Pitkin County depends greatly on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that our mountain community offers. Skiing, fishing, and boating are only a few of the opportunities to use water resources for recreation in the county. While we promote the water recreation industry, some of the water that originates in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan basins ends up on the Front Range of Colorado through a system of reservoirs, diversions, and tunnels. This diverted water is used primarily for drinking water and irrigation in Southeast Colorado communities.
With that in mind, it is even more important for us to protect our water resources. The more we can do in the Roaring Fork Valley to protect and conserve water resources, the more high quality water we will have for all of our activities. Owners and operators of the transmountain diversions are allocated a very specific amount of water which they can divert at certain times of the year. Nearly 100,000 acre feet (~32 billion gallons) of water are diverted from our valley each year. This is almost 10% of the total water in our streams and rivers annually (Roaring Fork Watershed Inventory, Roaring Fork Conservancy, 2005).
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Irrigation ditches are another common form of diversion in Pitkin County. Unlike transmountain diversions, ditches typically move water from one area to another, within the same watershed. Most of these waterways stem from a history of farming and ranching that developed decades ago in this valley. More recently, this water has been used for irrigation of lawns, gardens, and horse properties. In some cases the water is treated and used for drinking water. Water rights are held by landowners, municipalities, counties, and other entities.
Irrigation ditches traverse the county. The fact that a ditch crosses your property does not mean that you have the right to pump water from the ditch. You will need to review the water rights conveyed with your property or that you have separately attained. Even if you are an upstream water rights owner on a ditch, you should not assume that you have the right to change the location or dimensions of the ditch as part of the development of your property, since such changes could damage downstream water rights owners.
If there is an active ditch on or near your property, consider the possible hazards. Flow levels may change abruptly without warning. A ditch that is not culverted or piped may leak and cause hillsides to slump. You should also be aware that ditch owners have the right to enter private property to undertake work that is reasonably necessary to inspect, operate, maintain and repair the ditch.