Wildlife Matters by Aaron Bercheid


Aaron Berscheid is a district wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Aaron covers the “wild” side of Northeast El Paso County, including Black Forest, Falcon, Peyton and Calhan. He also covers some of Elbert County, north of U.S. Highway 24 and south of State Highway 86, including the towns of Elbert, Kiowa, Ramah, Simla, Matheson and a small portion of the Limon area. 

Ramah Reservoir miracle water short-lived

By Aaron Berscheid

District Wildlife Manager, CPW

As no doubt everyone is aware, we have received rain of biblical proportions this spring and summer. It rained so hard and often in June that I expected to see wildlife lining up, two-by-two, to board my ark!  

As I went from being Moses in the desert to Noah bracing for the flood, a seemingly miraculous thing occurred at Ramah Reservoir: It filled up. 

I’m sure many of you are asking yourself: What reservoir? 

Longtime residents may remember that the 400-acre Ramah State Wildlife Area used to feature a substantial reservoir, thanks to a private dam across Big Sandy Creek along the area’s eastern side. In fact, the wildlife area actually used to be a state park at one time. Many fondly remember it as a favorite fishing hole in an area with few places to wet a line.

CPW became aware the reservoir was filling around June 11 after repeated cloudbursts over the Big Sandy drainage. For the next couple of weeks, it continued to rain and the reservoir remained at capacity.

Hoping to seize the opportunity to re-establish fish in the lake, I started looking into what it would take to stock it. However, another storm was brewing. In this case, the reservoir was catching lightning over the issue of who owned the water behind the dam.

Water rights are a tricky thing. I learned it would take another miracle to be able to keep the water. It seems that CPW’s storage right for the water was created in 1970. This is very junior to the rest of the water rights that exist in the Arkansas River Basin. 

This water right is also a part of the Arkansas River Compact. This compact, written in 1940, was an agreement between Colorado and Kansas for water that is generated in the Arkansas River Basin to make sure that some water makes it to the Kansas border. 

Colorado has been in debt recently to Kansas for water, and recharge in aquifers (underground water sources) has been a high priority to comply with the compact parameters. 

I also learned that CPW’s storage right for Ramah was a priority between May 20 and June 4. Unfortunately, since the water didn’t arrive until June 4, we had an uphill battle in our claim to ownership.

CPW and I did everything we could to fight to keep the water; but, in the end, unfortunately, we had to open the dam and let the water go. 

On July 18, the gate was open and the water began to drain. 

It was disappointing to let it go, but at the same time it is important to adhere to water laws, and it is also important to work on recharging the aquifers. 

Currently, CPW is looking at possible options for the next time Ramah fills. But we’re very limited in our options given the water laws. It would probably take another miracle. 

In the meantime, please do not get near the dam or any dam structures. Also, it is important to stay out of the water as well, because there could be dangerous, unseen currents created from the water draining from the reservoir.

In the coming months, I’ll share more stories as I write about wildlife issues in our community. Got a question, problem or column idea? Please email me at or call me at 719-227-5231. 

I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wildlife Matters.”

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