Garfield, Pitkin counties at odds over West Divide
September 23, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The elected leaders of Garfield and Pitkin counties, who often have not seen eye to eye politically over the years, are now on opposite sides of a brewing dispute over undeveloped water rights in the Crystal River drainage.
The Garfield Board of County Commissioners are preparing to file a motion to intervene in a Colorado water court case over water rights related to the West Divide Project, a proposed system of dams and water diversions that dates back to the 1950s but never has been built.
Garfield County’s action comes, in part, in response to a filing by the Pitkin County commissioners in the state’s Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs.
Pitkin County is opposing efforts by the West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservancy District to preserve unused water rights for possible future use.
“I take it as a direct assault on our constituents … by another county,” declared Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “It would change things that have been going on since the ’50s.”
The two water districts have filed for a reasonable diligence decree, which is required every six years for all undeveloped water rights, in order to preserve unused rights in the Crystal River for the West Divide Project.
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As originally planned, that project would have involved construction of two large reservoirs on the Crystal River. One of which, the Osgood Reservoir, would have inundated the Village of Redstone, which is in Pitkin County. A third, smaller reservoir was proposed for Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek above Carbondale.
Also proposed were diversion structures, ditches and other facilities to carry the stored water over to the Divide Creek and Mamm Creek drainages in Garfield County for agricultural, municipal or industrial uses.
The project has since been scaled back to one dam, which would place the Placita Reservoir higher on the Crystal River in the Bogan Flats area. The diminished project also eliminates diversions to Mamm and West Divide creeks, and shrinks the size of the Yank Creek reservoir.
But this year’s filing, according to Garfield County attorney Drew Gorgey, has prompted “multiple statements of opposition” by such entities as Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, and others.
Pitkin County reportedly questions whether the stated purpose for preserving the water rights in question – for streamflow management and to generate hydroelectric power – is a viable proposition.
Bristling at the moves of Pitkin County and the other organizations, the Garfield County commissioners directed Gorgey to initiate the legal steps for intervention in the court case on the side of the two water districts.
Gorgey said on Thursday that he is in talks with others involved in the case, and expects to file the Garfield County motion to intervene by the end of the month.