The CWCB informed Aspen Shorefox of CWT’s Request for Water 2012 pilot program. In early May, Aspen Shorefox offered three water rights totaling 40 cfs from the Bunte Highline Ditch for lease making this CWT’s largest direct flow lease. The Bunte Highline diverts water from Willow Creek just north of Granby in Grand County. The water was leased to benefit four instream flow water rights on the Colorado River, to which Willow Creek is tributary; all four instream flow water rights were water short in 2002.

The Bunte Highline water rights were the first irrigation water rights approved for instream flow use through the administrative approval process. Because these water rights are decreed to flood irrigate hay meadows, return flows historically trickled back to the Colorado River, and other water users relied on those return flows as a source for their water rights. The Division Engineer for Water Division 5 determined that CWT and the landowners would need to operate a recharge pond to replicate return flows and implement the lease as it was proposed. The parties constructed a headgate to turn water out of the Bunte Highline Ditch and installed a measuring device to measure water as it flowed into an existing recharge pond, accounting for delayed return flows to the Colorado River.

CWT worked closely with the other water right owner on the Bunte Highline Ditch to be sure that water administration practices and other water rights were not negatively affected by the lease. Water administration also required close coordination and cooperation with the local Water Commissioner and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Northern Water releases water from Willow Creek Reservoir to provide water to the Bunte Highline water rights; and they also helped shepherd water through the Windy Gap Reservoir to benefit the downstream, Colorado River instream flow water rights to which the water was loaned.

This lease was officially approved on July 26th and operated for 79 days this summer. The leased water benefitted four instream flow water rights totaling 34 Colorado River miles. After working out the technical details to administer this water lease in 2012, CWT will be able to exercise this lease for up to two more years of the next nine years.