Chaffee Co. wins decree on Arkansas
PUEBLO – A state water judge has approved Chaffee County’s request to guarantee enough water in the Arkansas River part of the year to give kayakers, rafters and other whitewater enthusiasts a central Colorado playground.
The decree signed Friday by Judge Dennis Maes will provide water from March 15 to Nov. 15 each year for boating courses in Buena Vista and Salida, said Chaffee County Commissioner Jerry Mallett. He said the move will help protect the county’s economy, which takes in about $50 million a year from river-related recreation.
“What it means to us, down the road, is that we’ll be able to preserve our local economy,” said county Commissioner Tim Glenn.
Mallett said during a May event in Buena Vista, one store saw $110,000 in revenue in four days, and the river park in Salida brings in up to $2.5 million a year.
The decree comes after two years of negotiations among the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado Division of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, Division of Parks, Arkansas River Outfitters Association, Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Pueblo West.
It calls for maintaining various levels of minimum flows in the river if enough water is available, and allows maximum flows for eight days between late May and June 30 for events.
River flows will not be affected from Nov. 15-March 15 so irrigation companies can store water.
The decree allows for reduced recreational flows during years in which senior water rights holders need to fill their reservoirs.
Boating on the Arkansas is about a 90-minute drive from Aspen, over Independence Pass, and Aspen-area outfitters offer rafting trips on the river in addition to local expeditions on the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.
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