North Platte River Basin

The North Platte River Basin encompasses about 2,000 square miles of north-central Colorado, and consists of a broad valley ringed by three mountain ranges: the Medicine Bow Range to the east, the Park Range to the west, and the Rabbit Ears Range to the south. 

The basin includes Jackson County and the small portion of Larimer County that contains the Laramie River watershed, though the Laramie River does not reach the North Platte until the two rivers meet in Wyoming.

The economy of the North Platte Basin is dominated by irrigated ranching operations. More than 400 irrigation ditches divert water from the North Platte and its tributary streams. The basin also hosts a wide range of seasonal recreation like fishing, backpacking, hunting and snowmobiling and contains a major wildlife refuge in addition to a variety of public lands.

Number of irrigation ditches diverting water from the North Platte and its tributaries

The population center of the basin is the Town of Walden in Jackson County, with a population estimated to be just under 600 people according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The North Platte is unique within Colorado: It is the only basin that does not foresee a gap between supply and demand for municipal uses in the future. However, water is exported from the basin—the largest diversion, the Laramie-Poudre Tunnel, diverts around 15,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Big Laramie River in the North Platte Basin to the South Platte Basin.

Both the North Platte and Laramie rivers are subject to use limitations stemming from Supreme Court equitable apportionment decrees. These legal protections prevent the depletion of the North Platte River, leaving those already diverting water for agricultural or municipal use with a finite supply.

In addition to the U.S. Supreme Court decrees, the North Platte is party to the Three State Agreement of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program between Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, which guides water use in the basin and is intended to aid the recovery of endangered species in Nebraska, including three birds—the whooping crane, least tern and piping plover—and a fish, the pallid sturgeon, through work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This agreement applies to consumptive water use in the North Platte Basin of 134,467 irrigated acres.

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