With a total land area of 97,914 square miles, Wyoming is home to 19,347 miles of streams, 427,219 acres of lakes and reservoirs, and an estimated 940,000 acres of wetlands.

The Continental Divide subdivides the state into four major drainage basins, including the Missouri, Columbia, Colorado and the Great Salt Lake basins. This geographic feature makes Wyoming the headwaters of the West. The headwaters of the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, arise in the glaciers and snowpack of the Wind River Mountains.

More than 90 percent of the water flowing through Wyoming originates within the State. Less than 10 percent of Wyoming receives more water as precipitation than is lost back to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration.

Although Wyoming's portion of the Basin encompasses 16 percent of the land area in Wyoming (including the “Closed Basin” portion of the State in the Red Desert area), it is home to more than ten (10) percent (67,900 persons from the 2010 census) of the State's population. Communities served by Green River Basin water include Baggs, Pinedale, Big Piney, Farson, Kemmerer, Green River and Rock Springs. The largest Wyoming transbasin diversion of Colorado River system waters is into the over-appropriated North Platte River system. The City of Cheyenne diverts, on average, 10,664  acre-feet of water annually from the Little Snake River Basin to replace out-of-priority diversions of North Platte River Basin water used within Cheyenne.  In addition, the Broadbent Supply Ditch diverts water from Van Tassel Creek, tributary to the Green River, into the Bear River Drainage for 767 acres permitted for irrigation with Green River Basin water (recent year diversions have been about 370 acre-feet per year) and two other minor transbasin diversions divert water into the Sweetwater and North Platte River Basins for irrigation use.

In the Wind River Mountain Range, precipitation averages between 40 and 60 inches per year. The largest concentration of glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains occurs in the Wind River Range. Lower elevation portions of the Basin receive 7-9 inches per year. By comparison, annual precipitation across the entire state averages 14.5 inches.

The mean annual water balance (precipitation minus evapotranspiration) for the Green River Basin has a negative value. However, runoff, of which about 70 percent is derived from snowmelt, occurs during a period (spring/early summer) when the Basin has a positive water balance. Therefore, reservoir storage plays an important role for the Green River water supply during non-runoff months. The total reservoir storage capacity within Wyoming's portion of the Green River Basin is in excess of 4.4 million acre-feet.  Flaming Gorge Reservoir, situated on the Stateline between Wyoming and Utah, can store up to 3,790,000 acre-feet of water.  Further upstream, the State of Wyoming has contractually purchased 120,000 acre-feet of Fontenelle Dam storage (the reservoir can store up to 345,000 acre-feet of water) from the Bureau of Reclamation, ensuring the availability of water for Wyoming's agricultural, commercial, industrial, municipal and recreational needs both for the present and the foreseeable future.  Additional storage in the headwaters of the Green River Basin continues to be investigated and is needed for late-season, supplemental irrigation water use.

Wyoming's economic well-being revolves around three industries -- the extraction of minerals, tourism and recreation, plus agriculture, which is the largest user of water in the State (exceeding 80 percent of the total). The current “Green River Basin Plan” (December 2010) prepared as part of the State’s ongoing river basin water planning program, indicates that 334,500 acres are irrigated in the Basin. Alfalfa, native grasses and small grains are the predominate crops due to the short growing season and high elevation of the irrigated lands. Sparse rainfall means the Basin is generally arid and is thus agriculturally suitable only for grazing and livestock, unless irrigation water is continually supplied.

Millions visit Wyoming each year, flocking to the State's many spectacular and popular vacation and recreation attractions; many of these have a water component and are located within the Colorado River Basin. Water-based recreation plays a significant role in the economic base of the Basin. Flaming Gorge, Fontenelle, Fremont Lake, the Green River and the alpine biome areas of the Wind River Range support fishing, hunting, power boating, sailing, canoeing, rafting, skiing, hiking, mountaineering and wildlife observing. Wyoming has 22 species of game fish, including brook trout (char), brown trout, cutthroat trout, golden trout, kokanee salmon, and lake trout (char) that thrive in the clear and cold environment of the Basin's lakes and streams.

To help maintain existing stream environments and fisheries, the Wyoming Legislature enacted an instream flow law in 1986, making instream flow, provided either from natural stream flow or from storage water, a beneficial use of water. Between 1986 and December 2012, thirty-four instream flow applications in the Green River Basin were filed with the State Engineer's Office.  Two filings have been granted permits.

Construction of Fontenelle Dam induced changes in the Green River which Congress anticipated when it established the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in 1965 to offset the loss of habitat due to the construction of Fontenelle and Flaming Gorge dams. The refuge was established on approximately 26,000 acres of sagebrush plains, cottonwood groves and marshes encompassing nearly thirty-seven (37) miles of the Green River.  The refuge provides habitat for such diverse species as pronghorn, shiras moose, trumpeter swans, sage grouse, raptors, pelicans and trophy trout.  Guests can visit historic Lombard Crossing which was used by emigrants traveling the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails.







Wyoming became the first state in the union to claim state ownership of water when the State Constitution became effective upon entering statehood in 1890. Wyoming's water law is based on the prior appropriation doctrine. Wyoming's first territorial engineer and state engineer, Elwood Mead (who became Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1924 and for whom Lake Mead was named) was mainly responsible for writing Wyoming's water laws. It has not been found necessary to change much in those laws during the 125 years since the Territorial Engineer’s Office was established.   Wyoming's water laws have provided the basis for laws governing water appropriation and use in many other western states.

With an average elevation of 6,400 feet (second in the nation) and the Continental Divide parsing the state into four major drainage quadrants, Wyoming is a headwaters state.  Accordingly, Wyoming is a party to seven interstate compacts and two U.S. Supreme Court decrees which govern her rights to beneficially use water, including the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and the Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948, which apportioned 14 percent of the Upper Basin water supply to Wyoming’s users in perpetuity.


In a continuing effort to protect and properly manage Wyoming's water resources, the Wyoming Legislature authorized the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) to initiate a Basin Water Planning Process in 1999 to cover each of the seven major river basins in the state.  The primary objective of the process is to identify and document current and future uses of water within the state.  The initial Green River Basin Water Planning Process final report was completed in February 2001; as noted above, that plan was updated in December 2010  All of the basin reports completed may be obtained from the WWDC Water Planning Web Site (http://waterplan.state.wy.us/). 

Wyoming’s Current Depletions in the Green River Basin

(2010 in acre-feet)
Surface Water Resources (Normal Conditions) 2,381,316
     Irrigation 389,324
     Municipal, Domestic, & Stock 21,859
     Industrial 56,833
     Reservoir Evaporation 121,300
Surface Water Leaving the State 1,792,000

* Data provided by the Wyoming Water Development Office/Green River Basin Plan/Statewide Framework Water Plan


The first years of Mormon settlement saw the development of what may be called a pioneer pattern of water administration. Mormon pioneers arrived with few economic resources other than their own potential for hard work and their resolve to establish an independent commonwealth. In this circumstance, successful colonization depended directly upon a collective effort to develop and administer water resources for the common good. Water management was introduced in July of 1847 as an essential element of pioneering. During the next five years, water resource use remained under the close direct administration of the church.

The most immediate concern of Utah's first pioneers, when they arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, was to begin the process of farming. Food had to be provided if they were to survive. Drought and isolation were facts of the environment; integrity of the group and self-sufficiency (because of the desire for an independent commonwealth) were desired goals. With these factors in mind, pioneer leaders stressed agriculture as the first industry. As the process of Mormon expansion progressed, agricultural possibilities dictated the characteristics and location of Mormon colonies.

At the beginning of settlement, the availability of water resources dictated where the Mormons stopped and what they did, forcing them to change their methods of farming and alter many social practices. Cooperation, central church coordination, small diversified farms, and collective irrigation became integral components of the pioneer mode of agricultural (water) development. The environment was an obstacle that the settlers had to overcome. It also imposed upon them developmental limits they had to acknowledge in order to survive. Although water that could be used for irrigation purposes seemed relatively abundant at the time, the pioneers realized that successful settlement would occur only where water resources were available.

