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The following text is related to groundwater rights compromised between the city of Ft. Collins and North Poudre Irrigation Co. It discusses how much right each one has for taking groundwater.

This depletion would normally give rise to a “call on the river” whereby the North Poudre Irrigation Co. is required by the Office of the Colorado State Engineer to cease groundwater pumping operations since they are damaging the senior surface water rights owned by the City of Ft. Collins.

What is the meaning of "Call on the river" as stressed?

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"A call on a river" is a fixed phrase. It means that someone who has the legal right to a certain amount of water from a river can make "a call on a river" to exert their claim to their legal rights to that water--even if such a claim can "inconvenience" other people or entities that have lesser (junior) rights.

Basically it is to make a legal claim to the amount of river water you are entitled to. Note I'm not an expert on the subject. You can Google "call on the river" and get many examples of usage.

This excerpt may help explain the phrase

Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, when a senior rights holder places a call on a river, upstream junior appropriations must stop diverting water until the senior right has its full allocation.

“That’s their legal rights, and they’re not doing anything wrong,” McClow said about calls by rights holders. Historically, he said, the sharing of water for irrigation worked much more effectively.

Source.

In your example, the city of Fort Collins has the senior claim to water rights, so in times when less water is available (as during a drought, or when water levels fall to a certain point, or whatever situation is described in your source) and Fort Collins is not getting its legally alloted amount of water, it can put a "call on the river" to exert its legal authority to the water. When it does that, entities with junior (lesser) water rights have to stop using the water or stop restricting the water from being available to Fort Collins. So,

the North Poudre Irrigation Co. is required by the Office of the Colorado State Engineer to cease groundwater pumping operations since they are damaging the senior surface water rights owned by the City of Ft. Collins.

  • I suspect the etymology is from the concept of "call options" in financial trading, wherein the holder of the call has the legal right to buy a commodity at a specified price. If they choose to purchase the commodity, they are "exercising the call" or "calling in the option." - much like the ground/river water claim. – Adam Feb 19 '15 at 20:53
  • @Adam: I think that's a far more specialised usage. OP's example is just a natural extension from usages such as “I call on the Crown to produce any record of convictions which it may hold in relation to this witness – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 19 '15 at 23:04
  • @Fumblefingers Well the etymology is supposition on both of our parts, but ....When we see "I call on the Crown to..." it means I order/request that the crown do...," and call is a verb. On the other hand when one places a call on a water right, call is a noun, and it means a specific type of water right - more or less an option to use - is being invoked. To me, that seems more like the financial sense of option to buy. – Adam Feb 19 '15 at 23:17
  • Confirming δοῦλοσ’ς answer, this document explains that a “call” on the river happens within a legal framework known as the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, where the “senior” right literally means the oldest claim to the water flowing along the river. – Ben Kovitz Feb 19 '15 at 23:31
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    @Adam: Checking OED, it's older than I thought - call noun 7a: Demand, requisition, claim. First recorded 1400 (text originally composed 1325) in Cursor Mundi "Þe barne atte dede is nauþer of thayme. wille haue þer-til cal ne clayme." From my point of view that's before English was English. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 20 '15 at 13:10

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