Ample flows may boost kayak park’s chances
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Dave Merritt remembers a billboard that used to greet motorists heading west on Interstate 70 from Denver.It touted the slogan of Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort: “Snow from the heavens, not from the hose.”It was a reminder that that some ski areas’ snowfall is so good they don’t need snowmaking. Merritt thinks Glenwood Springs might be in a similar position in touting its planned whitewater park.”I think we can hit on the fact that we have great water all the time,” said Merritt, a City Council member.Supporters of the park long have touted the reliable flows of the Colorado River as a draw for whitewater enthusiasts. But Merritt and Mayor Bruce Christensen hope the ample water also can help secure funds to pay for the park.Last week, council voted unanimously to endorse a letter to Great Outdoors Colorado emphasizing the city’s flexibility regarding water rights associated with its park.The letter is intended to assure the state that the park shouldn’t get caught up in the kind of water rights controversies that have erupted regarding parks in other parts of Colorado.”We’d rather spend the money on actually building the whitewater park than on legal fights over it,” Merritt said.The Colorado River benefits from reliable flows thanks in part to a senior right to operate the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon. Some concerns have arisen because of Xcel Energy’s agreement to use less than the plant’s full water right to benefit Denver in times of drought. However the Colorado River’s flows also are enhanced by water it carries to meet senior rights of agriculture in the Grand Junction area.Christensen said one benefit of the city’s decision to build the park in West Glenwood rather than farther upstream is that it also is below the confluence of the Roaring Fork River. Park advocates originally had hoped to build the park on the Colorado River in downtown Glenwood, but the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool feared it could jeopardize the shallow hot springs aquifer beneath the river.GOCO funds outdoor projects with state lottery revenues. Christensen said it’s become apparent that the battle over recreational water rights “can be sort of like an anchor” on whitewater park requests to GOCO.The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Gunnison battled in court over that city’s efforts to seek such rights for a whitewater park. The state Legislature has worked in recent years to pass legislation resolving differences between those seeking recreational water rights for kayak parks and others worried about preserving water for traditional agricultural and municipal uses.Besides serving on council, Merritt is chief engineer of the Glenwood-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, which looks after water interests in the Colorado River Basin in western Colorado. He said Colorado’s legislation sought middle ground on the recreational water rights issue, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been concerned that proposed recreational water rights fall in that middle ground and don’t cause problems in administration and development of other water rights.Glenwood doesn’t plan to waive its ability to seek such rights. But its letter will acknowledge the controversial nature of them and state that the city’s focus is on building a park, and it is willing to negotiate over water rights.Merritt said existing water in the Colorado River should be adequate to meet the Glenwood park’s needs throughout the kayaking season. That includes later in the summers, when flows in whitewater parks in some communities usually are too low.
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The future of the Aspen-Pitkin County airport took a significant step forward Thursday. Pitkin County commissioners decided 4-1 to accept the recommendation of a community-based committee and leave the runway where it is, a bedrock decision in the long process toward a new terminal and airfield.