Because of the razor-thin survival margin in the pioneers' new surroundings, effective use of all the resources available was important to the success of the settlement experiment. In order to minimize contention and to channel efforts towards the common goals of establishing communities, the leaders of the church applied firm discipline in establishing Mormon colonies.

The early church leaders believed that by promoting cooperative institutions, the beneficial use of water and other resources would be generally promoted and joint or community projects would be encouraged.

Utah's most precious resource is, and always has been, water. Capturing and using this vital resource wisely is the single greatest challenge facing the state. When Utah was in its infancy, the waters of the mighty Colorado River were of little concern to the population of the period. The small streams that bubbled from the surrounding mountains supplied their needs. But that was short-lived. Had it not been for a few visionary men who foresaw what the needs would be today. Utah woulD be without sufficient water. Somehow they knew they were destined to provide for one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

Much of the state still looks like a forbidding desert. There haven't been many changes in nearly a century and a half. While Utah is famous for a number of things, including its snow and heralded skiing areas, it actually is one of the driest states in the nation. The average annual precipitation is right around 15 inches. It's no wonder a rainstorm is revered as far more than just a storm; in Utah, it's an event.

Water is the critical factor in the west's development, but management of the environment will allow the expansion of the range of opportunities in what has been called an oasis civilization. Water is the limiting resource in any development scenario and that means hard choices eventually will have to be made about what constitutes the highest and best uses of water resources. Water resource planning must, therefore, be done in the context of a planning process that is both comprehensive and long-range. The state planning coordinator's office has estimated that the population of Utah will be 2.27 million by the year 2000. This is an increase of 900,000 from the estimated present population of 1.37 million. This population projection to the year 2000 is a conservative one and does not contemplate the effect of events such as the rapid development of the synthetic fuel resources of the state.

Since water and the use of water is a means to an end and not the end itself, plans and policies for the development of Utah's water resources are subordinate to or dependent upon overall policies for the development of the state of Utah. Therefore, a state water plan is always dynamic rather than static in nature. It is a part, albeit an integral part, of a growth strategy for the state that includes other dimensions such as parks, transportation, tourism and community development.

To accomplish Utah's water development, what would prove to be a long series of legislative battles was launched in 1922, battles which, when won, would provide water for today's water needs and for tomorrow as well. The first issue then, as now, was to capture Utah's share of water draining from tributaries flowing through the state into the Colorado River. One of the greatest primary sources of water in all of Utah remains the Uinta Mountains where the average precipitation is nearly 60 inches. Most of that becomes runoff into the Green River which downstream merges with the Colorado, which in turn carries Utah water out of the state. The Central Utah Project will make possible the utilization of Utah's fair share of these waters now being lost into the Colorado River.

The project will provide critically needed water supplies to the central Utah area. Impacts of this project will be felt by practically every person and establishment in the state of Utah.

From a clear drink of water to a green field of crops to a lakeside outing with the family, these are the real benefits the Central Utah Project will provide for the future.

It truly is the fulfillment of unselfish dreams of those who realized Utah's tomorrow would depend upon the most valuable of all natural resources, water.


The history of Southern Nevada is inextricably tied to water.

The seventh largest state, Nevada is also is the driest, averaging 9 inches of rain annually. Southern Nevada, where the state’s major population center is concentrated, receives an average of 4 inches of rain each year.

More than 70 percent of the state’s population resides in Clark County in Southern Nevada, which gets nearly 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River.

Early Las Vegas history

Located in Clark County, the Las Vegas Valley was home to Paiutes and Patayan Indians hundreds of years before Anglo-Europeans settled the area. They were sustained by bubbling artesian springs that fed a small stream and a grassy meadow, which inspired Spanish-speaking explorers to name the valley “Las Vegas” – or “the meadows” in Spanish.

In the 1800s, Las Vegas became a resting place along the Spanish Trail and a major campsite along the Mormon Road. It remained sparsely populated until the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (later known as the Union Pacific) laid tracks in Southern Nevada and designated Las Vegas as a water stop for its steam engines.

The railroad created the Las Vegas Land & Water Company to operate the first water distribution system in the valley. In May 1905, the railroad auctioned land, creating the town site of Las Vegas. With groundwater as its sole source of water, Las Vegas continued to grow slowly.

