Water Workshop 2004

Conference Addresses

Conference Program

29th COLORADO WATER WORKSHOP, July 28-30, 2004

Science, Technology & Politics in 21st Century Water Development

ABOUT THE CONFERENCE: For most of the 20th century, a unified political vision drove water development in the West; through unprecedented feats of engineering and applied technology, most of the West's surface waters were controlled and redirected to human purposes by the 1970s.

But that unified political vision began to break up about that time, as changes in western regional economies, coupled with environmental concerns nationally, brought other values into political play. Today the environmental sciences -- and increasingly the "dismal science," economics -- are playing a large role in changing the scope, scale and nature of water projects: both in terms of what will probably no longer be done for environmental and economic reasons, and also of what can be done through new approaches to water development..

Western State College's 29th Water Workshop will examine these changes, looking both at the challenges represented by conflicts between science and politics, and at the opportunities created when the approach is less protagonistic. Here is the complete schedule!


"Colorado Water Law in a Nutshell"
Tuesday, July 27, 1:00-4:00 and Wednesday, July 28, 8:00-12:00
Delta water attorney and District 4 Water Referee Aaron Clay will provide an overview
on everything from basic definitions to the complexities of reserved rights.
$20.00 in addition to other conference fees -- but a real bargain for that.
In the Cottonwood Room, College Union.

All events, unless otherwise noted, in the Kebler Room, College Union


WEDNESDAY MORNING, July 28, 10:00-12:00
"Studying Hard: Research updates on important regional studies." A media briefing organized by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. (Also open to the public at no cost.) Moderated by Karla Brown, CFWE Director

  • The South Metro Water Supply Study -- Pat Mulhern, Engineer, Mulhern MRE, Inc., on the challenges of meeting water needs for some of the fastest growing communities in the nation.
  • 2004 Drought and Water Supply Assessment -- Tracy Bouvette, Geomatrix Consultants, on the growing challenges presented by the deepening drought.
  • Upper Colorado River Basin Project (UPCO) -- Taylor Hawes, Attorney for Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, on the challenge of balancing local, downstream and transbasin needs from the Upper Colorado River.

NOON -- Welcome Back Lunch, Union Patio, Lawn & Kebler Room


1:00-2:15 Reflections from the "Two Chambers of the Western Heart"
Justice Greg Hobbs has said that "the two chambers of the western heart, the two lobes of the western mind, are beneficial use and preservation." Two large figures in the recent history of water development in Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Basin are retiring this year, and will share their reflections from that peak of their careers:

  • Wayne Cook, Executive Director of the Upper Colorado River Commission for many years, and before that a ranking employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, will speak from the "beneficial-use chamber" of the western heart; and
  • Bruce Driver, attorney for Western Resource Advocates (formerly the Land and Water Fund for the Rockies) will speak from the "preservation chamber" of the western heart.

2:15-3:00 The Changing Science, Technology and Politics of Water
Neil Grigg, civil engineer, author, and head of the Department of Civil Engineering at Colorado State University, will give an overview of how the 21st century will be different from the 20th in water development. Then Cat Shrier, a recent CSU doctoral graduate in Civil Engineering, will tell how the field looks from the perspective of one just entering it.

3:00-3:15 Break

3:15-4:30 Science and Politics: Which drives Which?
A discussion panel with Steve Simms from the Colorado Attorney General's office; Frank Jaeger, Manager of Parker Water and Sanitation; and Barbara Green, resource attorney.

4:30-5:30 Breakout Sessions -- Some Big Questions for the Future

  • Is there really still undeveloped water in Colorado?
    Rick Brown, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board State Water Supply study project (due to be completed later this year) will discuss findings to date, and responses from around the state..
  • Are Big Projects still possible?
    Gary Bostrom, regional project director for Colorado Springs Utilities, will tell about the big pipeline from the Pueblo Reservoir; Dave Miller of Natural Energy Resource Company (who will not mention "Union Park") will present the case for high-altitude off-stream storage; and Gary Hausler, Gunnison engineer and developer, will say why he thinks Colorado could and should look east of the 100th meridian for water.
  • What is conjunctive use and how does it work? Will it work?

Pat Mulhern of Mulhern MRE Inc. will explain this process on which many western cities are pinning a lot of hopes.

Social Time at 6:00 with a reprise from the Gunnison Brewery; Dinner at 6:30, followed by --

"John Wesley Powell, Scientist, Poet and Botched Politician: How a non-college graduate invented from the rhythms of nature a western persona." The Hon. Greg Hobbs, Colorado Supreme Court Justice, on the first big western train wreck between science and politics.


8:00-8:30 Coffee, Continental Breakfast and Conversation

8:30-10:00 What can Climate Science tell us about future water management challenges in Colorado?
Three members of the Western Water Assessment – Doug Kenney from the Natural Resource Law Center at the University of Colorado,  Andrea Ray from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Brad Udall from the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences -- will give an overview of multidisciplinary efforts to scientifically address the challenges of water resource predictability and risk management, culminating with a demonstration of a model being developed to address South Platte water issues.

10:00-10:15 Break

10:15-12:15 Water Use Strategies in the 21st Century
An overview of how some water managers, users and engineers are facing the challenges of growing demands, finite supplies and a need for new variations on old solutions. Richard Raines of the Applegate Group of Denver will moderate.

Meeting Municipal Needs: Peter Binney, Director of Utilities for the City of Aurora, and Nicole Seltzer, of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will describe strategies their agencies are employing to make the water they have go as far as possible, and to develop future supplies through collaboration rather than conflict.

Meeting Agricultural Needs: Don Magnusson, of the New Cache la Poudre Irrigation Company, describes how farmers are working things out in the face of urban expansion; and Kathy McNeill, rancher from the San Luis Valley, will describe their efforts with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to restore aquifers in their valley.

Meeting New Storage Needs: Mike Applegate, of the Applegate Group, will describe 21st century approaches to water storage and development from the engineering perspective; and Warren Paul, engineer with the Washington Group International, will offer a more scientific approach to decision making and risk management.

12:15-1:15 Lunch on Union Patio, Lawn & in Kebler Room


1:15-3:00 125 Years' Evolution in Administering Water Use in Colorado.
125 years ago, in 1879, the Colorado legislature created the State Engineer's Office and established the system of water districts and water commissioners, to assure that the state's water would fairly and efficiently distributed among the water right holders. State Engineer Hal Simpson will introduce and lead this session. Former District Engineer Dick Stenzel and Water Commissioner Bill Richie will give an overview of the evolution of the scientific and technical aspects of the job "from saddle to satellite." Water Commissioner Bruce Smith will speak to the challenges of administering ground water rights. And Water Commissioner Scott Hummer will speak to the nature of the task today, and the technology used in the commissioner's job, with speculation on the future evolution of the administration of water rights in Colorado.

3:00-3:15 Break

3:15-4:30 Should Colorado explore alternatives for water right development and administration?
Currently, almost all determinations involving water rights go through the judiciary water courts. Other states do it differently. A discussion panel with Melinda Kassen of Trout Unlimited, Steve Sims of the Colorado Attorney General's office, and John McClow, attorney with Bratton & McClow of Gunnison will look at the pros and cons of Colorado's system and consider alternatives.

4:30-5:30 News from the Basins

  • Along the Gunnison River. Karen Shirley, manager of the Upper Gunnison River WCD, will tell what is going on with the district's augmentation program, Upper Gunnison Project plans, etc. and Steve McCall from the Bureau of Reclamation's Western Colorado office will speak to the Aspinall Unit Operation EIS progress.


8:00-8:30 Coffee, Continental Breakfast and Conversation

8:30-9:30 News from the Basins

  • From the San Juan Basin -- Update on the Animas-La Plata Project. Allen Gates, one of the project engineers will show what is happening on the Animas.

9:45-11:45 Show Time on the Colorado River.
Two representatives of the Upper Colorado River Commission -- Gunnison attorney (and Water Workshop founder) Richard Bratton (Federal Commissioner) and Glenwood Springs attorney Scott Balcomb (Colorado Commissioner) -- will be present for a public discussion of the potential problems looming for the Upper Colorado River states as the drought continues to diminish the region's "bank account" in Lake Powell. 
Connie Woodhouse of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will bring the commissioners and conference attendees up to date on efforts to reconstruct long-term climatological data for the Colorado River Region.
Resource consultant Ben Harding of Hydrosphere in Boulder will demonstrate the effects of one of the "tree-ring droughts" on the Colorado River's modern storage system, and Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservation District will present the District's analysis of the impact on the Upper Basin of continued drought, as prelude to the public discussion of implications and options for the Upper Basin states in confronting the possibility of a Lower Basin call on the river.

11:45-12:30 Lunch with Candidates for National and State Offices

12:30-2:00 Candidate Forum.
A chance for candidates for national and some state offices to discuss water issues with the people who want to know where they stand! This concluding session will be open to the public. Candidates who have accepted the invitation so far:

  • Bob Schaffer, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Mike Miles, Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Gregg Rippy, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress 3rd Colorado District
  • Matt Smith, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress 3rd Colorado District
  • Kathleen Curry, Democrat candidate for Colorado General Assembly District 61

Keep checking for new additions! Several other candidates have either tentatively accepted or are trying to rearrange their schedules to attend.

 Hobbs, Greg


How a Non-College Graduate Invented from

the Rhythms of Nature a Western Persona

John Wesley Powell, Scientist, Poet, and Botched Politician:

By Justice Greg Hobbs,
for the 29 th Colorado W ater Workshop, Gunnison , Colorado , July 28, 2004  

The Colorado Plateau, A Book of Revelations

Explorer, writer, teacher, scientist, public speaker, government official, and son of a Methodist Minister, John Wesley Powell saw the West-particularly the canyons of the Colorado Plateau-as a "Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved Bible of geology."

Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Ethnography after twice running the Colorado River , he was an insatiable student of the West's aridity and Native peoples. He believed that cooperative use of the land and water would be essential to everyone's success.

Opposing corporate monopolies with a passion, Powell held that Government should employ unbiased judgment-aided by a careful study of Nature-to help citizens accommodate themselves to living in community in a severe and majestic water-scare land.

Quite simply Powell loved the West. I see him as a paradigm Westerner. He believed in humanity's basic goodness and honesty, and service to others as the clearest marker of civilization: "All love of industry, all love of integrity, all love of kindred, all love of neighbor, all love of country, and all love of humanity is expressed in labor for others."

Development interests and western boomer politicians thought him a crackpot menace.  He's alive with us today because we are living his experience. What is that experience?

Awe, Ah, Yes!-Diligent Inquiry and Observation yielding Profound Wonder at what is that has come before that surrounds us. The passion of the western mind is to hypothesize, to test the hypothesis, to see if it works, to relate cause and effect, to teach, explain, and learn, to witness the design of the Universe-found within everyone and everything in the minutest of particles to the immensity of way-upon-way orbit-on-orbit moving elliptically-to paint, to sing, to dance, to agree and disagree, and yet to arrive back again at the interrelationship community portends. A fundamental discovery is that every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them (courtesy Newton ).

Perhaps, Powell's most notable trait was his ability to invent himself as he went along. He did not have a College degree when he began teaching at an Illinois Wesleyan. He convinced the State Normal University of Illinois to help him go on specimen collection summer field seasons to Colorado in 1867 and 1868. At Hot Sulphur Springs in 1868, talking with a mountain man, Jack Sumner, who then accompanied him, Powell conceived the 1869 Colorado River run.

Through that voyage and its sequel, Scientist-Adventurer-Philosopher-Poet, Powell gave voice to the inspiring force of rock, water, and erosion in creating that most magnificent of all chasms, the Grand Canyon . While the scientific method might be seen as requiring explanations of the universe that are concretely predictive, and therefore impersonal, mechanistic, and structural, Powell did not speak or act as if explanations of the universe must be systematically cleansed of all spiritual and human qualities.

Rhythmic Cadence, Symbolic Allusion, and Science

So let us go now to the River with Powell and see how-Geologist and Rhetorician-through rhythmic cadence and symbolic allusion, with its source in the Bible and-terrifically-in the land itself, he unfolds to a Nation the glory he beholds.

We have looked back unnumbered centuries into the past, and seen the time when the schists in the depths of the Grand Canyon were first formed as sedimentary beds beneath the sea; we have seen this long period followed by another of dry land---so long that every hundreds or perhaps thousands of feet of beds were washed away by the rains; and, in turn, followed by another period of ocean triumph, so long that at least ten thousand feet of sandstones were accumulated as sediments, when the sea yielded dominion to the powers of the air, and the region was again dry land. But aerial forces carried away the ten thousand feet of rocks, by a process slow yet unrelenting, until the sea again rolled over the land, and more than ten thousand feet of rocky beds were built over the bottom of the sea; and then again the restless sea returned, and the golden purple and black hosts of heaven made missiles of their own misty bodies-balls of hail, flakes of snow, and drops of rain-and when the storm of war came, the new rocks fled to the sea. Now we have canyon gorges and deeply eroded valleys, and still the hills are disappearing, the mountains themselves are wasting away, the plateaus are dissolving, and the geologist in the light of the past history of the earth, makes prophecy of a time when this desolate land of Titanic rocks shall become a valley of many valleys, and yet again the sea will invade the land, and the coral animals build their reefs in the infinitesimal laboratories of life, and lowly beings shall weave nacre-lined shrouds for themselves, and the shrouds shall remain entombed in the bottom of the sea, when the people shall be changed, by the chemistry of life, into new forms; monsters of the deep shall live and die, and their bones be buried in the coral sands. Then other mountains and other hills shall be made into beds of rock, for a new land, where new rivers shall flow.

Thus ever the land and sea are changing: old lands are buried, and new lands are born, and with advancing periods new complexities of rock are found; new complexities of life are evolved.

Today, by raft, we can set forth on the River and see exactly how Nature's detail evokes exaltation. When I first went down the Colorado with my brother Will and his wife Jean in the 1980s I experienced Powell's run as my own.

Powell's Run


Spread beyond the eye and senses,
Powers and Principalities,
every feature finely etched
tower, ridge, toehold
granary scat stashed,
disemboweled mist,
scrabble crust
red porridge downpour,
cathedrals, thrones,
caverns, furnaces,
hanging gardens,
cretaceous creatures
massed in dancing curtain
rims of the solid slipping sea,
turquoise tributaries so pure
Paradise seems a reflection,
schist chasm of the plunging
night, lurch of vertigo in merciless
cold and heat unbearable,
roaring so complete no power
or principality can compete,
round a bend run down, down,
down from Lee Ferry to Havasu,
Surge back home again.


The Geologist As Poet

Vying with surveyor Ferdinand Hayden for the services of the artist Thomas Moran-who had painted The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as a member of a Hayden expedition into Wyoming -

Powell led Moran into the visitation that produced The Grand Chasm of the Colorado . Powell insisted that the canyon could not be truly apprehended until one had descended into its depths. Although from the rim with the river snaking far away and thin in the midst of a vast canvas, Moran's panorama does invoke the gut of a primordial landscape pregnant with potential for new birth.

I love Joni Louise Kinsey's treatment of how Powell influenced the heart of this incredible painting.

The question of redemption, finally, is at the center of The Chasm of the Colorado , literally and figuratively. Powell's terms for the action of water in the desert were not accidental; it could either "degrade" or "redeem," according to divine or human intervention. It could erode the land, in flash floods or in a gradual wearing of the soil, evaporate so dramatically as to wither everything, or come in sufficient amounts as to allow for the creation of a variety of forms of life. The land was one of extremes, physically and socially, with the great disparity of fortunes to be made or lost. In Moran's image the duality is there as threatening-the storm and the winding river-and as creative, when these two acts of water create new life and new forms.

I have not seen Powell described as being a poet. As I see him, I name him so. The way he describes what he admires most is full of poetical expression. In writing of evolution, he points to language as the epitome of "human selection" invoking the human nightingale poet whose song endures.

