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Old 03-31-2004   #1
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 388
Wow, there is a lot of water diversion in this state!

The more I travel around the state, the more I discover major water diversion projects. I'm just amazed. I knew there was some, but I'm amazed at the number of projects.

Does anyone have a resource which lists all these water diversions?

Here's what I learned. Can anyone add to this list?

The big stuff on the West Slope for agriculture:
1) Motrose/Olathe diverts 1000 cfs from the Gunnison above Black Canyon. 1000 cfs!!! This is for agriculture. It never comes back. No wonder Gunny Gorge has little water.
2) The Cortez Valley diverts 500 cfs?? from the Dolores river at McPhee Dam. No wonder this river is all dried up.
3) Who knows how much is taken out of the Colorado for irrigation at Grand Junction--probably 1000 cfs or more. There is that big water diversion dam at Cameo.

Then, water diversion from West Slope to the East Slope:
1) About 100-200 cfs average taken from Dillion reservoir sent to the North Fork of the South Platte--makes Bailey & Foxton go in late summer.
2) Lot's of little diversion projects near Aspen that suck the Frying Pan river dry and fill Tourquise Lake and Twin Lakes. It probably add up to 100-300 cfs. Hey, it keeps the Ark flowing for much of the summer.
3) Taylor Reservoir sent to the Ark. Not sure how much? 100 cfs?
4) Lots of little projects around Fraser that dry up the upper Granby River and send it through Moffat tunnel to Gross Reservoir on S. Boulder Creek. It probably adds up to 100-200 cfs, perhaps more.
5) The Granby diverts water to the East Slope. Does it end up in the St. Vrain? Not sure how much.
5) Little diversion projects on the upper Laramie River feed through a tunnel to the Poudre. It probably adds 100-200 cfs.

I'm amazed at all the diversion projects from the West Slope to the East. It seems that all along the Continental Divide there are tunnels that take the water to the east. Nearly every major East Slope river gets help from diversion: The Ark, the S. Platte, S. Boulder Creek, and the Poudre. But, they don't add up to stuff sucked up by agriculture on the west slope. 1000 cfs sucked out of the Gunnison alone!

I have a West Slope paddling partner who gives me a hard time about East Slope water diversion when more is diverted for west slope agriculture!

Most of the East Slope diversion isn't for us city dwellers--it's for agriculture, of course. At least the water diversion from the west slope to the east is still boatable.

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Old 04-01-2004   #2
Andy H.'s Avatar
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,911

Welcome to the wonderfully byzantine world of Western Water. If you want to know the details of diversions in Colorado, take a look here:


If you want to read a good history of water development in the Western US, start with the late Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert." A telling passage describes how, on the day Brigham Young said, "This is the place," the Mormons were diverting water from streams by nightfall. It details how the Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, and a variety of other players have shaped the use of water in the arid West. Among other things, the book describes how our nation's water policy has led to flooding productive bottom lands behind expensive dams so farmers can irrigate marginal scrubland to grow crops that farmers in the east are being paid not to grow. Then the going gets really wierd...

Like they say, "in the West, water flows uphill toward power and money."

Enjoy learning about the resource that's so central to your life,


Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
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Old 04-01-2004   #3
ski/kayak bum
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Caddy Desert---great book

The "big straw" is on its way regardless of the temp. halt.
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Old 04-01-2004   #4
Highlands Ranch, CO Paddling Since: 1993
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Don't forget about otero pump station which takes water out of the ark which comes in from the frying pan up above pine creek and sends it over to the south platte drainage.

Like Andy said if you want to learn more about this read Cadilac Desert.

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Old 04-01-2004   #5
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 113
I'm a little confused on the Frying Pan-to-Twin Lakes statement. I thought Twin Lakes was fed by Lake Creek which gets it's diverted water from the upper Roaring Fork watershed?

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Old 04-01-2004   #6
Join Date: Oct 2003
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I thought it was the Frying Pan over to Turqouise Lake. At any rate all the water is diverted into the Arkansas and then down TO Arkansas for Tomcat to enjoy.
Like it or not, all of us are the result of a sexual act.
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Old 04-01-2004   #7
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Originally Posted by Geezer
I thought it was the Frying Pan over to Turqouise Lake. At any rate all the water is diverted into the Arkansas and then down TO Arkansas for Tomcat to enjoy.
I dunno? I think most of the water coming down the Ark out of Colorado is used up in Kansas and the water I see here in Little Rock has come into the Ark from tribs in OK and AR. I'd like to believe that some of that snow melt water makes it here for me to enjoy but the Ark here looks more like the Mississippi River than the Numbers.