Population Increase and a Water Crisis

Hoover Dam, on the border between Nevada and Arizona, was created to control Colorado River floods, provide irrigation water and produce hydroelectric power. The Hoover Dam project resulted in two notable events for Southern Nevada. The project brought an influx of people to the area from 1928 to 1936, and also created the Lake Mead reservoir.

Although the 1922 Colorado River Compact allotted a small amount of Colorado River water to Southern Nevada, that supply went largely unused until 1942, when local companies began importing Lake Mead water for industrial purposes. The rest of the valley continued to rely on groundwater supplies. By the mid-1940s, however, the town of Las Vegas was facing a major water crisis. As population and water demand grew, city officials became more concerned about a dwindling groundwater supply.

Hoping to curb groundwater usage, the Nevada Legislature created the Las Vegas Valley Water District in 1947 to begin using the state's Colorado River allocation. The Water District began operations on July 1, 1954.

Southern Nevada began to overdraw its groundwater supply in 1962 with a population of 119,000. Design of the new Southern Nevada Water System, which treats and delivers Colorado River water to the valley, began in 1960, and the system became operational in 1971.

By 1990, there were almost 750,000 people in the Las Vegas Valley and land use exceeded 71,000 acres. Resource challenges at the end of the 1980s had reached a crisis point; with the new decade, local leaders began to aggressively explore different options for extending and managing water resources, while meeting the ongoing demands of the community.

A Regional Approach to Water Management

To manage its limited water resources, Southern Nevada’s major water and wastewater agencies came together to establish the Southern Nevada Water Authority in 1991.

SNWA, which is governed by a seven-member Board of Directors representing each of the member agencies, also negotiates for additional water resources, operates the regional water treatment and delivery system, conducts water-related research and promotes conservation. The Authority’s seven member agencies include:
  • Big Bend Water District (Laughlin)
  • Boulder City
  • Clark County Water Reclamation District
  • Henderson
  • Las Vegas
  • Las Vegas Valley Water District
  • North Las Vegas






Current Water Use

In Southern Nevada, residential water customers use just over 60 percent of the water supply, with 12.8 percent for commercial/industrial, 6.8 percent for golf courses, 7.2 percent for resorts, 5.6 percent for schools and parks, 5.6 percent for common areas and 1.6 percent for other water use.

Drought and Conservation

In 1999, the Colorado River Basin began to experience drought conditions that, from 2000 to 2004, became the worst five-year drought in the recorded history of the basin. These conditions were aggravated by several years of extremely dry soil conditions, which further reduced total runoff.

In 2003, in response to drought in the Colorado River Basin, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its member agencies implemented a Drought Plan that strengthens turf limits and imposes mandatory drought restrictions to achieve an immediate reduction in outdoor water use. These restrictions include mandatory watering group assignments, increased water waste fees and water budgets for golf courses.

SNWA has implemented one of the most aggressive and comprehensive water conservation programs in the nation. The goal is to change water-use habits without causing an adverse impact on the quality of life. SNWA offers rebates and services that help reduce outdoor water use, and supports a number of public outreach activities to educate the public about conservation.

The successful Water Smart Landscapes rebate pays residential and commercial property owners to remove grass and replace it with xeriscape. Since the program’s inception, more than 160 million square feet of lawn has been removed, saving billions of gallons of water each year.

The Drought Plan and conservation rebates have helped Southern Nevada save water. Between 2002 and 2011, Southern Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River water decreased by approximately 36 billion gallons, despite the addition of 400,000 residents during that decade.

New Mexico

The state of New Mexico consists of a total of 121,666 square miles in land area, with approximately 5,948 miles of perennial streams and an estimated 482,000 acres of wetlands.

The portion of the San Juan Basin that is located in New Mexico has an area of 9,744 square miles, with approximately 211 miles of perennial streams. The Basin encompasses the whole of the San Juan County, and portions of Rio Arriba, McKinley and Sandoval Counties. The Animas and La Plata Rivers are tributaries of the San Juan River, the largest tributary of the Colorado. The majority of water flowing in these rivers is the result of spring snowmelts from the San Juan Mountains located in southwest Colorado. New Mexico is considered an upper basin state of the Colorado River.


