So you bought a couple acres in the North Fork Valley. You are super excited because with that acreage comes 80 shares of Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Co irrigation water! You’ve already got your garden planned, possibly a little orchard and some hay, maybe even some starts in the greenhouse ready to go into the ground. Its late April and you are seeing all that lovely spring melt runoff water rushing down the canal but nobody has turned on your head gate to let water onto your property! You want your water and you want it now! Your neighbor has water. Its been on for a couple weeks now. Why is his water on and yours isn’t? You want to get to the bottom of this and soon. Who do you call? Who is the authority for irrigation water in the North Fork Valley?
Water rights and rules are quite complicated and completely non-standard from one ditch to another. Its the same all over the west. What is early and late water? How much is a share of water on Fire Mountain Canal? Why is that share different than a share from Stewart Ditch? How much water is a “share” exactly? Who can make the final judgement if I think my neighbor upstream is taking too much water? There is no standard answer and in fact its quite the rabbit hole of information that you really should rely on experts for.
In Delta county there are well over 200 ditches, canals, and springs that have been identified and allocated by the state of Colorado. But Colorado’s water jurisdiction ends at the source of each ditch or spring. When you purchased your property, if your land has an irrigation water right you should have received a certificate that states how many shares and the name of the ditch company your rights are associated with. In some instances you may have a water right stated as a “decree” instead of a share. Decrees usually have streamflow values associated with them. For instance your decree might read .25 cfs from Such and Such ditch or spring. Decrees can be searched on the Colorado Dept of water Resources website (See link below).
Each water district has its own water commissioners. In the Montrose district (which encompasses the North Fork Valley) there are 24 individual commissioners. Usually a commissioner is responsible for a particular river or major source of water. In the North Fork valley Luke Rushke is our water commissioner but he’s not the guy to call if you have a question about your ditch! He’s a nice guy and can give you his opinion but he has no authority on your ditch. His authority concerns how much water each ditch company is taking at the source and makes the call concerning priorities. Every ditch has a differing “priority”. Think of priority as a totem pole. The ditches up top of the pole will be turned off in the event of a water shortage before the ditches on the bottom. Your ditch company and their “ditch riders” have final authority and can settle disputes with your neighbors concerning water usage. So call them first. If you can’t find a person to talk to your State water commissioner may be able to point you in the right direction.
Water wells are a different story. Every well in Colorado must be permitted by the state. There are many types of wells which are associated with their individual uses. For a more in depth article on Colorado water rights and wells please see this article as a starting point. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/wellpermitguide_1.pdf
I have included below additional contacts for the area’s major ditch companies should you have questions about your water rights. In addition there is a link to track down wells and water rights all over the state of Colorado.
List of Delta County Ditches
North Fork Water Commissioner
Fire Mountain Canal and resevoir
Travis Cecil (Ditch Rider)- 970.589.3836
Karl Burns (970) 527-3005
Lee Bradley 970-527-6838
Wayne Frazier 527-3860
Minnesota Ditch & resevoir
June Thompson 970-527-3524
Map based search for wells and water rights: