Legislators work toward recreational water right solution | AspenTimes.com

Legislators work toward recreational water right solution

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Two local lawmakers who have differed over how best to allow water rights for whitewater parks may both have a hand in a solution.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said she will sponsor a compromise bill on recreation water rights in the next legislative session.

The bill is the result of a committee whose participants include state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. Taylor said he voted in favor of the recommendations made by the committee.

Last year, Taylor sponsored a bill that sought to clarify a 2001 state law allowing applications for what are called recreational in-channel diversions. Curry, who is chairwoman of the House Livestock, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, opposed the bill’s proposal to limit those diversions to 350 cubic feet per second. Still, Curry agrees clarification is needed.

She said her bill seeks to find middle ground on the issue, “which means that both sides are not real happy.”

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For one thing, the bill would limit recreational water rights to kayak uses. Curry said water is used for other recreational purposes such as tubing and rafting, but it can be hard to determine how much water is necessary for something like tubing.

The bill also would limit the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s role in the process of allocating rights, she said. Imposing such a limit concerns traditional water interests, she said.

She said the goal of the new legislation is to better define recreational water rights and streamline the process for obtaining them.

“The litigation is getting out of control on these because the statute wasn’t very clear,” she said.

A fight over water for a whitewater park in Gunnison cost more than $500,000 in legal fees, she said. Varying water interests finally struck a compromise over the Gunnison park earlier this month.

The bill also would include a clause that would allow recreational water rights to be exercised only when reasonable flows are available on the river.

“This is wording that everybody seems to be buying in on,” Taylor said of that restriction.

He said he thinks progress is being made toward a resolution of the recreational water rights issue.

“There’s no guarantee that this is going to go anywhere,” Curry said, “but this is a good first attempt.”

Taylor said he thinks there’s agreement that recreational water interests must be accountable to Colorado’s water law.

“They can’t be sitting out there just being able to do things that you and I can’t do with our water rights,” he said.

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