The San Juan, Animas and La Plata River valleys joining near Farmington, New Mexico, have attracted settlements for many centuries. Indian settlements were built on the banks of the rivers, their ancient irrigation canals visible in ruins today. In the 1500’s, Spanish conquerors settled throughout New Mexico, including San Juan County, bringing with them a system for legalizing water control. Acequias, community ditches, for irrigation were established, and whole communities participated in the maintenance and development of the acequia system.

In 1848, New Mexico became a territory of the United States, and the Territory Legislative, now the Office of the State Engineer, began establishing water law in New Mexico based on the Indian and Spanish practices. By the early 1900’s the Territorial Legislative had developed comprehensive water law regarding surface water in the area. After New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, the State Engineer continued to develop water law in the state, facilitating and administrating water rights as the state continued to grow and as the demands on water increased.

Water Law

Water Law in New Mexico is based on the prior appropriation system, where he who is the first to divert and use the water for beneficial use is entitled to the right of that water. This first in time, first in right establishes senior and junior water rights. During times of drought the state engineer must ensure that senior rights are satisfied before junior rights can be honored.

Appropriated water rights are usually the result of an adjudication process. Through adjudication, legal action is taken to establish the water right that exists and to determine that the water is being used in the manner stated. Adjudication can also determine the amount of water used by a water right and historic water rights can be altered if the use of water for that right has changed. Currently, the State Engineer has determined that the San Juan, Animas and La Plata Rivers are fully appropriated and no additional water rights are being granted. A water right holder only owns the right to use the water, not the water itself. For that reason, the right can be severed from the land and transferred to another location.


The New Mexico San Juan Basin area is located on the Colorado Plateau, with most of the region being above 5,000 feet in elevation. On average, New Mexico receives about 12 inches of rainfall per year, with about 6 inches falling in the New Mexico San Juan Basin area. High elevations and high temperatures cause high levels of evaporation.

Long term stream flow records show that New Mexico receives an annual water supply of about 5.7 million acre-feet. Precipitation within the state accounts for about 3.3 million acre-feet; and about 2.4 million acre-feet are received through stream flows from other states, primarily from Colorado via the San Juan River and the Rio Grande. New Mexico depletes about 2.3 million acre-feet of surface water and discharges about 3.4 million acre-feet downstream states annually.

Water Use

Although San Juan County comprises only 4.5 percent of the land area in New Mexico, more than 60 percent of the state’s surface water flows through it. However, this water flowing through New Mexico is impacted by a number of Interstate Water Compacts, Federal Reserved Water Rights, Indian Water Rights and Pueblo Water Rights.

In order to develop New Mexico’s 11.25 percent share of Colorado River water, under the 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, the Bureau of Reclamation constructed the Navajo Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP). Completed in 1962, it’s main feature, Navajo Dam, was constructed on the San Juan River with a 1,708,600 acre-foot capacity reservoir that extends into Colorado. Among its many purposes, Navajo Dam provides water to the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project to irrigate land on the Navajo reservation, the nation’s largest reservation. Upon completion, the project will irrigate 110,630 acres of alfalfa, corn, wheat, barley, potatoes, onions, pinto beans and pasture, benefiting some 170,000 members of the Navajo Nation.




Additional participating projects of CRSP include the San Juan-Chama Project, the Hammond Project and the Animas-La Plata Project.

The San Juan-Chama Project supplements the flow in the Rio Grande Basin, by diverting an average of 110,000 acre-feet of water annually from the upper tributaries of the San Juan River. Through a series of tunnels under the Continental Divide, water is provided to supplement irrigation in the Rio Grande Basin, and provided for municipal and industrial uses in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and the surrounding cities.

The Hammond Project diverts water directly from the San Juan River into canals that irrigate some 3,900 acres of alfalfa, wheat, barley and pasture land.

