Water fight has irrigators steamed

Flow is limited along
Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch

The Division of Water Resources stopped the flow of water from the West Mancos River through Chicken Creek this spring.

This had resulted in a very limited flow for the irrigators along the Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch and reduces the water available to Bauer Reservoir.

"This change is basically going to shut us down," said Ben Wolcott, president of the Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch company. "The lands we've irrigated for the last 130 years are not going to receive much water."

Senior water users on the Sheek and Bolen ditches complained to the division three or four years ago that they were not receiving the water they are entitled to, said Rege Leach, an engineer from the Division of Water Resources.

The Division of Water Resources found that the water users in the Bolen and Sheek ditches should have been diverting water directly out of the West Mancos River according to court decree. Previously, those irrigators had been running their water from the West Mancos through the reservoir and down Chicken Creek. They started diverting their water directly out of the West Mancos this spring.

Carpenter-Mitchell ditch irrigators had historically been receiving 11 cubic square feet in the same way the other two ditches. But in September 2013, the division found that the five water users along Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch are entitled to divert water only out of Chicken Creek.

"Once you open Pandora's box, you find these things," said Leach. However, he is obligated to enforce the court's decrees.

As a result, the Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch is struggling to fill the water rights with a Priority 2 water right, and the ditch company is searching for a resolution, Wolcott said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has taken an interest in the Carpenter-Mitchell Ditch problem, and though it doesn't have direct authority over the Division of Water Resources, it does have a strong voice, he said.

The new delivery of water will also impact the amount of water available to Bauer Reservoir because the overall volume of water in Chicken Creek has been reduced.

"When there is just a small amount like that, it gets lost in the ditch. It just seeps away," said Wally Patchek, the Water Commissioner for the Mancos River Basin.