By human endeavor man has created speech by which he may express his thought. The nightingale sings to his mate; the poet sings to mankind. The song of the nightingale dies with the passing of the zephyr; the song of the poet lives for ages.

And here is Powell, music of the rivers singing:

The rainbow is not more replete with hues. But form and color do not exhaust all the divine qualities of the Grand Canyon . It is the land of music. The river thunders in perpetual roar, swelling in floods of music when the storm gods play upon the rocks and fading away in soft and low murmurs when the infinite blue of heaven is unveiled. With the melody of the great tide rising and falling, swelling and vanishing forever, other melodies are heard in the gorges of the lateral canyons, while the waters plunge in the rapids among the rocks or leap in great cataracts. Thus the Gland Canyon is a land of song. Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks, and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies. All this is the music of waters. The adamant foundations of the earth have been wrought into a sublime harp, upon which the clouds of the heavens play with mighty tempests or with gentle showers.

For such passages, I consider Powell to be a practicing master of that form of poetry we know as the prose poem.

When he wrote of the rangelands and forests that today make up most of the public lands in the intermountain West, he turned directly to poetry in metaphor of the hydrological cycle.

Sun is the father of Cloud.
Cloud is the mother of Rain.
Sun is the ruler of Wind.
Wind is the ruler of Rain.
Fire is the enemy of Forest .
Water is the enemy of Fire.
Wind feeds Forest , and Rain gives it drink.
Wind joins with Fire to destroy Forest .
Constant Rain battles with fickle Wind
And mad Fire to protect Forest .
So Climate decks the land with Forest .

Powell's chief interests were structural geology, a branch of science he and his men virtually invented, and the overall relation of people to the arid lands of the West. He hypothesized and documented that erosion, not sudden cataclysm was the architect of the vast canyon land system. His persistent questioning and explanation led to a model for erosion applicable the world over. Historian William Goetzmann describes him as "a scientist of brilliant lucidity with the imagination of a conjurer."
His Fascination With Native Americans

In his survey of the Colorado Plateau, Powell encountered Native Americans. Fascinated with them, he understood to study their ways and became Director of the Bureau of Ethnology, the first effort of the United States Government, to record and preserve the Nation's rich anthropological heritage. With colleagues he commissioned and trusted, he pursued these studies and issued numerous reports at the same time he was directing the U.S. Geologic Survey, the first scientific agency dedicated to the study of the country's land and water.

Here at the intersection of Native Americans, land and water, and a Nation of new settlers, Powell makes many of his best contributions to our historical, scientific, and contemporary experience. On the ground experience came before his many years at a Washington , D.C. desk.

In 1870, Powell traveled with Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin across the Colorado Plateau from Kanab to the Hopi mesas. He learned close up how Mormon and Native Americans in this part of the arid country operated community water systems. These communities sharply contrasted from the Shivwits and Southern Paiutes who lived a harsh existence, depending on the harvest of wild fruits, native grains, yucca, small game, and grasshoppers.

The Mormon communities spread themselves by sending out missionaries whose job it was select a town site that would be the center of neighboring farms. Working under a bishop, the new arrivals would fence the farms and "make the canals and minor water-ways necessary to the irrigation of the land. The water-ditch and fence of the farm are common property." Mormon irrigation had commenced in Utah in 1847. By 1865, there were 277 canals in Utah , with an average length of 3.7 miles each, the farms being relatively close to the water source. In comparison the first two 1870 Union Colony canals were 16 and 36 miles long.

A Navajo boy guided Powell and Hamblin onto the Hopi mesa at Oraibi. Here is Powell's description of the Oraibi gardens:

After dinner, we descended from the table-land on which we had been riding, into a deep valley, and having crossed this, commenced to ascend a steep rocky mesa slope by a well- worn trail, and were surprised, on approaching the summit, to find the slope terraced by rude masonry, which had evidently been made with great labor. Theses terraces, two or three acres in all, were laid out in nice little gardens, carefully irrigated by training water from a great spring in little channels along the garden plats Here we found a number of men, women and children from the town of Oraibi gathering their vegetables. They received us with a hearty welcome and feasted us on melons.

Powell visited seven Hopi "towns," as he called them, staying a total of two months studying their language, customs, and religion. He described the careful way they grew corn of different colors and made a marvelous sheet of paper-like bread we recognize as tortillas. He also described kiva ceremonies he was privileged to witness.

Powell himself became fluent in most of the region's native tongues. He and his colleagues compiled 200 vocabularies, and in 1877, he published one of his most significant works, the Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages. In keeping with his belief in the value of irrigated agriculture, he thought the Indian reservations should be irrigated, and expert farmers sent to help them.

His Water And Land Use Vision

In his 1879 Arid Lands Report to Congress, Powell identified principles of climate, necessity, law, and use remarkably similar to those the Colorado Territorial Supreme Court had announced in its 1872 Yunker v. Nichols opinion and the prior appropriation provision of the State's 1876 Constitution:

The ancient principles of common law applying to the use of natural streams, so wise and equitable in a humid region, would, if applied to the Arid Region, practically prohibit the growth of its most important industries. . . .

If there be any doubt of the ultimate legality of the practices of the people in the arid country relating to water and land rights, all such doubts should be speedily quieted through the enactment of appropriate laws by the national legislature.  Perhaps an amplification by the courts of what has been designated as the natural right to the use of water may be made to cover the practices now obtaining; but it hardly seems wise to imperil interests so great by intrusting them to the possibility of some future court made law.

Powell emphasized that priority of utilization, based on seniority of rights, should apply in times of short supply based on the "necessities of the country." He would limit the water anyone could appropriate to water actually used; his caveat was that water ought to be tied to the land permanently, a position he reasserted when serving as a member of the Public Lands Commission.

Like the Native Americans, who animated his ethnology work, Powell saw the hand of the Great Spirit in the blessing and the working of water. "It may be anticipated that all the lands redeemed by irrigation in the Arid Region will be highly cultivated and abundantly productive, and agriculture will be but slightly subject to the vicissitudes of scant and excessive rainfall." Climate, flood and drought, the power of divinely-inspired human labor teamed with natural cosmic forces to make a settling place through science, engineering, law, individual and community enterprise, and enlightened public policy-Powell harnessed Stephen Long's desert view and William Gilpin's garden view into a vision of government in service to the cause of western settlement.

Powell saw the necessity of invoking the power of the national government to aid the farmer; otherwise, corporate monopolies-not animated by the public interest-would control the scarce water resource. His vision started with cooperative efforts, like those of the Mormons in Utah and the Union Colony in Colorado , to construct ditches from the streams to the land. Inevitably, however, the settlers could not-within the limits of their own labor and finances-construct the reservoirs that would be needed to compensate for nature's yearly watershed rhythm of a flood of water off the mountains from spring snow melt, then a drought when the heat of mid-summer requires crop water but the streams ebb low.

Powell advocated the organization of irrigation and land use districts, and supported laws that would institutionalize the ability of western settlers to survive and enjoy living on the land.

A series of alternate droughts and flash floods during the late 1880's and early 1890's brought [western farmers to] the belated realization that they could not maintain their farms unless they stabilized their water supplies by building larger reservoirs and stronger dams and canals than those they had attained so far through private effort.

With congressional funding, the U.S. Geological Survey produced a survey of potential reservoir sites and a short-lived piece of Powell-proposed legislation to withdraw reservoir sites from settlement under the Homestead laws, so they would be available for use as needed in the future.

Powell envisioned segmenting major rivers into a series of "natural districts" or "hydrographic basins" for the resolution of land and water problems; each district would own the water within its boundaries, and each landowner in the district would share in the water and water decision making.

Botched Politician

From being on the ground, Powell realized that the standard survey grid and the 160 acre Homestead Act tract plunked down on mountain or plains terrain in the dry country made no sense. He advocated 2560-acre pasturage farms and 80 -acre irrigation tracts; he wanted the Geological Survey to parcel out tracts based on a sensible view of the available resource. For grazing he advocated community common range as the Spanish villages in New Mexico had practiced since the 17th Century; for water sharing he also favored a community approach. Representative Patterson of Colorado called Powell a "charlatan in science and intermeddler in affairs of which he has no proper conception."

