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Coloradans use, or deplete, an annual average of 2.5 million acre-feet of water from the state’s various river basins that send water down the Colorado River system to Lake Powell, according to a new study on water use and water rights presented Thursday in Grand Junction by the Colorado River District to more than 130 water managers and users.Of the 2.5 million of annual average consumptive use, the study found that 1.6 million is tied to pre-Colorado River Compact water rights that are not subject to curtailment under the terms of the 1922 compact, which requires that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico send a certain amount of water to the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.In each basin, most of the water being depleted from the rivers is going to grow hay, grass and alfalfa, with smaller portions being used to irrigate orchards and row crops, and still smaller portions being used to provide water to people and their lawns in cities and towns.Most water users in Colorado are now considering ways to use less water, and most also are concerned about new uses in the system, which could hasten a compact call.If the state needed to send 300,000 acre-feet downriver, it would need to curtail rights dating to September 1940, and that could curtail Denver Water’s diversions from Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel, which are made under water rights with a 1946 priority date.

The study also asked if a compact call were to materialize, how far down a list of post-compact water rights, prioritized by dates, would the state have to curtail in order to send significant amounts of water downstream?

Of the 626,200 acre-feet of average annual post-compact use in the Colorado River basin, 532,000 acre-feet is attributed to transmountain diversions.

This isn’t breaking news for Front Range water managers, who have long known that their water from the Western Slope is based on post-compact water rights.“I would be very surprised if any of this is a surprise to them,” said John Carron of Hydros Consulting Inc. He is the engineer managing the study and its complex hydraulic model.

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