Local calls on the South Arkansas River, Browns, Bear and Cottonwood creeks are normal during a dry year, but what is unusual this year, District 11 water commissioner Brian Sutton said, is just how senior they are right now.
That means, because of the dry weather, water calls are reaching to and affecting more senior rights.
“We are more senior than normal. This year on the South Ark we are on a April 30, 1880, and the Cottonwood is on a Dec. 31, 1872,” he said. “Those are unusual call dates during the summer.”
What that means for water rights owners is that someone isn’t getting water downstream.
In turn, those with more junior rights receive “calls,” requiring that they stop diverting water to ensure that more senior rights downstream receive the water they are entitled to by their appropriation date.
Colorado uses the Prior Appropriation system, or Colorado Doctrine, for allocation of water.
In years when water is in short supply, rights that were established earlier in time have more senior priority, Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, recently wrote.
Sutton said he expects more senior dates to be called this year.
Cottonwood may stay in 1872 a little longer, but the South Ark may go more senior depending on the rain, he said.
“Be conscious of water use. I don’t know if there are any drought restrictions (right now), but it’s a good idea to conserve if you can,” he said. “It’s pretty dry right now.”
The city of Salida has fairly senior rights from the 1870s or 1860s on the Harrington and Tenassee ditches, Sutton said.
While those rights aren’t in any imminent danger of going out of priority, being able to physically take water from the South Ark becomes more difficult as the creek drops.
Conserving water reduces obligations the city has to replace.
“Keep it in mind and get used to it now and it won’t be as difficult thing as time goes on. It’s a good practice to cut back a little on lawn irrigation,” Sutton said.
Conserving helps people downstream as junior water rights won’t get called out of priority.
So just how dry is it?
Over the past nine months, precipitation received in Salida is 38.4 percent of average.
According to The Mountain Mail rain gauge at 125 E. Second St., Salida has received 2.86 inches of precipitation in the nine months since Oct. 1, 2017.
According to information compiled by climatologists at Colorado State University, the city’s average for the period is 7.44 inches.
From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, Salida received 0.88 inch of moisture. The average for the three months is 2.77 inches.
From Jan. 1 through June 30, the city received 1.98 inches compared to the average for the six months of 4.67 inches.
June was the driest month. Salida received just 0.03 inch of rain in June, 3.6 percent of the average for the month of 0.83 inch.