When "Big Bill Stewart" of Nevada returned to the Senate in 1887 on a platform of free silver and irrigation, he thought Powell to be an irrigation advocate. Of course Powell was more than that, he believed in sensible land use, taking into account the limited nature of the West's resources, particularly its water.

In 1888 Representative George Symes of Colorado , sensitive to the anger of his constituents against land speculators, inserted an amendment that withdrew from settlement "all lands made susceptible of irrigation" by the reservoirs and canals which the Geologic Survey would locate. This withdrawal would aid better develop and water use, but its effect was to suspend all existing land laws for the irrigable lands. At first Stewart went along, but when it became clear Powell would release no lands for irrigation until the entire reservoir and canal survey was complete, Stewart exploded and successfully got the survey extinguished.

Powell was not cowed; addressing the Irrigation Congress he warned there was not enough water to irrigate all the lands the dreamers had in mind.

Nevertheless, his vision of local water districts in charge of water rights and decision making-aided by national legislative and administrative policy-has been followed throughout the West, at least in part, through local district sponsorship and operation of reclamation projects.

Like Jefferson before him, he foresaw the West's future in terms of an enduring agrarian democracy; instead we are the great urbanizing democracy, now looking to our agricultural base not only for the food it grows but the water itself to nurture urban growth.

Paradigm Westerner

In Powell we see the paradigm Western persona: optimistic and realistic, student and risk-taker, community-minded independent, and most of all, a lover of this magnificent country dedicated to its future.

When we run the River, we still hear his voice.


Ready for Lee's Ferry, we pile in the van
hoping wrong the brochures, for how can
they say all it can weigh, 30 pound luggage?
The boats of the day are lined to the shore,
there's one that's a Hatch, how lucky we are,

We watch with amazement our crew of just
two. Chris moves about with the feet of a cat,
he's here, he's there, and that will be that. We
load and we board, John's the boatman in charge.
He first gives us all a most serious stare, then he

Forswears, "It may not look like it, but we're
out of here!" We're up and away, out on the
River, we hear about Lee and his problems
with the law, he was the only one done in
for the Mountain Meadow Massacre,

Funny, it seems, just one man could cause such
a misdeed, nevertheless, 'twas he who paid,
paid with his head. The Roaring Twenties
give such a thrill, water in teeth over our
ears, but we get not a spill. The rapids

Are fun and supper is great, where else
could you find a more glorious steak?
We learn the rules are few and wise, help
where you can, watch out for each other,
pee in the stream and climb for the can,

It seems the Park Service thinks a human
should take whatever it takes to leave
a camp clean. In the morning it's eggs,
how you want them to be, and plenty
of ripe cowboy coffee. We hike to

Some ruins of the gone ancient ones,
they came here in summer, the same so
for we. We see their water garden, Vesey's
Paradise , the Little Colorado is also a jewel,
a mix of turquoise and mother of pearl.

We put on life vests like they were diapers for
dopes and slide on our rumps through the
pools and the bumps. Splash-grins to
our faces and bruises on tushes, guess
being free is "Butts to the Board," our
Boatman's command with big rapids at
hand. This Captain we know has a thing
about Hance, it holds him in thrall to the
shape of a grimace. If demon there be
deep under the current, it's his to surmount

By running above it. They get us on through,
our hell of a crew, we cheer and we cheer
the demon's surprise at the skill of our men
and their hold on the tiller. We hope in our
age to company with grace.

To name one-by-one. or in bunches of two
all the rapids we've run, is to read you the
journal of John Wesley Powell. Their
names have the names of the most
precious of stones, the names of some

People who the River calls home..>>>>
Line up for the tongue, watch out for the
sleepers, latch your hands to the bundle.
And now there's a dip-and now it's a tumble-
waves all ajumble you flow past the holes.

Thank God for the roar and profound solitude!
I'd sing you a song of desert's hot breath,
of songs in the stream go bubbling along,
of herons on beaches, sheep upon ledges,
I'd sing you the raven on the stony tall butte,

The spiny shine lizard near under your foot,
I'd sing you the nights when the stars are all
out, and your bed is the sand and you're glad
you're alive. You don't care you can't sleep
because the morning is coming, and her

Beauty's so deep. She welcomes the dark
with open eyelashes and the stars disappear,
and always the song of the River you'll carry
deep in your heart and away far from here.
Walks that are many, so high in the air, on
Rock that is weathered a billion-half years,
the Falls are so mighty and sing of reprieve,
how sweet it can be to sing liberty, how this
Country has grown to leave this preserved,
this strength and this glory, this land's mystery.

You may call it Shinumo, you may call it Havasu,
Matkatamiba, Elves Chasm, but what's in a name
when the name it shall be is called Paradise ?
I know I've been stinky, I know I've been sad,
the joy of new friends is a joy that I've had

Running the River on Hatch Number 3
with a hell of a crew and the greatest of food,
safe in my vest, with some sleeping to do, bid
us all to each other the fondest adieu. One
final word: keep your Butts to the Board,

You can hardly believe it, but you're not
out of here, no matter you go, for the
River is home once you've been here
and the running is good and the
running is good.

Greg Hobbs 8/2000


Joni Louise Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West 111 (1992).

Quoted in William deBuys, Ed., Seeing Things Whole, The Essential John Wesley Powell 350 (2001) from John Wesley Powell, "Competition as a Factor in Human Evolution" in The American Anthropologist 1/4 (October 1888): 297-323.

Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View 270 (1991).

The school awarded him an honorary master's degree, so that they could make Powell a faculty member to teach science. Donald Worster, A River Running West, The Life of John Wesley Powell 115 (2001).

Tarnas at 421.

Quoted in Kinsey at 112, from Exploration of the Colorado River of the West. H. Misc. Doc. 300, 43 rd Cong., 1 st sess., 1873-74. Also published as Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries: Explored in 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872, Under the Direction of the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution , Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1875, at 214.

Kinsey at 114-115.

Quoted in deBuys at 349 quoting from "Competition as a Factor in Human Evolution" in The American Anthropologist 1/4 (October 1888): 297-323.

J.W. Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons 394, 397 (Dover Publications Inc. 1961 Republication of Canyons of the Colorado 1895).

Quoted in deBuys at 282, from Century Magazine 39 (April 1890): 915-22.

William H. Goetzmann, New Lands, New Men, America and the Second Great Age of Discovery 405 (1986).

Id. at 406.

William H. Goetzmann, Exploration & Empire, The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West 566 (1966).

deBuys at 100-102, "An Overland Trip to the Grand Canon," Scribner's Monthly 10/13 (October 1975): 659-78.

deBuys at 109, "The Ancient Province of Tusayan," Scribner's Monthly 11 (1896): 193-213.

Leonard J. Arrington and Dean May, "'A Different Mode Of Life': Irrigation and Society in Nineteenth-Century Utah ," in James H. Shideler, Editor, Agriculture in the Development of the Far West 7 (1975).

Id. at 8.

deBuys at 120.

Goetzmann, Exploration & Empire at 569.

Id. at 570.

John Wesley Powell, Lands of the Arid Region of the United States (1983 Facsimile of the 1879 Edition).

1 Colo. 551 (1872)

Colo. Const. Art. XVI, sections 5,6 & 7.

Powell, Arid Lands at 42-43.

Id. at 43.

Worster, at 378.

Id. at 371.

Powell, Arid Lands at 10.

William Gilpin, Colorado 's first Territorial Governor, promoted western settlement during a cycle of wet weather, proclaiming another of the western great false prophecies: "rain follows the plow." Kinsey at 110. After President Lincoln removed him as Territorial Governor after one year in office, Gilpin became a land development, railroad, and irrigation proponent. In numerous speeches and writings that received nationwide attention, he argued, " Colorado 's dryness was an advantage, for irrigated farming was the most efficient form of agriculture . . . ." Thomas L. Karnes, William Gilpin: Western Nationalist 318 (1970).

