What is a Watershed?
A watershed is the land area that drains water to a particular stream, river, or lake. It is a land feature whose boundaries can be identified by tracing a line along the highest elevations between two drainage areas on a map, often a ridge. Large watersheds, like the Mississippi River basin, contain thousands of smaller watersheds. The Ruedi Reservoir, Frying Pan River and Crystal River Watersheds are part of the Roaring Fork Watershed.
Why is the Roaring Fork River dry?A dry section of river can be explained in several ways.1.
Droughts can naturally cause sections of streams to run dry. If the snowpack, rainfall, and groundwater storage is unusually low for a year, or multiple years, the inputs to a stream system may be too low to sustain surface water flows.2.
Legal diversions can dry up certain sections of rivers and streams. The upper Roaring Fork near Independence Pass, for example, may be dry several months of the year due to diversions that take water to Front Range communities. Other legal diversions exist, such as diversions used for pond and reservoir filling, irrigation, and fire suppression.3.
Illegal diversions of water are not common, but can also cause the drying up of streams and rivers. If you suspect someone is illegally diverting water, please call the State Engineer in Glenwood Springs at 970.945.5665.4.
Depletions from groundwater wells can cause a watercourse to dry up. Much of the water in our streams is directly fed by groundwater (water from rain, snow, and irrigation that flows underground before surfacing in a stream, river, spring, or seep). Wells that access this groundwater essentially intercept the flow before it has the opportunity to surface. One well may not cause measurable changes in surface water, but the overall effect of many wells can dry up or significantly impact the amount of water in a stream.
Who do I call if I think someone is illegally diverting water?
If you suspect someone is illegally taking water from a stream, river, pond, or reservoir you need to call the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Office of the State Engineer in Glenwood Springs. They can be reached at 970.945.5665.
Can I truck water to my site if I don't have a well?
In some cases, trucking water to your homesite may be the only reasonable solution. Please talk to County staff before doing so in order to discuss other potential options for meeting your needs.
Where can I obtain information about my well?
Groundwater wells are regulated by the State of Colorado, Office of the State Engineer. Well records and general groundwater information are available from their office in Denver at 303.866.3587.
How do I apply for a well permit?
Groundwater is managed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Permits are issued through the Denver office. You can get more information from their general website. They also have a groundwater information line at 303.866.3587.
Is well water safe?
This is typically determined by sampling and testing water from the well in question. In Pitkin County, this is the responsibility of the property owner or developer to determine. Pitkin County staff would be happy to help you understand the procedures for sampling and testing your well water. There are many independent water sampling and testing entities locally and statewide. Information on state-certified laboratories in Colorado can be found at: www.cdphe.state.co.us/lr/certification/sdwlist
There are also several options for treating well water once samples have been tested. There are many commercial suppliers of these technologies. We would be happy to discuss these options with you.
Who can test my well water? Spring water?
There are many independent water sampling and testing entities locally and statewide. Information on state-certified laboratories in Colorado can be found at: www.cdphe.state.co.us/lr/certification/sdwlist
What if I want to harvest rainwater for household use?
Given the cost of water in the west (whether you are talking about the cost of municipal supply or the price of a well), many people have turned to alternative means of water supply. Water law in Colorado identifies rainwater as surface water. Usually the rights to the water falling on your roof are already held by someone in the form of a surface water right. You will have to contact the State Engineer at 970.945.5665 to determine all of the necessary actions required to divert this water for your own use.
Are magnesium chloride and sand affecting our water quality?
Pitkin County and towns within the County use both magnesium chloride and sand for snow removal and dust suppression. Pitkin County continues to pursue the use of the most effective and least harmful methods of dust suppression and deicing.
The fact is both of these applications can degrade water quality to some degree. Sand can cause sedimentation of streams and rivers, decreasing oxygen in the water and in some cases can create cementation, a process in which sand gets "cemented" between larger rocks and solidifies the bottoms of our streams and rivers. This can destroy fish spawning and feeding areas and, in turn, the recreational quality of our waters.