It's really amazing how much water the Ark picks up after it enters Arkansas. As I have described here before, feeder creeks like Big Piney, Mulberry, Illinois Bayou, Fouche la Fave, etc. can reach high flows after a heavy rain that exceed 50,000 cfs (I've seen Big Piney go from 400 cfs one day to over 80,000 the next (epic flood a few yrs ago)). So, if you consider that there are well over a dozen creeks the size of Big Piney and many more smaller feeders that pour into the Ark inside the state, it can reach over 400,000 cfs here in LR just from rain water feed inside the state.

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Old 04-01-2004   #8
oh yeah
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Posts: 535

80% of the population lives east of the continental divide, and 80% of the water falls to the west of the continental divide.

here's some sick trivia:

what is the second largest city in colorado?

think the springs? NO, it's aurora!
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Old 04-01-2004   #9
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 388
80% of the population lives east of the continental divide, and 80% of the water falls to the west of the continental divide
Yea, I've heard that too. But, that means nothing. The urban people use nothing compared to agriculture. The 20,000 people at Montrose suck 1000 cfs, while the 2 million around Denver (Ft. Collins to Co Springs) make do with about 400 cfs. Do the math.

The purpose of the big straw was not to give urbanites more water, but to help the East Plains agriculture that was really hurt by the drought. This wasn't publicized because Owens wanted the urbanites to vote for it.

The state has plenty of water for us to take showers and even enough for us to have nice 0.05 acre lawns, but not enough to support 1000's of acres of sugar beets or hay at $30 per acre.

BTW, yes, the Frying Pan water goes to Tourquise lake via the old Hagerman train tunnel.
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Old 04-02-2004   #10
Loveland, Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 510
West to east slope diversions

I saw this thread and had to respond. This kind of talk is my job, after all. But, because it is my job, this post has a lot of info. Sorry to ramble.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Colorado Division of Water Resources have a great map that outlines all 15 major west-to-east slope diversions in Colorado. Almost all of the west-to-east diversions mentioned by cstork are on this map. The map correctly identifies which project each diversion tunnel belongs to and the average amount of acre feet, not cfs, the tunnels divert, annually. For instance, through Moffat Tunnel, Denver Water diverts around 53,000 af a year.

As for the Bureau of Reclamation, we have numerous projects in Colorado--and that's just us. There are many other projects from various water districts, municipalities, and so on. But, to see Reclamation's Colorado water projects, visit: www.usbr.gov/dataweb/html/colorado.html

Reclamation's work in Colorado is split into two Regions--the Upper Colorado Region (west slope) and the Great Plains Region (east slope). My area office and my work are under the Great Plains Region.

Our Area Office here in Loveland oversees two major water diversion projects: the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project which brings water from the Fryingpan River to the Arkansas River basin; and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which brings water from the head waters of the Colorado River to the Big Thompson and Poudre River basins (really, the South Platte River basin).

On average, we divert around 40,000 af a year through the Fry-Ark project (but our water right allows us to divert up to 69,000 af). Fry-Ark water taken from the upper Fryingpan River is diverted through the Boustead Tunnel. The old Hagerman railway tunnel is used for diversions, too (I think it is called the Carleton Tunnel?), but they are not large and the tunnel is not maintained. I am not sure what project uses that tunnel, but it isn't us.

Via Boustead, the Fry-Ark diverts water to Turquoise Reservoir. We own Turquoise, but because Turquoise was originally built by Aurora and Colorado Springs for the Homestake Project, we have what is called "Conveyance" contracts with them. They still store Homestake Project water in Turquoise.

Twin Lakes is a natural lake, but Reclamation enlarged it in the late 1970s. We run water from Turquoise, through the Mt. Elbert Power Plant and into Twin Lakes. From there, water flows on down to Pueblo Reservoir.

Similarly, for northeastern Colorado, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project diverts upper Colorado River water through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We divert around 240,000 af of water a year, even though our C-BT water right is for up to 310,000 af a year. Three reservoirs, Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain, collect snow melt runoff to the Colorado River headwaters. We pump it up, through Grand Lake, and into the tunnel. This water eventually winds up in Horsetooth and Carter reservoirs.

Both of these projects were built in cooperation with the west slope. To "compensate" for the water diverted, one reservoir per project was constructed to help offset the diversion impacts to the west slope. For the Fry-Ark, we built Ruedi Reservoir. For the C-BT, we built Green Mountain Reservoir.

You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about these two federal water diversion and storage projects and the Bureau of Reclamation by visiting http://www.usbr.gov/ or just give me a call or send e-mail if you have other questions.

Other agencies who can answer questions about this complicated water system include the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Glenwood Springs), the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Pueblo), the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Berthoud), and, of course, the Colorado State Engineers Office. There is a division engineer in each of Colorado's seven major river basins. And, all these organizations are easy to find on the web.

I'll wrap this up now because I'm feeling an urge to editorialize on the various roles of agriculture, M&I (municipal and industrial), and fish and wildlife in Colorado's water history.

Kara Lamb
Public Information
Eastern Colorado Office
Bureau of Reclamation
(970) 962-4326
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