Curry, Taylor work to resolve dispute over recreational water rights
Two local lawmakers who have differed over how best to allow water rights to be created for whitewater parks may both have a hand in a solution to the issue.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said she will sponsor a compromise bill on recreation water rights in next year’s legislative session.The bill is the result of the work of a committee whose participants include state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. Taylor said he voted in favor of the recommendations made by the committee.Taylor’s Senate district includes Garfield County. Curry’s House district includes the eastern part of the county.Last year, Taylor sponsored a bill that sought to clarify a 2001 state law allowing applications for what are called recreational in-channel diversions. But Curry, who is chair of the House Livestock, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, opposed the bill’s proposal to limit those diversions to 350 cubic feet per second. Still, Curry agrees clarification is needed.She said her bill seeks to find middle ground on the issue, “which means that both sides are not real happy.”For one thing, the bill would limit recreational water rights to kayak uses. Curry said water is used for other recreational purposes such as tubing and rafting, but it can be hard to determine how much water is necessary for something like tubing.The bill also would limit the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s role in the process of allocating rights, she said. Imposing such a limit concerns traditional water interests, she said.She said the goal of the new legislation is to better define recreational water rights and streamline the process for obtaining them.”The litigation is getting out of control on these because the statute wasn’t very clear,” she said.A fight over water for a whitewater park in Gunnison cost more than $500,000 in legal fees, she said. Varying water interests finally struck a compromise over the Gunnison park earlier this month.The bill also would includes a clause that would allow recreational water rights to be exercised only when reasonable flows are available on the river.”This is wording that everybody seems to be buying in on,” Taylor said of that restriction.He said he thinks progress is being made toward a resolution of the recreational water rights issue.Said Curry, “There’s no guarantee that this is going to go anywhere, but this is a good first attempt.”Taylor said he thinks there’s agreement that recreational water interests must be accountable to Colorado’s water law.”They can’t be sitting out there just being able to do things that you and I can’t do with our water rights,” he said.Curry said she will be carrying two other water bills next year. One would provide definition to the requirement that developers show they have adequate water supplies before getting subdivisions approved. She said the requirement now fails to define water sufficiency, and as a result some counties, especially ones south of Denver, are approving projects despite a lack of adequate water supply in dry years.Curry said she doesn’t know if the bill has a chance of getting approved, but she at least wants to trigger a conversation on how growth is occurring without there being enough water supplies. Otherwise, pressure will continue on agriculture and the Western Slope to make up for water shortages, she said.Curry also plans to introduce a bill bringing a charter to the legislature that would establish criteria for water negotiations between basins in Colorado. This charter was written by an interbasin compact committee, as provided for under a bill passed earlier this year. That measure was proposed by Russell George of Rifle, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources.Curry voted against that bill. She said she thinks interbasin discussions can take place without setting up a new bureaucracy, and fears the new process could be risky for water-rich basins. But as a House committee chair, she decided she wanted to sponsor the bill so she could make sure it had language protecting so-called basins of origin from attempts to divert their water.
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.