The Animas-La Plata Project in southwestern Colorado, completed construction of Ridges Basin Dam in November, 2007, with Lake Nighthorse reaching full capacity of 123,541 acre feet in June, 2011The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the: Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, La Plata Conservancy District, Navajo Nation, San Juan Water Commission, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, State of Colorado, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to establish the ALPOM&R Association. The Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance, and Replacement (ALPOM&R) Association building was completed in July, 2012.  The ALPOM&R Association will carry out the operation, maintenance, and replacement for the Animas-La Plata Project.  The Bureau of Reclamation transferred operation, maintenance and replacement to the Association on April 1, 2013. The Navajo Gallup Water Supply portion of the project is currently under construction, when completed, will have the capacity of deliver clean running water to a potential future population of 250,000.

Federal Water Rights are amounts of water reserved for use on areas of federally owned land. Water in these areas is used for fighting forest fires, maintaining wildlife in the area and growing new areas of forest.

New Mexico has numerous Indian reservations and water rights to these reservations are supplied as determined by the Winters Doctrine. As most reservations were established prior to settlement in the area, these water rights could be senior in nature thus affecting the water rights of other appropriators.

The San Juan, Animas and La Plata Rivers flow from Colorado through San Juan County, New Mexico, and serve an estimated population of 128,529 in the cities of Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and the unincorporated rural areas of San Juan County.

San Juan County is an important economic contributor to the state of New Mexico. The abundant natural resources such as oil and natural gas, coal mining and electric power generation have lead to the development of local and national companies that employ a large amount of the San Juan County population. The diversity of natural environments, the influence of the Indian and Hispanic cultures, and the emerging economic development combine to give New Mexico the recognition it enjoys today as the State of Enchantment.

In an effort to actively pursue New Mexico’s interest in the state’s share of Colorado River water, the Cities of Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, San Juan County and the Rural Water Users Association formed the San Juan Water Commission embarked by way of a Joint Powers Agreement. The Commission, formed in 1986, continues to act in the interest of its members to ensure that there will be a stable and secure water supply in the years to come. The Commission oversees water permit purchases by its member entities and represents the area in its efforts to build the Animas-La Plata Project, ensuring among other things, the environmental integrity of the project, so the resulting project will be a safe and secure storage facility of water for use during years of drought.


The Colorado’s largest tributary (not longest) is the San Juan River, which travels a circuitous route through three states on its way from its headwaters in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southeastern Colorado near Wolf Creek Pass to the Colorado River, just above Lake Powel in Utah. With an annual discharge of some 2.5 million acre-feet, along with tributaries, which are many and wild, the San Juan River irrigates some 100,000 acres in northwestern New Mexico – about 10 percent of the state’s total irrigation. 

Alfalfa is the major crop in the region with some 35 percent of the acreage planted, pasture follows with 23 percent. Corn, small grains and dry beans account for 11 percent, 10 percent and 8 percent respectively. Add to the list sorghum, wheat, barley, cotton, peanuts, sugar beets, potatoes, lettuce, onions, chilies, hay, orchard crops and vineyards and you have a pretty complete picture of the agricultural output.


Navajo Lake is located in New Mexico and extends into Colorado. The lake’s huge expanse is a welcoming sight to the eye - a break from the surrounding dry environment. With 150 miles of shoreline, Navajo Lake offers outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to boat, water ski, fish, hunt and camp. All types of boats are allowed on the lake, and the two marinas in New Mexico offer general stores and services for those planning to be on the lake.

Downstream of the lake, past Navajo Dam, the San Juan River provides a haven for the fisherman and camper. The mild water temperatures and high mineral content in the river come together to provide world class fishing conditions for any fishing enthusiast. Rainbow, Brown and Snake River trout are among the most sought after catch. The area also provide a habitat for animals such as elk, barbary sheep and mule deer, and birds such as golden and bald eagles, hawks, geese, ducks and herons, making any camping trip an incredible outdoor experience.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The area of Chaco Canyon is much like the rest of northwestern New Mexico. It is a remote, dry area, with steep cliffs defining the canyon. There is a sandy wash winding it’s way lazily through the canyon – created the steep cliffs for over thousands of years. The area is very rocky, with pinon pine perched among many of these rocks.

