Water rights surface in talks between Pitkin County, Glenwood | AspenTimes.com

Water rights surface in talks between Pitkin County, Glenwood

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Post Independent fileA kayaker paddles the wave at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park. Water rights for recreation use were a topic when Pitkin County commissioners and members of the Glenwood Springs City Council met Tuesday in Aspen.

ASPEN – Holding onto water rights for recreational purposes along with other uses may be increasingly important for the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, point person on water issues for the board.

Pitkin County has discussed, but has not sought, an in-stream water right for a planned kayak park on the Roaring Fork River at Basalt. Glenwood Springs boasts what has become a hot spot in the state for kayaking and surfing at its wave on the Colorado River, but has not sought an in-stream water right to help preserve flows there.

During a joint meeting of commissioners and members of the Glenwood Springs City Council Tuesday in Aspen, Richards urged Glenwood council members to consider seeking the recreational rights.

Front Range water users don’t want additional water allotted to recreational uses, she warned. “They don’t want those diversions,” she said.

A holder of recreational water right doesn’t actually take water, but leaves it in the stream or river for recreation.

When Glenwood built its whitewater park, it reserved the right to apply for in-stream rights for recreation, but did not seek them, said Mayor Bruce Christensen. The city anticipated a fight with Front Range interests, feared securing the rights would be costly and figured senior rights on the Colorado downstream from Glenwood would help keep flows in the park secure, he explained.

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“Now that the park is created, it’s a logical next step,” Richards said.

“We probably ought to relook at that rights thing,” Christensen agreed.

Richards also warned against counting as permanent the water rights held by Excel Energy’s Shoshone hydroelectric plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. It commands important flows in the Colorado that benefit Glenwood’s various rafting and kayaking opportunities, but Shoshone has become a small part of Excel’s portfolio, she noted.

“There are a lot of concerns about what we here take for granted as water flows through our area,” Richards said.

“At some point, the water may be more valuable than the electricity,” Christensen agreed.

When the Shoshone plant was off line for repairs in 2007, a deal was reached to maintain a certain level of flows on the river through Glenwood Canyon to protect endangered fish and the rafting industry.

At that time, Glenwood and Aspen approached Excel about acquiring Shoshone water rights but the energy company wasn’t interested in selling them, Christensen said.

Pitkin County commissioners also quizzed their Glenwood Springs colleagues about parking issues and the popularity of the city’s whitewater park, as the county has contemplated a park in the Roaring Fork and has had discussions with Basalt, a potential partner in the project.

A preliminary design for the park has been done, but there’s no plan to finance the project at an estimated cost of $1.1 million, said John Ely, county attorney.

janet@aspentimes.com

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