Powell, Arid Lands at 11.

Id . at 12-14.

Powell, Arid Lands at 40-45; Worster at 479-86.

David Lavender, Colorado River Country 173 (1982).

De Buys at 214-15.

Kinsey at 98; Worster at 356-58.

Worster at 494-495.

Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundreth Meridian, John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West 227-28 (1954).

Id. at 239.

Id. at 303.

Ray, Andrea 

Linking climate to multi-purpose reservoir management in the Gunnison Basin

Andrea J. Ray, Ph.D. Western Water Assessment, NOAA Climate Diagnostics Center ,
Colorado Water Workshop, part of the panel:
What can Climate Science tell us about future water management challenges in Colorado

As in many other areas in the West, the Gunnison basin is increasingly sensitive to climate variability because new demands for water are being incorporated into the system, including in-stream flows for ecosystems and recreation. Some of the implications of climate variability and change for water management in the 21st century are:

•  The effects of multi-year droughts, e.g., periods of 3-7 years of below average snow water equivalent (SWE) and inflows;

•  The effects of decadal-scale periods in which average inflows are below normal, although there may be wet years interspersed;

•  The potential impact of a long-term decrease in Aspinall inflows, due to decreases in precipitation and SWE;

•  The potential impact of an earlier spring peak;

•  The opportunity to take advantage of forecasting inter-annual climate variability to improve the efficiency of reservoir management, both in wet and dry years;

•  The possibility of adaptive management with respect to the effects of climate on water as new understanding about the climate of the region becomes available.

The combination of increasing climate sensitivity and changing polices requires institutions that are able to be adaptive to cope with both anticipated changes and those which are difficult to predict. Characteristics of water management institutions that are likely to be able to cope with the changing policy and climate regimes will be discussed. Operations in this system have been adjusted for many reasons to benefit the basin, for example, managers have responded to both the flow recommendations for endangered fish and the severe drought of 2002 by finding flexibility and new ways of operating to benefit a diverse set of water uses. Water management institutions in the Gunnison basin have significant adaptive capacity to respond to both policy changes and climate events, and also the capacity to respond to climate forecasts if the appropriate forecasts are available.

 Contact: Andrea Ray, NOAA Climate Diagnostics Center , 325 Broadway, Boulder , CO , 80303 , andrea.ray@noaa.gov, 303-497-6434

Shier, Cat

Preparing the Next Generations of Water Resources Professionals   

Cat Shrier, Senior Water Resources Engineer, Golder Associates Inc.

29 th Colorado Water Workshop, Wednesday, July 28, 2004  

Abstract of Talk: The changes that have occurred in the water resources field over the years have led to changes in the preparation needed for water resources professionals entering the field. Scientists and engineers in water-related fields need not only preparation within their disciplines, but across disciplines, and an understanding of the human context in which water resources development and management occurs.

The universities that produce tomorrow's water resources professionals need to continue to provide opportunities to understand the complete picture of water resources development challenges. Essential elements of that preparation include opportunities:

•  to gain an understanding of the legal constraints under which water resources development occurs, though provision of a water law course;

•  to acquire hands-on experience with applied research in Colorado through programs such as the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute grants program;

•  to understand the interdisciplinary nature of water through water-related coursework outside of their major disciplines; and

•  to interact with water users and other stakeholders and gain an understanding of current events in water resources through participation in Colorado water conferences.

As budgetary constraints cause university departments to cut back on programs that are not seen as essential to a single discipline, the water community has an important role to play in ensuring that these extra-disciplinary aspects of water education are included in the preparation of the next generation of water resources professionals.

Sims, Steven O. 

Should Colorado explore alternatives for water right development and administration?

By Steven O. Sims, Senior Water Counsel
Colorado Attorney General's Office

Colorado 's court centered water law system is basically sound buts needs to be reformed to address problems that have occurred since the creation of the water courts 35 years ago.

The General Assembly in the 1969 Water Right Determination and Administration Act created seven specialty courts to have exclusive jurisdiction of water matters. These courts are located in the seven major water basins in the state. Prior to the creation of the specialized water court, district court judges in the county of the proposed point of diversion heard these matters. The 1969 act was designed to create a greater judicial expertise in water matters as well as to expedite the handling of water matters.

During the last 35 years the water courts have fallen short of expectations. The water court process has become too expensive, takes too long, the judges have not come to the water court with expertise in water matters and there is a perceived bias by water judges in favor of local interests. The court, the General Assembly and the water bar must collaborate to solve these problems or water users will continue to lobby the General Assembly to create administrative tools to bypass the water courts.

Timelines and the 2003 Legislative Changes.

In a recent law review article Melinda Kassen concluded as follows:

.empowering the State Engineer to determine material injury, and not just during drought or emergency situations, recognizes that the court system is not flexible enough to address all of the legitimate water rights transactions that arise in today's fast-pasted world. The next question for the legislature is whether the State Engineer's new authority is sufficient, or whether the times demand an even broader transfer of power from the courts to the administrator..

It will be interesting to watch and see whether the legislature continues to vest more power in the state agencies to solve Colorado 's water future, or whether, decades from now, the 2003 legislative session will stand out as an anomaly in its aggrandizement of state agency power.

Melinda Kassen, Statutory Expansion of State Agencies' Authority to Administer and Develop Water Resources in Response to Colorado's Drought . 7 University of Denver Water Law Review, 48, 66, 91 (2003).

I agree with Melinda that the 2003 legislative reaction to the drought showed that many in the water user community believe that the water court system is not flexible enough "to address all of the legitimate water rights transactions that arise in today's fast-pasted world." The General Assembly approved statutory measures that enabled water users to address pressing needs on a temporary basis while the water court considered a permanent solution. Although the General Assembly's actions created solution to the timeliness problems, the other water court problems remain to be resolved.

Expense and streamlined trial procedures.

In the last 15 years the time to try simple change of water rights cases has grown from three days to nearly seven days. The more complex augmentation cases and transbasin diversions now take many weeks if not months to try. It is no exaggeration to state that it takes less time to try a first degree murder case than the average water case. Obviously the longer the trial the greater the expense.

In addition to the length of trial of water court trials, the other major source of expense is long drawn out pre-trial procedures. Mandatory pretrial disclosures can be tens of thousands of pages. In the 2002 South Platte Well use case, the State Engineer was prepared to make a disclosure of over 300,000 pages of documents. Dozens of depositions usually precede every water court trial. Every applicant and most opposers must retain expert engineering consultants as part of the legal team at the cost of thousands of dollars.

Much of the disclosure, discovery and trial preparation expenses are not necessary and could be avoided with more precise legal theories by both the applicants and the opposers.

There are solutions to this problem, but the solutions will require changes to statute, court rules and judges conduct in managing their trials.

A streamlined trial process needs to be adopted for less complex cases. The streamlined process would limit the initial disclosures required, limit the witnesses that could be called in the trial, limit the discovery that could be utilized in the trial and limit the time for argument, direct examination and cross-examination.

Even more complex cases could benefit from active case management that looked at each of these issues in planning trials. Active trial management should be conducted by the referee/magistrate.

Streamlining water court through changing the role of the Water Referee.

During the debate on the 1969 act the General Assembly wanted a party to review the application and make recommendations to the Water Judge. A great debate took place surrounding this concept. Some wanted the recommendations to have presumptive effect and for the division engineer to make the recommendations. Eventually the General Assembly settled on the present system where a court appointed referee investigated the application and ruled on the application. Instead of giving that ruling presumptive effect, the General Assembly decided that any ruling of the referee could be reviewed by the water judge de novo.

Because of the de novo review aspect, most seriously contested matters eventually bypass the referee and take the dispute directly to the water judge. This has greatly reduced the role and importance of the water referee. While the referee has taken on some case management duties in some divisions, the effectiveness of this function varies because the referee is not always legally trained. The function of the referee should be changed away from the original investigator role to that of a trial management magistrate. The statute should also be changed to eliminate the referral to the referee for ruling, instead all cases should stay with the water judge, but be managed by the referee.

