Glenwood’s water right request meets opposition
March 6, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A request by the city to secure a recreational water right on the Colorado River to support a new whitewater play park or parks between No Name and Two Rivers Park has prompted responses from several potential objectors to the city's plans.
One of the 13 formal "statements of opposition" filed in the case as of Thursday comes from another of Glenwood Springs' major recreational attractions, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool.
The Hot Springs, in a Feb. 27 water court filing, renewed its long-standing concerns that any whitewater park features constructed in and along the river near the springs' aquifer could potentially harm the springs.
"Operation of the [proposed] Two Rivers Whitewater Park facilities may inundate and damage portions of the Colorado River riverbed and adjacent river banks," which could in turn damage the Hot Springs Pool facilities, according to the filing by Hot Springs attorney Scott Balcomb.
At issue would be a proposed location for a potential new whitewater park at the east end of Two Rivers Park, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
It's one of three possible locations identified in the city of Glenwood Springs' request filed late last year for a recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD. The others are near the No Name rest area on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, and in the Horseshoe Bend section of the river just east of town, by the No Name Tunnels.
An RICD is a type of surface water right that allows entities to secure an adequate in-stream flow for the construction of recreational features for kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and other types of watercraft.
The city's new request has been the topic of discussions since Glenwood Springs built its first whitewater park in West Glenwood in the spring of 2008. That park, with its renowned "wave" feature, has become one of the city's biggest tourist attractions.
Concerns raised by the Hot Springs about the aquifer ultimately directed the existing park downstream, after proponents had initially wanted it more centrally located to downtown. The West Glenwood park did not necessitate a secured water right in part because, being downstream from the Roaring Fork, it has adequate year-round flows.
The city now hopes to build on the economic success of the whitewater sports boom by building a second play park. To accomplish that, however, it will have to negotiate with the various entities that have filed as opposers to make sure their concerns are satisfied.
That could take several years, said Mark Hamilton, a water attorney who is representing the city of Glenwood Springs in ushering the case through Colorado's water court.
"For a case like this, that's not unexpected," he said of the number of entities that have taken the formal step of opposing the city's RICD request.
Just because an entity files a statement of opposition doesn't necessarily mean that they will ultimately object to the request, Hamilton explained.
It just means that they want to be party to the negotiations so that any current or future concerns are heard as the plans take shape, he said.
Hamilton said he believes the proposed Two Rivers Park location would be far enough downstream from the hot springs that it should not be a concern.
"Obviously, everybody acknowledges that the Hot Springs Pool is and will continue to be an important part of Glenwood Springs' economy, and their concerns are something that will have to be a part of this discussion," Hamilton said.
Front Range interests
Other heavy hitters that have filed to be part of the discussions include the Denver Water Board, the state's largest water utility which owns significant water rights on the Colorado River, plus the city of Colorado Springs, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and several upstream and downstream water users.
Denver Water would not have been able to oppose the request by Glenwood Springs under the recent new Colorado River Cooperative Agreement it signed with Western Slope water interests, except that the request is for more water during certain times of the year than Denver had agreed to in that deal, Hamilton also said.
The city's request seeks a "shoulder season" base flow of 1,250 cubic feet per second during the month of April each year and again from July 24 through Sept. 30, a level which Denver Water agreed in the deal that it would not object to.
However, Glenwood also requests a maximum flow rate not to exceed 4,000 cfs for up to five days between May 11 and July 6 each year, and 2,500 cfs for as many as 46 days between April 30 and May 10 and July 7-23.
The extra amount during those times could impair Denver Water's ability to divert water under the separate Shoshone relaxation agreement, according to the utility's statement of opposition filed Feb. 28.
Further, the request could also affect Denver Water's ability to implement its agreement with Grand County for municipal, snowmaking and environmental purposes, the utility claims.
Grand County, which recently had its own RICD request OK'd, filed a formal statement of support for the Glenwood Springs request.
"Grand County has been actively involved in efforts to preserve, protect, restore, and improve streams in the headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries and resolve various controversies with Denver Water," the county stated in support of Glenwood's application. "The [RICD] that this application seeks is consistent with Grand County's efforts."
Hamilton said the case has been assigned to a water referee in Glenwood Springs to oversee the initial negotiations. There will also be an administrative hearing before the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will make a recommendation on the request.
He noted that the Grand County case is nearing completion after about 3-1/2 years, while a similar request recently granted to the town of Carbondale for a RICD on the Roaring Fork River took multiple years to process as well.