Water Resources

Uncompahgre River near Ridgway Reservoir Dam

Ouray County is currently engaged in the initial planning and negotiation stages for a county-wide and basin-wide water development project. Ouray County has contractually assumed the lead role in this project, in which settlement negotiations are ongoing in Docket No. 2019CW3098. The project includes three basic project components: (1) use enlargement of a conditionally decreed 25,000 AF Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reaches of Cow Creek, intended in part to regulate and capture diurnal flows; (2) the Cow Creek Pipeline, which is an inter-basin diversion and conveyance pipeline for up to 20 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Cow Creek to Ridgway Reservoir, for storage of up to 13,750 AF into the Ridgway Reservoir and other beneficial uses; and (3) various exchanges, alternate points of diversion, and other necessary project components to help make the water developed in the project available for upstream and downstream uses throughout Ouray County. The critical component of this project is storage of a new major water supply within Ridgway Reservoir, due to a new proposed pipeline connection between Ridgway Reservoir and Cow Creek.

Ouray County, along the other co-applicants in 2019CW3098, which are Tri-County Water, the Ouray County Water Users’ Association (OCWUA), and the Colorado River Water Conservancy District (CRWCD), also recently entered into a historic no-call agreement with Uncompahgre Valley Water Users’ Association (UVWUA) for generalized drought relief throughout the Uncompahgre River Basin. UVWUA is one of the senior water users in the Uncompahgre River Basin, which owns multiple canals including the Montrose & Delta (M&D), and has multiple senior water rights dating back to 1890. UVWUA placed 5 calls on the Uncompahgre River Basin within the past 5 years. UVWUA has also placed calls on a historical basis for approximately 40% of water years within the past 56 years, which can result in the shut-down of over 400 ditches and other decreed water rights within Ouray County during a dry year.

This M&D call has resulted in significant hardships to upstream irrigators with junior rights such as OCWUA members and other water users throughout Ouray County. The no-call agreement relieves this pressure, and provides in part that if at any time that the co-applicants in 2019CW3098 are forecasted to deliver at least 3,000 AF of irrigation water from the proposed Ram’s Horn Reservoir or Cow Creek Pipeline to Ridgway Reservoir, or have contracted for 3,000 AF of water in Ridgway Reservoir, UVWUA agrees not to place a call on the Uncompahgre River for that season. The no-call agreement also provides that UVWUA will support Ouray County and Tri-County on any necessary contracting, leasing, or authorizations from the Bureau of Reclamation to develop the storage water allocation for the irrigation water supply. The Bureau of Reclamation recently approved this no-call agreement as a signing party in the summer of 2023.

In early 2023, Ouray County also secured a temporary opportunity to meet the no-call agreement, through leasing water from the Bureau of Reclamation, directly out of Ridgway Reservoir, in order to remove the M&D call for the benefit of both upstream users with junior rights and downstream water users with senior rights. This resulted in a federally-approved, 5-year-maximum, short-term leasing arrangement until other project components outlined in 2019CW3098, such as the Cow Creek pipeline, are able to meet local needs to remove the M&D call. The no-call agreement is structured in an alternative way, such that any or all of these project components, or any necessary contracted water or re-allocation from Ridgway Reservoir, can prevent UVWUA from placing the call. Ouray County anticipates the temporary federal lease being able to activate this no-call agreement, and prevent M&D calls, until 2028.

Ouray County is not a traditional water user such as a municipality or water district. Ouray County is simply pursuing this development project, including activation of the no-call agreement, on behalf of the general public’s need for overall drought relief, irrigation options, high-mountain storage projects, and long-term water development planning, at a time of ever-increasing droughts and water shortages throughout the Western Slope and Southwestern United States in general. The time to act is now.

Note for Viewers: Select copies of agreements, resolutions, correspondence, and public pleadings are available for public viewing and download. This website is provided solely as a general informational resource for local water development matters. The county does not provide legal advice or engineering services to private citizens or businesses. Contact your own attorney or engineer for any additional questions or requests regarding water rights and water development.

Watch the October 3, 2023 County Water Model Project Presentation

Engineering Studies