Additional Water Court reforms.

Water judges are selected from the existing group of district court judges. Most district court judges are selected due to criminal or civil trial experience. I am not aware of any district court judges appointed in the last 15 years that came from the water bar. As a result it has been rare to find any new water court judge with any exposure to water law prior to their first trial. While water judges eventually obtain experience by handling cases, on the job training was not what was envisioned when the specialized water court was created.

Some divisions, namely divisions 6 and 7 have few if any water trials. Judges in these jurisdictions don't even have the benefit of on the job training to prepare them for handling water cases. Divisions 2, 3, 4 and 5 have very few trials that actually go to trial. Colorado does not need 7 judges and 7 referees to handle the case load on the statewide water docket.

In addition to lack of water law experience many water users perceive that water judges are biased towards the positions taken by the water interests in their communities. One recent water judge upon his retirement commented in a newspaper interview that the proudest moment in his 30 year judicial career was when he denied a water court application that could have resulted in a large transbasin diversion from his water division. Although some may argue that Union Park , AWDI, Park County Sportsman Ranch and the recent Hi-Plains A&M application were just bad applications that would have been denied by any judge the perception remains that transbasin appropriators are not getting a fair trial.

This perception is reinforced by the fact that the judges ruling on these cases must stand for retention in their judicial districts. When the western slope, San Luis Valley and Arkansas Valley voted nearly 90% against Referendum A, it is realistic to believe that the anti-transbasin sentiment would sweep from office any local judge that approved a transbasin diversions. It is not just transbasin diverters that question the partiality of local judges dealing with statewide water questions. Recently communities have looked to the RICD as a poison pill that can further protect them from transbasin diversions by tying up most of the yield of a river basin without actually diverting water from the stream. These applications have all been approved by local in-basin judges.

Is it any wonder that the City of Aurora favors non-water court tools to change irrigation water to municipal use when the administrative path to approve the change of the Highland 9 mile water took 3 months while the water court process to change a similar amount of water from the Rocky Ford system has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.

Both of these systemic water court problems can be resolved by abolishing the water court in the seven water divisions. The seven water courts could then be replaced by two water only judges, assisted by two referee/magistrates that would handle all water matters in the state. These judges would only handle water cases and should be recruited from the water bar. Trials would still be held in the locality of the diversion if requested by the parties, but retention would be statewide and cases would be rotated so no judge handled cases from just one basin. It may make sense to term limit these judges so there would be a regular change of the guard so no one judicial philosophy became dominant.


Streamlining the disclosure, discovery and trial process. Reforming the role of the water referee as a case manager. Creating a statewide water court. These ideas will fix the shortcomings of the water court system and silence the call for additional transfers of power from the water court to the State Engineer.

By Steven O. Sims

Senior Water Counsel

Colorado Attorney General's Office


Science and Politics-Which drives which? The answer to this question is clear: politics drives everything when natural resource allocation policy is the issue. I know some think this is wrong or cynical, particularly if you disagree with the politics. But when it comes to public policy making of any sort it is impossible and in my opinion undemocratic to remove politics from decision-making.


I. Defining the terms of this debate.

A. What is Science?

B. What is the scientific process or deductive reasoning?

C. What is politics?

II. Limitations of Science

A. Pure Science is a myth.

B. The difference between understanding the significance of your observations and using your observations to predict the future.

C. The use of statistics to predict the future.

1. Probablity theories.

2. Use of Correlations.

3. Independent variables.

4. Study design.

5. Causation

D. The concept of Scientific Truth.

III. Useful applications of Science in the Public Policy arena

A. Structured observation.

B. Testing hypothesis.

C. Broadening the issues in the debate.

D. Proving the nullity.

IV. Practical Applications.

A. Endangered Species on the Central Platte .

1. The known facts.

2. The unknown facts.

3. Best available science.

4. The role of adaptive management.

5. The role of the National Academy of Sciences.

6. Who should make the policy decisions?

B. Ground water modeling--the lessons from Park county Sportsman's Ranch.

1. The background

2. The use of models.

3. Weaknesses of models.

4. If it calibrates it is accurate.

V. Conclusion.

Stenzel, Dick

History of the Water Commissioner Position and Use of Technology in the Early Years

Dick Stenzel, Division Engineer (retired), Colorado Division of Water Resources

The first Colorado law that provided for the regulation of streams was enacted by the first Territorial legislature in 1861. They enacted a statute that provided: That in case the volume of water in said stream or river shall not be sufficient to supply the continual wants of the entire country through which it passes, then the nearest justice of the peace shall appoint three commissioners...whose duty it shall be to apportion, in a just and equitable proportion, a certain amount of said water upon certain or alternate weekly days to different localities, as they may, in their judgment, think best for the interests of all parties concerned, and with a due regard to the legal rights of all..." However, the earliest pioneer irrigators had little need for a law of this character. At that time ditches were small and the water in the rivers was sufficient to meet their needs.

By 1876 when the Colorado constitutional convention was held its delegates were aware of the need to resolve existing and potential disputes among irrigators. It was not a question of what doctrine was to be used but of how the doctrine was to be administered. Actually the clauses in the State Constitution did little more than officially recognize what was already the law of the land. The new document laid the foundations for state control by declaring the "the water of every natural stream, not heretofore appropriated, within the state of Colorado , is hereby declared to be the property of the public." Drawing on customs evolved in farming communities and in the mining districts, where water was diverted for placer operations, the constitution also stated a new doctrine of prior appropriation:

"The right to divert the unappropriated waters of any natural stream to beneficial uses shall never be denied. Priority of appropriation shall give the better right as between those using water for the same purpose...those using the water for domestic purposes shall have preference over those claiming for any other purpose, and those using the water for agricultural purposes shall have preference over those using the same for manufacturing purposes.

The greater part of the flows of the South Platte River and tributaries had been appropriated prior to 1879. Controversies resulted in physical encounters and often bloodshed. The difficulties had grown so significant that by the time the second General Assembly of the state was to meet in 1879 an effort was made to provide a means for adjudicating the rights of the different appropriators. A statewide convention was called by the Greeley irrigators to be held in December of 1878 in Denver . They realized that the courts were too slow to offer protection to growing crops. As a result of that convention it was recommended the following changes be made to the existing laws. First they recommended dividing the State into water districts corresponding with the natural drainage basins; second, the appointment by the Governor of a water commissioner in each district whose duty it would be to divide the water on the basis of prior appropriations; third, a plan for securing a record of priorities through referees' hearings in each district. The Legislature responded by creating ten water districts, all but one in the South Platte River system, and also provided for the appointment of ten water commissioners. It empowered the District courts to appoint referees to determine the priority of rights on each stream in the ten districts. The legislature refused to provide for a State engineer or for gauging stations. To economize, the supervision over irrigation was given to the State Board of Agriculture.

The Water Commissioners were to be appointed by the governor, and the duties were "to divide the waters of the public streams in times of scarcity among the several ditches and canals, according to prior rights of each. As the districts had their rights adjudicated by the courts, the water commissioner had little discretion in the matter of dividing water. The first water commissioners were put in an unenviable position of not knowing how much water was in each stream and in most cases they did not know how to measure how much water was being diverted by the irrigators.

The Colorado System was now defined but not completed as the Second General Assembly left it; the legislation satisfied neither the lawyers, the ditch owners nor the farmers. Early in January of 1881, another irrigation convention was called and held in Denver . They listened to a talk given by B. S. LaGrange, water commissioner in District 3 which was the Cache la Poudre River basin , on the need for additional irrigation legislation. Those in attendance to the convention then chose him chairman of a committee to write the irrigation bill for presentation to the legislature.

