Water Lines: Water rights for recreation
Free Press Weekly Columnist
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently reported that Glenwood Springs City Council voted to file a water-right application for a new whitewater recreation park. Just like any new water right, the new recreational water right could only be enforced when all more senior water rights were satisfied.
Creating the whitewater park would involve placing structures in the river to create flow patterns to make the area more fun for kayaking and other whitewater recreation craft. The exact location of the planned park has not yet been determined. The city already has one whitewater “wave” park in West Glenwood.
According to the article, the city’s application seeks a maximum flow rate of 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for up to five days between May 11 and July 6, and 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days in the periods from April 30 to May 10 and July 7-23. In addition, the application seeks “shoulder season” flow rates of 1,250 cfs between April 1-29 and from July 24 – Sept. 30. The right would be limited to between 6-9 p.m., except for special events when it could be extended to midnight.
This demonstrates both how detailed and focused a water right can be, and the recognition that keeping water in the river for recreational boaters can be a “beneficial use” that brings tourism revenues to riverside communities. Demonstrating a “beneficial use” is necessary to obtain a water right under Colorado water law.
The Colorado Legislature established a procedure for the adjudication of water rights for recreational purposes in 2001, which was amended in 2006. The legislation limited the circumstances under which such a water right, formally called a “Recreational In-Channel Diversion” (RICD), can be granted. A key condition is that the proposed right must not impair the state’s ability to develop the full amount of water the state is entitled to under interstate water compacts.
Cities that obtained decrees for RICDs prior to the 2001 legislation were not subject to these conditions. Aspen, Breckenridge, Fort Collins, Golden, Littleton and Vail obtained their rights before 2001. Avon, Chaffee County, Durango, Longmont, Pueblo, Silverthorne, Steamboat Springs, and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District have all received water-rights decrees for RICDs since the legislation was passed.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board website on RICDs lists applications from the following entities as “pending:” Grand County, for whitewater parks at Hot Sulphur Springs and Gore Canyon; Pitkin County; and the Town of Carbondale. It can take several years for an RICD to obtain final approval.
To learn more about these water rights and how RICDs are decreed, go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s RICD page: http://cwcb.state.co.us/ENVIRONMENT/RECREATIONAL-IN-CHANNEL-DIVERSIONS/Pages/PendingandDecreedRICDs.aspx.
Identifying valuable recreational flows that may need protection is one element of the planning process to develop a statewide water plan for Colorado. Basin Roundtables of stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins, as well as the Denver Metro area, are engaged in that process now. To learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and provide input, go to the Colorado Water Plan website: http://coloradowaterplan.com.
Water Lines is a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You may also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or twitter at http://www.twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU. Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
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