $25 million water treatment plant is completed in a few years, the Beaver Creek plant will be decommissioned and those rights transferred to the Colorado River.

That process will need legal approval, and Sawyer noted there are other Beaver Creek water users that will likely object.

Rifle also owns some raw, or irrigation, water rights from Rifle Creek, the Wisdom Ditch and Pioneer Ditch, which are used at Centennial Park, Deerfield Park and the Park Hill Cemetery, Sawyer added.

Domestic water at Rifle Mountain Park is supplied by a water well that can pump up to 15 gallons a minute, up to one-third of an acre-foot or 108,600 gallons a year.

The city is also currently involved in a water court case filed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency, which is seeking water rights for the Rifle Fish Hatchery that have their origin in Rifle Mountain Park, Sawyer said.

Some of the city’s unused water rights have been leased to third parties, Sawyer added, including the Rifle Gap Goff Course, the Rifle Ranger District office of the White River National Forest, the co-generation plant south of the city and the Rimrock development, which was foreclosed upon.

In his written conclusion of a 14-page memo to the council that explained the city’s water rights, Sawyer noted the importance of maintaining the availability of the city’s existing rights when development occurs.

“As additional properties annex and develop within the city, dedication of new water rights is imperative to ensure the city maintains adequate water rights to meet future demands,” he wrote.


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