In terms of wildlife (aquatic life) there is no state standard for magnesium chloride in our rivers. There are, however, standards for public drinking water supplies. The Roaring Fork Conservancy has sampled many points throughout the County and has never found levels of magnesium or chloride that exceed the limits set on our public drinking water.
There is a ditch on my property; can I use the water in it?
Generally, the answer to this question is NO. If you hold a water right on that ditch you may be entitled to some or all of the water in it at certain times. As a starting point, you should look at your property deed to determine whether water rights were transferred with your parcel. If you do not know the status of the water rights in the ditch, you should contact either the ditch company who manages it, or the State Engineer's office at 970.945.5075.
Can I use the water coming from a below-ground spring on my property?
The water from springs and seeps almost always requires a water right. Water rights may or may not be available for the spring or seep on your property. Contact the State Engineer in Glenwood Springs, (970.945.5665) for more information on your spring and water rights associated with it.
How can I get water rights?
Obtaining water rights in Colorado is a complicated process and the rights to most of the water in Colorado are already held.
For a good general overview of what is involved in obtaining water rights, associated fees, and contact information for regional water courts in Colorado see: http://water.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/SWRights/Pages/default.aspx
Why is the river foaming? Red? Brown?
Typically, when you see a stream or river foaming, or an area with bubbles building up, it is due to naturally occurring substances in the water. These substances can originate from plants, wetlands, or soils, and often cause bubbles in our steep terrain.
If there is something suspicious about the foam or bubbles (e.g., color, odor) please call Pitkin County Environmental Health and Natural Resources; if you smell or suspect a gas leak, or believe that other hazardous materials may be entering a waterway, call "911" as soon as possible for direction.
I saw someone dumping something down a storm sewer, who do I call?
Water captured by storm sewer systems is not treated before it enters the river. Therefore it is important to report anything unusual relating to water entering or leaving these structures. The most commonly recognized storm sewers, existing on city streets and major roadways, have metal grates over them. The majority of this type of storm sewer exists in the City of Aspen. Within the City of Aspen please call Aspen Environmental Health (970.920.5039) to report any problematic activity.
There are other stormwater drains County-wide that need to be kept free of household, commercial, and industrial wastes. These include roadside ditches, stormwater catchment ponds, and other ditches and culverts. If you see anything unusual in any of these "alternative" storm drains, please contact Pitkin County Environmental Health and Natural Resources as soon as possible (970.920.5070).
I saw someone running equipment in a stream/digging in a stream bank. Is that OK?
Operating equipment in or otherwise altering a stream channel requires U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval. If you suspect that the work being done is not an allowable practice, determine the location of the activity and call Pitkin County Environmental Health and Natural Resources, 970.920.5070, so that we may follow up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' office in Grand Junction.
Can I move the ditch on my property?
If the ditch on your property belongs to you, you may move it so long as the relocation of the ditch has been approved by the State of Colorado Division of Water Resources and the relocation does not adversely affect other water users.
If the ditch does not belong to you, you may not move the ditch without prior approval from the owner of the ditch.
Who do I call about a broken/overflowing ditch?
If you observe a ditch that is overflowing or broken, please contact the State Engineer in Glenwood Springs (970.945.5665). If you know how to contact the owner or ditch company in charge of that ditch, you should notify them as well.
If no one is available at the above number, please contact Pitkin County Environmental Health and Natural Resources (970.920.5070). We will try to assist you in contacting the appropriate parties.
How do I find out who owns the ditch on my property?
If you are a member of a homeowners' association, they may be able to provide, or retrieve that information for you. The information may also appear in the records associated with your property's title insurance. The Colorado Division of Water Resources may also be able to assist you (970.945.5665). Odds are, the ditch is owned and operated by a ditch company that represents several water users.