“…We are a pretty efficient seasonal reservoir,” said Sam Williams, the head of mountain operations at Purgatory, a ski area outside Durango. “People should be happy that ski resorts have gone out and secured water rights in the winter instead of letting all that water flow downstream. We store that water and deliver it back to ranchers and farmers and municipalities in the spring when everyone really needs it.”
But, often, resorts remove water from one creek for snowmaking and repay the water farther downstream. And they pull that water from streams in the late fall, when those streams are nearing their annual low point for flows. This fall, as drought ravages the state for another season, those low points have been historic.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Instream Flow Program was created in 1973 to maintain minimum streamflows to protect natural environments. The board and the Colorado Water Trust buy water rights to maintain natural flows to protect riparian habitats.
But Colorado has a horse-trader-like water market, where a user can pull from one area and deposit in another. That may work in the spring, when rivers are rushing. It’s more of a challenge in the early winter, when the state’s water plumbing system goes dormant…
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