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 2019CW3098, and which 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 use throughout Ouray County.

Ouray County, along the other co-applicants in 2019CW3098, which are Tri-County, 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, one of the senior water users in the Uncompahgre River Basin, which owns multiple canals including the Montrose & Delta (M&D), and has an 1890 water right, has already placed at least one call on the Uncompahgre River in the summer of 2022, and placed multiple calls in the summer of 2022.

This M&D call has resulted in significant hardships to upstream irrigators with junior rights such as OCWUA members. The no-call agreement relieves some of 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 or re-allocated 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 to develop the storage water allocation for the irrigation water supply.

Ouray County is actively pursuing 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 call for the benefit of both upstream users with junior rights and downstream water users with senior rights. Ouray County anticipates this being a short-term leasing arrangement until other project components outlined in 2019CW3098, such as the Cow Creek pipeline, are able to meet our 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 is not a traditional water user such as a municipality or water district. Ouray County is simply pursuing this development project, including aspects 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 public informational resource for local water development matters, and does not constitute legal advice. The county does not provide legal advice to private citizens or businesses. Contact your own attorney or engineer for any additional questions or requests regarding water rights and water development.

Engineering Studies