Water Commissioner LaGrange spent most of the 1881 legislative session in Denver and helped in many ways to father this legislation. The previous legislature had refused to provide the irrigators with a State commissioner of irrigation and with some legislation for the measurement of the streams. The second bill sought to supply these important institutions. It provided for a State hydraulic engineer to measure the irrigable streams. This measure was influenced by the experience of California , where the office of State engineer had been created three years earlier. Colorado's measure had one feature, however, which was a considerable improvement over the California law; it provided that prior to the taking of testimony in an adjudication suit, the State engineer should measure the capacities of the stream and the ditches, and present his measurements as evidence in the application for a water right. This bill had another new feature; it provided for the creation of three water divisions which were based on the South Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande basins.

The General Assembly passed a statute that created the office of State Hydraulic Engineer, "to be appointed by the governor for a two-year term." The principal task was the making of "careful measurements and calculations of the maximum and minimum flow in cubic feet per second of water in each stream from which water shall be drawn for irrigation." The state engineer also supervised the water commissioners in each water district and supervised equitable distribution. As Elwood Mead later wrote: "To Colorado belongs the credit of having been the first State to enact a code of laws for the public administration of streams, and these laws have directly influenced more people than those of any other commonwealth."

The primary responsibility of the State Hydraulic Engineer was to measure the water in each stream from which water was diverted for irrigation, starting with those most used for irrigation. In 1881 the first incumbent, Eugene Stimson, established gauging stations in the Cache la Poudre River and Big Thompson River. He took readings at each station three times a day and provided a copy of his readings to the water commissioners in those water districts. The 1881 legislation also required the owners of irrigation ditches to construct and maintain, under the supervision of the State Engineer, a measuring device for measuring flow. The installation of the measuring devices on the ditches was critical to enable the water commissioners and the ditch riders to allocate accurately the water from the streams and ditches. In addition, the State Engineer was to compute and rate the amount of water that will pass each measuring device at different stages, in cubic feet per second, and provide each water commissioner with a copy of the results. Stimson found it difficult to accomplish all his duties as a staff of one person and did not accomplish all the duties assigned to him during 1881.

During the summer of 1882 Stimson's time was occupied on the Cache la Poudre and St. Vrain. In the Cache la Poudre decrees were issued by the court on evidence taken by referee. Acting under provisions of Section 12 of the act creating office of State Engineer, he required that flumes twenty-five feet in length and the full width of water way to be placed in each ditch that received a decree. Measurements were then made of the full capacity of each ditch with the water flowing in it, then each separate appropriation claimed as enlargements was also measured as decreed, and for the convenience of water commissioner, marks were placed in each flume for the decreed amounts.

At the Cache la Poudre gauging station the stage of water was observed and a telephone line extended the entire length of stream. The water commissioner could then direct the regulation of headgates at any time. Water District three was further advanced than any other district in the State in the use of technology to administer its water rights.

There was not any standard of measurement adopted at that time. In that portion of District No. 1 supplied from the St. Vrain, decrees rendered by the Court, differed entirely from those in the Poudre district. In the St. Vrain the capacity of a ditch was decreed in what is termed "customary inches." At that time it was estimated that one "customary inch" could irrigate one acre of land. The unreliability of this method which in some cases was based solely on the cross- sectional area of a ditch was apparent when you consider the fact that in the case of two ditches having the same cross-sectional area, or "customary inches," one ditch could be capable of discharging twice as much water as the other ditch if it had a greater slope or grade per mile.

The second State Engineer, E. S. Nettleton, was appointed in 1883. When he was appointed State Engineer he brought with him a significant background in irrigation ditch construction. He recognized the need for measuring devices in irrigation ditches and recommended the use of rectangular weirs, which became the most popular measuring device used in Colorado , until the development in 1915-1926 of the Parshall Measuring Flume by Ralph L. Parshall. His work began by determining the capacities of the various ditches, and gauging the streams of the state. He had to determine the daily and annual discharge of the stream systems and the duty of water for irrigating purposes. He invented devices for the accurate measurement of water from canals for the farmers.

In 1883 Nettleton made a proposal to the ditch owners of the Cache la Poudre , that they furnish the necessary funds to build a permanent gauging station and measuring flume, at, or near, the site of the previous station constructed by Stimson, where a continuous self-recording gauge could be used. This improved structure and recorder would provide the Water Commissioner of the district with trustworthy data that he could use to determine the amount of water available to the water users in his district.

They promptly responded to the proposition, and assessed themselves, according to the size of their ditches. They raised the money to construct the measuring flume and gauge house at an expense of about $1,650. This flume was erected in the fall of 1883, at the place originally selected for the prepared section for gauging, and it was completed in November, ready for use during the following season. Prior to this the gauging station constructed by his Stimson required local observers to make multiple observations of the height of water on a gauge rod.

When the self-recording gauge was placed in position in the house constructed for it, many measurements were made of the velocity of the current, so that a stage discharge curve could be developed for all stages of the river. At first, a Fteley meter was used for measuring current velocity, but it soon became apparent to Nettleton that this instrument was entirely too delicate for the rough torrents, filled with drift of all sorts, in which it was used. He went about designing a new instrument that was more suitable for making the measurements. He called it the " Colorado " current meter. His main goal for the new meter was to make it self-clearing, the great defect of the Fteley meter being its liability to error from clogging with grass, weeds. A secondary object was to reduce the speed of revolution, the high speed of the Fteley instrument necessitating expensive jeweled bearings, and its delicacy of construction, made it incompatible with the rough work which is required to be done. Three " Colorado " current meters, were initially made and they saw immediate use in the gauging rivers and ditches. He described the Colorado Current Meter as working on the same principle as a anemometer or wind gage. It had five vanes or cups revolving horizontally on an axle. One Colorado current meter is still in existence and is at the Smithsonian Institute. The Colorado current meter was very similar to the Price meter which was invented W. G. Price in 1885. A modified form of the Price meter was later adopted as the standard meter for the USGS and is used today by the Division of Water Resources.

In the beginning water commissioners were allowed to work a maximum of 80 days a year. They were paid by the county commissioners that they served, if there was more than one county being administered during a specific period of time the counties split cost equally. The water commissioners pay was $5 per day and their assistants were paid $3 per day for a maximum of 25 days. The Water Commissioners could only begin working when they were requested to deliver water according to the priority system due to water shortages.

Still by 1886 many water commissioners had a list of water rights but no list of owners or where to contact owners. Water Commissioners were sued for closing gates and had to pay for their own defense. At that time the state did not provide an attorney for the water commissioners. In the Boulder Creek drainage the water commissioner in 1888 reported that he had to patrol the river at night to stop the opening of headgates. The Water Commissioners life was threatened. By the late 1890's, in the more highly developed districts, the commissioners worked full time, as winter flows of the streams were used either for storage or for winter irrigation.

In 1887, the state statutes created the position of Superintendent of Irrigation, today known as Division Engineer, whose duty was to supervise the water commissioners within each division. The expenses and salary of the superintendent of irrigation was to be paid pro rata by the number of counties that were seeking to have their water rights administered at any one time. In 1911 the office of superintendent of irrigation was abolished and the governor was empowered to appoint five irrigation division engineers.

The state statutes attempted to standardize the type structure that had to be constructed for the measurement of water. The measuring device was to be an open flume with apron and wings. Where the bottom of the ditch exceeded six feet in width the flume was to be sixteen feet in length, and where the ditch was less than six feet in width, the flume was to be twelve feet in length, exclusive, in each case of the apron and wings. The width of the flume was to the same as that of the ditch. The sides were to be perpendicular and boarded upon the inside of posts, and were to be of sufficient height to carry the greatest amount of water likely to flow in the ditch. The top of the floor had to be on the grade of the bottom of the ditch. The flume was to be erected on as straight a portion of the ditch as practicable and about four hundred feet below the head-gate.

J.P. Maxwell, the State Engineer in 1890 wrote A the measurement of water should be by State Engineers Office not water commissioners to assure the accuracy of measurements. Water Commissioners may possess general intelligence and honesty of purpose, but these alone do not suffice, and unless they are well versed in mathematics, the formula furnished to them by this office for estimating velocity and volume of flowing water will be full of mysteries and surprises as a bucking bronco to a tenderfoot who attempts to elucidate his motions while on its back. ... It can not be expected that a person who has spent his life in A whacking bulls @ or in some other manual pursuit can calculate the coefficient of roughness, square root, hydraulic mean depth ratio of fall to distance, and raise numbers to powers to calculate velocity of water per second without at least indulging in a great deal of profanity that should not be encouraged."

