Colorado and Kansas agree to permanent pool at John Martin Reservoir

PICT John Martin Reservoir Dam Overview - CPW.
Published Thursday, February 28, 2019
Outdoors - Colorado Parks Wildlife Mountains Baca National Wildlife Refuge - USFWS
by Bill Vogrin

A 40-year deadlock between Colorado and Kansas has been resolved with the signing of a historic agreement that will provide a new source of water for a permanent fish and wildlife conservation pool in John Martin Reservoir.

The long-sought compromise between members of the Colorado-Kansas Arkansas River Compact Administration will allow the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) to transfer water from the Highland Canal on the Purgatoire River in Bent County into John Martin Reservoir on behalf of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to maintain a permanent pool for fishery and recreation purposes.

The permanent agreement, approved by the Compact Administration February 14, began as a one-year pilot program in 2017 when CPW was allowed to run 6,000 acre feet into the reservoir. The newly approved agreement will allow water to be delivered each year from the Highland Canal from March 1 through November 15.

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PICT 64J1 John Martin Reservoir Dam - CPW
View of the John Martin Reservoir dam spillway. Courtesy CPW.

The agreement is the culmination of decades of negotiations between a variety of agencies including CPW, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Kansas Division of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, LAWMA and the Attorney General's office. It was brought to fruition through extensive collaboration between the State Engineers of Colorado and Kansas.

"CPW has worked for the past 40 years to get a new source of water approved by the Compact Administration," said Dan Prenzlow, CPW's Southeast Regional manager who directed the breakthrough negotiations together with Deputy Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. "John Martin Reservoir is a multimillion-dollar fishery and source of water recreation, camping, hiking and wildlife watching."

In fact, visitors to John Martin spend an estimated $8.7 million a year in local businesses, making John Martin an important economic engine in the region.

"But it has constantly been in flux and at risk," Prenzlow said. "This agreement will stabilize the valuable fishery and recreational facilities at John Martin Reservoir State Park and State Wildlife Area."

Prenzlow listed several significant benefits to the new agreement, including:

  • Reducing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CPW has spent leasing Colorado River water to fill the conservation pool in previous years.
  • Lowering the risk of fish loss, saving CPW approximately $165,000 annually in restocking costs when the fishery is damaged.
  • Providing more consistent boating recreation, especially in drought years.
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    PICT John Martin Dam - CPW
    John Martin Dam in Bent County, Colorado. Courtesy CPW.

Prenzlow noted that visitation at John Martin drops as dramatically as the water levels fluctuate at the reservoir, which was built as a flood-control structure and completed in 1948. In wet years, the waters of John Martin can spread out to 11,000 surface acres. But in drought years, it's not uncommon for surface acres to plunge to just 1,000. That was the case during extreme drought years of 2011-15.

"We are proud to achieve this agreement because we know the importance of a healthy John Martin Reservoir to Colorado anglers, boaters and surrounding communities," Prenzlow said. "A consistent flow of water into John Martin will keep the boat ramps at John Martin wet and that will mean a consistent source of recreation for boaters, anglers, water skiers and campers in the park and region."

CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 41 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW's work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.