Colorado River District abandons Crystal River reservoir rights |

Colorado River District abandons Crystal River reservoir rights

Post Independent staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado River District Board of Directors voted Tuesday to abandon or dramatically shrink most of the district’s undeveloped water rights on the Crystal River.

The package of rights known as the West Divide Project were tied to a plan devised in the 1960s to build two large reservoirs in the Crystal River valley at Redstone and divert the stored water to the Divide Creek basin south of Silt. There, the water could have been used in Divide Creek and the Colorado River valley for irrigation or oil shale industry.

The Osgood Reservoir would have flooded the village of Redstone, while the smaller Placita Reservoir upstream would have flooded the canyon just below the Marble turn and McClure’s Pass.

Although the River District will abandon the rights associated with building large reservoirs, it will retain other rights and shift their use to help the Crystal River basin with late season flows and create the potential for hydropower development.

The West Divide Project also included rights in the West Divide Creek basin. These water rights will be maintained to benefit the original West Divide service area, but use water supplies only from within the basin. The Glenwood-based River District’s actions were made in concurrence with the West Divide Water Conservancy District board.

In the Colorado water rights system, conditional water rights act as placeholders for projects to be developed in the future. Conditional water rights holders must prove to the water court every six years that progress is being made to develop a project, a process known as diligence. The West Divide Project water rights face a diligence filing on May 31.

The Colorado River District filed for the project’s original water rights in 1957, and won water court approvals in 1958 and 1965, in an era when one of the 13-county district’s main roles was to file water rights that would later become large federally-funded reservoir projects to benefit agriculture and industry.

The original West Divide Project was approved by Congress in 1966 as part of the historic Colorado River Storage Project Act, which led to the construction of the Animas-LaPlata Project and Ridgway Reservoir. But the Bureau of Reclamation subsequently judged the West Divide project unfeasible on a cost-benefit basis, and it was never granted federal funds.

Over the years, the Colorado River District reconfigured the project and its water rights over the years in anticipation that one day it could be valuable to the Crystal, Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.