New technology has been incorporated constantly in an effort to provide more timely and accurate information that is needed to administer water. Today Division of Water Resource Hydrographers and Water Commissioners operate some 300 gauging stations throughout the state. In the 1980's the State Engineers Office started developing and using its current satellite system. The satellite-linked monitoring system revolutionized the day to day river administration. Use of hi-tech equipment whether it is the internet system, computers or cell phones provides the agency, other state and federal agencies and the water user community with access to real time and historic stream flow data from gauging stations across the state of Colorado . This data is accessible by either computer or telephone. The data and software systems available to the water officials provide for more effective water rights administration, water resource management, computerized hydrologic records development, and flood monitoring and warning systems.

Woodhouse, Connie 

Tree-Ring Reconstructions of Streamflow in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Connie Woodhouse
NOAA Paleoclimatology Branch, National Climatic Data Center
and INSTAAR, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO

Colorado Water Workshop, July 30, 2004, Western State College, Gunnison CO


The current drought in the Upper Colorado River basin has had a number of impacts, including the lowering of the level of Lake Powell . A recent news report suggests that if drought conditions persists another 18 months, lake levels could drop below the level required for Glen Canyon Dam's turbines. What is the likelihood of the drought to persist? Climate forecasts can provide some indication of future conditions. Records of past climate can be examined to determine how often prolonged droughts have occurred in the past. Modern instrumental records of climate and hydrology are only 100 years in length or less, but these can be augmented with paleoclimatic data from tree rings and other sources to provide a broader range of natural climate variability than afforded by the instrumental records alone.

In this presentation, I will discuss 1) how annual streamflow is reconstructed from tree rings, 2) the tree-ring reconstruction of the Upper Colorado River from Stockton and Jacoby (1976), 3) a more up-to-date streamflow reconstruction for the upper part of the Upper Colorado River, and 4) ways these reconstruction are being used by water managers, and new research to make reconstructions more useful to management and decision-making.

Reconstructing annual streamflow from tree rings

Trees in the western U.S. growing in arid and semi-arid regions, in lower tree-line forests, are generally sensitive to variations in moisture. Thus, the sequence of annual ring-widths can reflect variations in precipitation, seasonal snowpack, drought, and in particular, annual streamflow. This is because annual tree rings integrate the effects of climate over the course of the water year, much in the same way that annual streamflow is a cumulative measure of climate over the same time period. Tree growth reflects regional climate variability, so tree rings from sites across a climate region can be useful for reconstructing a gage within that climate region. In the field, we collect cores with an increment borer from about 20 trees. In the lab, cores are mounted, sanded, dated and measured to create site tree-ring chronologies. The site chronologies are then calibrated with an annual streamflow record to generate a statistical model of flow. This model is applied to the full tree-ring record to produce a centuries-long reconstruction of streamflow. Since trees are not streamflow gages, they are not perfect proxies of streamflow. The reconstructions explain a proportion of the variance in the gage record, and in Colorado , this is typically 60%-75% of the total variance. The unexplained variance is usually in the extreme values, and most often the high flow extremes. It is important to keep in mind that the reconstructions provide estimates of streamflow, and there is uncertainty related to these estimates.

Tree-ring reconstruction of the upper Colorado River at Lees Ferry

Colorado River annual streamflow at Lees Ferry was reconstructed by Stockton and Jacoby in 1976. This reconstruction extends from 1520-1961. There have been several other reconstructions of Lees Ferry flow since then, but they have utilized the same tree-ring data, and none stand out as being notably better than the original reconstruction. The Stockton and Jacoby Lees Ferry reconstruction is a high quality reconstruction, explaining 75%-87% of the variance in the gage record. Its biggest drawback is that it ends in 1961. The shortness of the instrumental record at the time the reconstruction was generated also prevented rigorous model validation with independent data.

The reconstruction can be used to assess the representativeness of the 1950s drought in the context of the past five centuries. When four-year cumulative flows in the Lees Ferry gage record, 1906-2001 (currently available natural flow record) are ranked, the period 1953-1956 ranks third (behind 1989-92, 1988-91), at 67.7% of average. In comparison, the reconstructed 4-year sum for 1953-56 is 69.8% of average, illustrating the tendency for reconstructed values to be conservative estimates of flow. In the full reconstruction, four 4-year periods in the 16th century rank the lowest, while 1953-56 comes in as the 30th lowest. Since it appears that the current drought may be more severe than the 1950s drought, it would be interesting to see how this drought compares to past droughts. Because not all the variance in the gage record is explained by the reconstruction, it is not possible to make direct and exact comparisons between gage and reconstructed values. However if these differences are considered, approximate comparisons can be made. Efforts are underway to update the Lees Ferry reconstruction with new tree-ring data, which will provide a more robust reconstruction with which to compare the current drought.

Reconstructed streamflow for the headwaters of the Colorado River

Recent tree-ring data collections in western Colorado have enabled us to generate reconstructions of streamflow for gages on the Blue, Fraser, and Williams Fork Rivers to 2002. Combined, these three reconstructions represent a history of flow in the headwaters of the Upper Colorado River . The composite reconstruction duplicates the droughts of the 1950s and 2000s (through 2002) well. After the 2002 water year, many wondered how often a drought such as the 2000-2002 drought has occurred in the past. In the upper Upper Colorado River basin , the 1950s, as a 3-year drought (1953-55) was actually a bit more severe than the 2000-2002 drought. In this flow reconstruction, going back to 1437, droughts in the 1840s and 1580s were more severe than either the 1950s or 2000s drought. The 1950s drought had the 12th lowest flows, and the 2000-2003 drought came in 16th. The reconstruction actually estimated lower values for the 2000-2002 flows than the gaged values, while the 1950s flow estimates are a bit higher than the gage.

Tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow in water resources management

Streamflow reconstruction are being used in water resources management in several ways. Extended records of flow are being used to assess the reliability of water supply systems under a broader range of conditions that provided by the instrumental record alone. Water supply models, using the reconstructed streamflow as input, can indicate the ability of a system to meet demands during periods of severe drought in the 1840s and 1580s. Scenarios using sequences of flow from the reconstructions are being used to evaluate the results of management decisions, such as the setting of quotas a certain levels.

Using streamflow reconstructions in water management presents a number of new challenges to both paleo scientists and managers. Water managers have asked for a better quantification of the uncertainty in the reconstructions, reconstructions that better replicate the extreme low flows, and reconstruction of metrics other than annual flow. We are currently working to address these needs.


  • Planning is usually based on the relatively short instrumental records of climate and hydrology.
  • These modern records do not represent the full range of natural climate variability that has occurred over longer time periods.
  • Tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow allow 20th and 21st century flows to be assessed in a long-term context.
  • Although the climate of the past will not be an analogue to the climate of the future, natural climate variability will underlie human-induced climate change, and will remain a component of future climate variability.

In the 1970s, Stockton and Jacoby (1976) made this assessment of their work:

"When the results of our analysis are viewed in the context of future demand for water usage in the Upper Colorado River Basin , it is apparent that projected demand could soon outstrip the natural annual supply of surface water."

In Colorado , the last several decades of the 20th century were relatively wet. This period of time also coincided with increases in population growth and water demand. The current drought has rapidly changed the water supply situation, and almost 30 years after this statement was made, the truth of it is becoming a reality.

For more information on tree-ring reconstruction of Colorado streamflow, including data for a number of reconstructions, see: ww.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/streamflow

Reference cited: Stockton , C.W. and G.C. Jacoby, 1976. Long-term surface water supply and streamflow levels in the upper Colorado River basin . Lake Powell Research Project Bulletin No. 18, Inst. of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California , Los Angeles , 70 pp.

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