It is here, along the banks of the Chaco wash that the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located. From about 850 to 1200 A.D. a large Indian city once thrived. Among the ruins are ceremonial buildings, evidence of multistory buildings, roads and dams that were once built and used by the Indians. The park is home to the largest number of kivas, ceremonial rooms, thus making Chaco Culture National Historical Park one of North America’s richest Indian cultural and historic areas.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park allows visitors to wonder among the Indian ruins and experience what life was like for the ancient Indians. It has a visitor’s center that exhibits many artifacts that have been found in the area. Maps and guides of the area are also available at the visitor’s center.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park also allows camping in designated areas, numerous trails for people wanting to hike into wilderness areas and bike riding along the roads within the park. But most of all, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a special, remote, isolated area, allowing visitors the chance to peacefully view the ruins left by Indians over a thousand years ago.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located on the outskirts of the City of Aztec, along the banks of the Animas River.

Aztec Ruins National Monument was built around 1100 A.D. and consists of a pueblo of about 500 rooms, including kivas buried in the ground. The Ruins also features the largest reconstructed kiva in North America. While the design of the pueblo may seem similar to other Indian ruins, different structural designs of the buildings suggest that Chacoan and later Mesa Verde people once lived in these ruins.

Aztec Ruins National Monument features a visitor’s center, museum and a self guided tour on trails throughout the park, allowing the public a chance to experience the ancient Indian culture.

Salmon Ruins and Heritage Park

Salmon Ruins and Heritage Park is located on the outskirts of Bloomfield, on the San Juan River. Similar to the Aztec Ruins National Monument, Salmon Ruins contains evidence of a Chacoan pueblo that once existed during the 11th century.




The ruins found at Salmon Ruins suggest that the building was once two stories high and excavations of the site have found numerous storage spaces within the building. The building also suggests that a plaza area existed, with a great kiva dominating the plaza site.

Salmon Ruins features a museum containing many artifacts found at the site. A self guided tour of the Ruins allows individuals the opportunity to learn about the ancient Indians while walking among the ruins.

The Heritage Park is an outdoor museum displaying the history of the San Juan Basin. It comprises of reconstructed dwellings of Indian and Spanish settlement displaying the cultural diversity that exists throughout the region. Featuring a self guided tour, visitors are allowed to enter the dwelling and experience various hands on activities within the Park.


The state of Colorado has been called the mother of rivers: the North and South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande and the mighty Colorado all begin in its mountains. Sharing its beginnings with the state of Wyoming, in Colorado the latter begins modestly as year-round snowmelt and infrequent summer rains on the high mountain peaks of northcentral Colorado.

Similarly, many of the Colorado River's principal tributaries are also born in the state's snow-capped mountains. Although less than 20 percent of the land area of the Colorado River Basin lies within Colorado, 70 to 75 percent of the river's total flow originates within the state.

Born in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, the mainstem of the Colorado River flows southwesterly until it is met by the Gunnison River at Grand Junction and continues into Utah. The Yampa and White rivers traverse the northwest corner of the state to the Utah border where they join the Green River, which, in turn, meets the Colorado in the canyonlands of Utah. The San Miguel and Dolores rivers begin in the southwest corner of the state, and flow northwest, eventually meeting the Colorado River in Utah. Although the San Juan River, which joins the Colorado at Lake Powell in Utah, originates in New Mexico, its principal tributaries, the Animas and La Plata rivers, also originate in Colorado.


For the earliest explorers of what would become Colorado, these rivers served as byways, as well as rich environments for food and other necessary provisions. As the population expanded with gold's discovery in 1859 and irrigation proved the land productive for farming, settlers came in increasing numbers. Small towns sprang up and grew rapidly. Homesteaders claimed land for farming and ranching, ranging from a few acres to sizable operations. Uniformly, water was the key.

Early in this growth process, naturally occurring water became insufficient to meet the growing demand. Diversion ditches, canals, wells and reservoirs were required to slake the thirst of this vigorous economy.

Limited water supplies and rapid growth provided the only ingredients necessary for serious, often violent conflict. Resolving these conflicts was difficult; in fact, many persist today.

