From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court.
At issue is last year’s ruling on a change of use case filed by Aurora in water court in Pueblo.
Division 2 Water Judge Larry C. Schwartz ruled that Aurora is entitled to export an average of 2,416 acre-feet (787 million gallons) annually, even though Aurora waited more than 20 years to change the use of the water from agriculture to municipal.
Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal. It brings water into Busk Creek above Turquoise Lake from Ivanhoe Lake through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train passage and later an automobile route across the Continental Divide.
Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half from High Line shareholders beginning in 1986, but did not file for a change of use until 2009.
Western Slope groups and the state Division of Water Resources are arguing that Aurora’s claim to water should be reduced by 27 percent because the city misused the water after purchasing its share of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.
They claim that Schwartz should have counted the 22-year period as zeros when calculating the historic use of water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system. Schwartz determined that the years where the water was used improperly should not count in the calculation, but said the amount of Aurora’s diversion should be recalculated separately from the amount awarded to Pueblo in 1993.
Aurora’s share is slightly less than Pueblo Water’s (2,634 acre-feet average annually) as a result.
Supporting Schwartz’s decision are the state’s largest municipal water providers, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Pueblo Water, Northern Water and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, all of which bring water across the Continental Divide.
They argue that water courts serve to prevent injury to other water users, not penalize inappropriate historic uses.
“It’s not very likely to have a direct impact on any of our existing rights,” said Alan Ward, Pueblo Water’s resource manager. “We appreciate the court did not see a need to be punitive. That could be an issue with other water rights in the future.”
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also supports Schwartz’s position because of its own pending change case on the Larkspur Ditch, which it purchased from the Catlin Canal and uses to bring water over from the Gunnison River basin.
Schwartz ruled in favor of Aurora in the case (09CW142) in May, and it was appealed by multiple Western Slope groups in October. Reply briefs in the case are due March 21, after which the court could hear oral arguments.
More water law coverage here