Three state water engineers who were instrumental in breaking a 40-year deadlock between Colorado and Kansas to secure water for a permanent fish and wildlife conservation pool in John Martin Reservoir were honored Thursday by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at its meeting here.
For their "outstanding support of Colorado's wildlife," CPW Director Bob Broscheid praised recently retired State Engineer Dick Wolfe, Steve Witte, Arkansas River Basin division engineer, and Bill Tyner, deputy Arkansas River Basin engineer.
The three, working with CPW Southeast Region Manager Dan Prenzlow and Deputy Region Manager Brett Ackerman, negotiated the breakthrough agreement that resulted in a new source of water flowing into John Martin, beginning in June, to help stabilize the permanent pool.
"This is a very big deal," Broscheid said as Wolfe, Witte and Tyner were presented with wildlife statues in appreciation of their work.
The water for the permanent pool was approved on a one-year agreement between Colorado and Kansas, the two states whose citizens are the primary recreational users of the reservoir. If extended beyond the first year, it would have a significant beneficial impact on fishing and boating in drought years when the reservoir can run dry, killing fish and destroying habitat and recreational opportunities at John Martin Reservoir State Park and adjacent State Wildlife Area.
The improved maintenance of the permanent pool was made possible in May when the Arkansas River Compact Administration passed a historic resolution allowing CPW to run water in the Highland Ditch on the Purgatoire River in Bent County into John Martin Reservoir. Stipulations in the temporary agreement state that 6,000 acre-feet of water may be delivered during specific time periods, and with consideration of transit losses.
If the water flow goes as planned, CPW hopes to renew the agreement for 2018 and work to make it a permanent agreement.
The water agreement is the culmination of long negotiations between a variety of agencies including CPW, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and the Attorney General's office, and brought to fruition through extensive collaboration between the state engineers of Colorado and Kansas.
"CPW has tried unsuccessfully for the past 40 years to get a new source of water approved by the Compact Administration," Broscheid said. "That multimillion-dollar fishery has constantly been in flux and at risk. This will preserve that valuable fishery and recreational facilities at John Martin Reservoir State Park and State Wildlife Area."
Broscheid said there are significant benefits to the new agreement, including:
- Reducing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CPW has spent leasing Colorado River water.
- Lowering the risk of fish loss, saving CPW approximately $165,000 annually in restocking costs when the fishery is damaged.
- Improving the economies in surrounding communities by as much as $825,000 a year when the fishery is healthy.
Wolfe retired in June after a 24-year career with the Colorado Division of Water Resources including the last 10 as director and state engineer.
"This was a group effort," Wolfe said, noting the intense involvement of Prenzlow and Ackerman and the important roles they played in elevating the issue as a priority and seeing it through the recent three-year negotiations.
"It's been a long time in the making," Wolfe said. "And it shows the importance of fostering good relationships between state agencies and how cooperation between the various agencies solved a complex water administrative system issue."
Photo: The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission honored three water engineers for their work to secure water for a permanent fish and wildlife conservation pool in John Martin Reservoir. Celebrating, from left, are Dan Prenzlow, CPW Southeast Region manager, Steve Witte, Arkansas River Basin division engineer, CPW Director Bob Broscheid shaking hands with recently retired State Engineer Dick Wolfe, Bill Tyner, deputy Arkansas River Basin engineer, and Brett Ackerman, deputy manager CPW Southeast Region. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Bill Vogrin