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Bureau not required to provide compensatory water

Kara Lamb, public information, Bureau of Reclamation, Loveland

An editorial about Green Mountain Reservoir published in the Summit Daily News on July 20 stated, “the Bureau of Reclamation is obligated to provide 100,000 acre-feet of compensatory water to the Western Slope in order to continue to divert the headwaters of the Colorado River out of the basin.”

This statement is inaccurate. The confusion is over the dual purposes of Green Mountain Reservoir: replacement storage and storage for power purposes. Both are required purposes of Green Mountain Reservoir under Senate Document 80, which was approved in 1937.

Under Colorado water law, a junior water right must replace its out-of-priority depletions against a senior water right when the senior right is short or “calling.” This out-of-priority replacement makes the stream “whole,” as if the junior right were not diverting. As a result, the primary purpose of Green Mountain Reservoir is to store water when there is no shortage to senior rights (typically in the spring); then release that water when the Colorado-Big Thompson project is diverting upstream on the Colorado. This way, the senior rights on the Colorado River are “kept whole.” SD80 requires a 52,000 acre-foot replacement pool at Green Mountain Reservoir for this purpose. The “52-pool” is what protects West Slope senior water rights from injury during C-BT project diversions.

SD80 also requires a “power pool,” so named because water from it is released through the Green Mountain power plant. This pool was the result of negotiations between East- and West-slope interests to provide compensation to the West Slope for construction of the C-BT Project. The reservoir has a designed power pool capacity of approximately 100,000 acre-feet. Water is stored in this pool when there is no call on the Colorado River. The original design was that water released from the power pool would put 1250 cfs in the Colorado River at the Shoshone power plant.

So, to clarify: provision of water from the power (compensatory) pool is not required for the C-BT “to continue to divert the headwaters of the Colorado River.” That is the function of the replacement pool. The power pool provides compensatory storage for West Slope interests when such supplies are available. This year, run-off was poor, so the power pool is short. Reclamation continues to work with all of its partners to try and offset the impacts of the shortage.


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