Curry details stance
Two Garfield County lawmakers are paddling in different directions regarding a bill that would restrict how much water can be allocated for whitewater parks.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, did not vote last week when the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee approved state Sen. Jack Taylor’s bill 8-2. Curry chairs that committee. But she received legal advice that for her to vote might be a conflict of interest because she could be seen as having a personal interest in the outcome of the case.Curry previously served as manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. The district obtained a recreational water decree that was recently the subject of a Colorado Supreme Court decision after being challenged by the Colorado Water Conservation District.Taylor’s bill seeks to clarify a 2001 state law that allows for applications for recreational in-channel diversions, and to put an upper limit on those diversions. But Curry says that while clarification is needed, she is uncomfortable with his proposal to limit those diversions to 350 cubic feet per second.”I have a serious concern about the General Assembly establishing a flow rate for any type of beneficial use in the statutes,” said Curry, whose House district includes eastern Garfield County.But Taylor, a Steamboat Springs Republican whose district includes all of Garfield County, said he believes opponents of the bill are mischaracterizing what the 350 cfs diversion limit does.”It’s a minimum. It is not a cap,” he said.Under his bill, streamflows at whitewater parks could be much higher until later in the summer, after the snowmelt season is over and demands by other water users increase, Taylor said.As manager of the Gunnison district, Curry said, she signed the district’s application for the water diversion. In mid-March, the state Supreme Court sent the Gunnison case back to the water court, finding that both that court and the CWCB had erred in their handling of the case.At issue is how whitewater courses can be guaranteed enough water for a “reasonable recreation experience,” as the 2001 law seeks to provide for, without jeopardizing the rights of other water users.Curry said she initially wasn’t sure whether she should recuse herself from last week’s vote. For one thing, Taylor’s bill exempts existing applications for the recreational diversions, including the Gunnison one.However, Curry said that after hearing the committee testimony last week, she was glad to have decided against voting. Speaker after speaker referred to the Gunnison case, a case “with my name on it,” she said.Curry said she is free to speak her views on the bill even if she can’t vote on it. She said there are no precedents for limiting flow rates for any type of beneficial water use, so the 350 cfs limit is cause for concern.”On some creeks that might be OK but on others it might not be remotely reasonable,” she said.She is hoping parties on both sides of the issue can find better language spelling out what is a minimum flow for a reasonable recreation experience.As it stands, Taylor’s bill strikes the word “reasonable” from the existing law, Curry said.Taylor said the 350 cfs restriction has a logical basis. The CWCB found that to be a reasonable amount of flow for whitewater parks based on scientific information and testimony it took during hearings, he said. National kayaking competitions have been held on streams with flows far less than 350 cfs, he said.Taylor fears the increase in recreational diversions could make it hard to put the state’s water to other uses, by allowing that water to flow downriver and even out of state when it is needed here.”Colorado’s going to be the loser, and the downstream states are going to be the winners,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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