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401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

Ditch, decrees talk draws a crowd

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The third of four in a series between the Cedaredge Library and the Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center, Water 103, featured several presenters the evening of May 9 -- Jason Ullmann, assistant division engineer DWR; John Cooper, president of Trickle Ditch Company; Gerald "Jerry" Figueroa, ditch rider for Cedar Mesa Ditch Company; Paul Kehmeier, salinity program coordinator, CDA; Keith Waibel, ditch rider for Orchard Ranch Ditch Company.

Previously, Ullman went in depth on prior appropriation. This session he detailed decrees, what they are and their stipulations. Essentially these are a document saying a citizen has the right to use public water for a beneficial purpose. Clearly a hot topic, he received several questions.

For example, Ullman pointed out that it's the citizen's responsibility to know what water they own. "They should look in their deed to see," he said since it's not a legal requirement for owners to notify.

Water Resources' responsibility is to monitor a valid "call" for water, which is the demand for water from a user. Valid calls take into account responsible use, priority and availability.

Next he reviewed the types of ditches, with the two main being private ditches and incorporated ditches or mutual ditch companies. Private are owned by one or more owners who split the water into fractions. Incorporated ditches organize them into a structure that specifies how it's managed, such as with bylaws and a board of directors.

Ullman covered more frequently asked questions, such as clarifying that a ditch owner can in fact enter a property to maintain it and leave the spoils on the side.

Next, Holiman reviewed how the ditch systems work in the area. "As water commissioners we make sure the right amount of water goes into the head gates," he said while pointing out the head gates on a map. Reading a closing thought published in 1890 he urged citizens to understand that working with water isn't always precise, like clockwork, or steady.

To give citizens a first hand account with ditches, Cooper and Kehemier reviewed their experiences. Cooper worked extensively to get his incorporated. The main advantage he cited is value, that ownership is durable and can be passed on. "Your heirs will thank you for not leaving them a complete mess," he said laughing.

To incorporate he put together a team, built a case for change and created a clear vision for what it would look like. Some seed money, historical data, evidence and a sense of urgency is key. One hundred percent of owners joining isn't needed; some will not be okay with change.

Kehmeier has worked on several ditch projects over the years, but the piping of Orchard Ranch Ditch was his second largest. Piping helps not only increase irrigation, but helps prevent seepage and reduce salinity in the Colorado River. He took on the job of salinity program coordinator to help ditch companies find the funding to transition to piping.

Waibel and Figueroa are both ditch riders, which means they patrol and inspect irrigation systems and distribute water to farmers. They shared several photos of ditches and covered some issues, such as how headgates are set up and what's needed on them. Frequently people ask why they're locked and as Waibel pointed out, "it's because they aren't left alone." Figueroa encouraged shareholders of ditches to attend their meetings to learn better how to maintain the ditches.

Overall, these water presentations focus on helping the public better understand Surface Creek water, their role with it and how to better manage the precious resource. The final session, Water 104, will be on June 4 at 6 p.m. and discuss reservoirs. A $10 suggested donation helps cover the cost of the programs put on by the Cedaredge Library in conjunction with the Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center.

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Surface Creek
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Cedaredge, ditch, Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center, water
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