Water Uses

Roughly 80 percent of Colorado's annual water supply comes from snow. But due to wide fluctuations in snowfall year to year, mainstem Colorado River flows measured at the Utah Border range from an historic high of 69,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) in May 1984 to a record low of only 960 cfs in September 1956. These numbers, while extremes, clearly indicate the great importance of water storage to simultaneously control flooding during spring runoff and provide a controlled release of water for year-round uses.

Approximately 80 million acre-feet of precipitation fall annually in the Colorado River drainage within Colorado's borders. The greatest consumer of that water is nature. In Colorado's semiarid climate, roughly 85 percent of the total precipitation is lost to evaporation and transpiration.

Among the traditional users of water, agriculture is the dominant customer, accounting for approximately 88 percent of the water consumed in the state. Over one million acres are under irrigation within the Colorado River drainage in Colorado. Also, as a result of transmountain diversions, an additional 900,000 acres in eastern Colorado are supplemented by Colorado River water. Including transbasin diversions, the Colorado River helps irrigate nearly two-thirds of Colorado's total irrigated lands. Major crops grown with Colorado River water include grass and alfalfa hay, grains, vegetables and fruit. Colorado's statewide total crop value was $1.5 billion in 1998.

Average annual precipitation in Colorado is 16.5 inches; however, this varies from less than 7 inches to nearly 60 inches depending on location. Eighty percent of this precipitation falls in the Colorado River drainage, where only 10 percent of the state's population resides. Colorado's settlement patterns have favored the eastern side of the Rockies which receive far less moisture than the rural western slope. To address this imbalance, numerous transmountain diversions transport an average of one-half million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to supply eastern Colorado agriculture and the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and others.

While the Colorado River serves only 425,000 people in its natural basin within Colorado, as a result of transmountain diversions, it serves an additional 1.85 million, or nearly 60 percent of the state's population.

Municipalities represent only 5 percent of the state's total water consumption. Business, industry and increasingly recreation (e.g., snow-making) account for the remaining 7 percent of water consumed in the state. Tourism and recreation has grown steadily in Colorado and is now the state's second largest industry. Much of that growth is attributable to increases in outdoor pursuits, including skiing, fishing, hiking and rafting. Downhill skiing alone contributes $2.5 billion to the state's economy. Accordingly, free flowing rivers and streams and additional wintertime water supplies for snow-making are under increasing demand.






The legal framework for use of Colorado's waters is the product of a lengthy history of water-related legislation and judicial decisions. Federal and state rules and regulations regarding flood control, water quality, hydroelectric power, water supply, drinking water, soil conservation, reclamation, forestry recreation and research also impact the allowable use of Colorado's waters. Additionally, nine interstate compacts shape the river's usage and dictate stateline delivery requirements.

Colorado's constitution dedicates all surface waters in the state to the public subject to appropriation for beneficial use. This so-called "Prior Appropriation Doctrine" governs Colorado's water law, which means that the application of water to beneficial use is governed by the order in which the use occurred (i.e., first in-time, first-in-right). Most western states follow some form of Prior Appropriation Doctrine, but typically require a state permit to appropriate water. Colorado is unique in the absence of a state permit system. Colorado water rights are determined by the actual use of the water and certified by the courts.

For almost 100 years, water in Colorado had to be physically captured and controlled to establish beneficial use. However, in 1973, the Colorado Legislature authorized the state to appropriate water to maintain minimum stream flows "where essential to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree." The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with this responsibility, presently holds more than 1,400 rights on more than 8,400 miles of streams and rivers and 486 minimum lake level decrees. The majority of these are in the Colorado River drainage.

Principal Reservoirs in the Colorado River Drainage

Aspinall Unit

   Blue Mesa

940,800 acre-feet

   Morrow Point

117,190 acre-feet


26,000 acre-feet

Granby Reservoir

539,800 acre-feet

McPhee Reservoir

381,000 acre-feet

Dillon Reservoir

254,000 acre-feet

Green Mountain Reservoir

154,600 acre-feet

Vallecito Reservoir

129,700 acre-feet

Ruedi Reservoir

102,370 acre-feet

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