Log In

Reset Password

Water commissioners play key role in priority-rights system

A water commissioner is needed for the Navajo River in Division 7 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. (Journal file photo)
Division 7 is filling three vacant positions on area rivers

The Colorado Division of Water Resources is hiring three water commissioners for Division 7 in Southwest Colorado.

Commissioners are needed for the Mancos River (District 34), the Navajo and San Juan Rivers (District 77), and the Piedra and San Juan Rivers (District 78).

Water commissioners administer water rights for water users within their districts. They measure water flow at diversions, inspect dams, issue well permits, maintain gauging stations and water records, maintain diversion points, and consult on court cases.

Division 7 is also responsible for compact compliance under the Animas-La Plata Project, La Plata River, Upper Colorado River Basin Compacts, and San Juan-Chama project.

“Water commissioners are boots-on-the-ground water administrators who spend a lot of time in the field and on the river working with people and municipalities,” said Division 7 Assistant Engineer John Simpson. “A lot goes into it, and each river is different.”

The Colorado Division of Water Resources is hiring a water commissioner for the Mancos River. (Journal file photo)

Many rivers in Division 7 flow into New Mexico, so water commissioners ensure interstate compacts are followed so the state gets its entitled share.

Water commissioners are responsible for regulating diversions direct from the river or stream based on priority water rights.

After it leaves the river into a ditch or canal, the water is managed by a ditch rider of a water company or district who monitors diversions to individual users.

“The commissioner and ditch rider work together and solve problems if they come up,” Simpson said.

During normal or above normal water years, the job of a water commissioner is somewhat less demanding because senior and junior water right holders are generally getting their full allocation.

And – contrary to what people may expect – the same can be true during extreme drought times because there is very limited water to manage. In a very dry year like 2021, a handful of senior right owners got their share, and the more junior right holders looked at the dry rivers and land and understood the shortage.

It’s the water supply years that are in between full and empty that can be the most challenging for water commissioners, Simpson said.

During those times, calls for water change every day, and it takes a lot of effort to make sure each user is getting their allocated amount based on priority.

“Water commissioners are not trying to limit water use. When a ditch is turned down, the purpose is so that somebody else with more senior rights can get that water. For the person cut off, that is the difficult part,” Simpson said.

Over allocated rivers are also more of a challenge.

For example, the La Plata, Dolores and McElmo rivers are over-allocated and highly administered, whereas the Animas is not.

At diversions points, devices measure the appropriate decreed amount. Parshall flumes are the tried-and-true device to measure water, Simpson said.

Not all diversion points have measuring devices. If the Division of Water Resources determines a diversion without a measuring device may be harming a senior water right holder, they can require a measuring device be installed.

Being a water commissioner is a hands-on job that requires good people skills, and understanding of the Colorado water right system, Simpson said.

Specific certification or a college degree is not required. But applicants should have experience with water administration, be proficient in Excel, have a scientific background or have experience as a farmer or rancher.

“It is a huge skill working with different kinds of people. A lot goes into it,” Simpson said. He added that water commissioners have to be ready negotiate rugged farm country, all kinds of weather, muddy roads, and even get chased by a bear.

During the water season, they spend a lot of time in the field checking, making diversions match up with the day’s allocations, and talking with landowners.

“I like the outdoor field work and the people. We’re out making sure they get their fair share of water and not more. We’re recording all that data,” said Shannon Manfredi, a new deputy water commissioner for Districts 30 and 33.

Water commissioners generally work part time September through April and full time May through August. Pay ranges between $24.31 and $34.32 per hour. For more information and to apply visit the Colorado Job Opportunities webpage.

Applications are still be accepted for Division 77 and 78 commissioner positions.

To see who the water commissioner is for your area, visit the Division 7 webpage and click on contacts.