CWCB: Instream flow water rights

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Here’s a recap of this week’s meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Section this week in Montrose, from Mallory George writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

“We are here to balance human needs with some reasonable preservation of the natural environment,” said Jeff Baessler, the deputy section chief at CWCB. He cited the Tragedy of the Commons, in which everyone has free use of resources and eventually exhaust those resources because of lack of regulation, as the need for water appropriations…

After groups such as the Bureau of Land Management, a homeowners association and the U.S. Forest Service recommended 54 streams and rivers to be protected this year, the CWCB began conducting tests to ensure that a natural environment exists, which is typically, but not always, marked by fishery. Baessler said the CWCB also makes sure that the natural environment in question will be preserved by the water available for appropriation. Not all of the water in streams is recommended to be a part of the instream flow program, just enough to preserve the environment. The water is then unavailable for consumptive use. The final statutory requirement the board must meet before finalizing an appropriation is to ensure that the new appropriation will not conflict with an existing water right.

Hydrologists are currently conducting water availability tests, while other Stream and Lake Protection staff members are meeting with local governments and communities to address concerns. In January, the Stream and Lake Protection Section will present recommendations to the CWCB, which will then declare intent for the appropriations. Baessler discussed the Division 4 recommendations, which include those in Montrose, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Delta counties. Big Dominguez Creek, Little Dominguez Creek, an increase to the Blue Creek instream flow, South Willow Creek, Alpine Creek, Spring Creek, two sections of Cebolla Creek, Red Canyon Creek, the San Miguel River, three segments of Tabeguache Creek, North Fork Tabeguache Creek, two sections of Cochetopa Creek and East Beaver Creek were recommended to the department. The San Miguel River section — from Calamity Draw to the Dolores River — which holds several sensitive species of fish, prompted confusion when it was initially recommended in February 2008 because people were concerned there would not be enough water available for consumption…

In the Uravan area, many of the water rights belong to Umetco Minerals Co., which operates a uranium mill. The company is in the process of remediating and closing down its operations and is estimated to finish by the end of this year. In anticipation of that, and for the CWCB to receive those water rights, a study was conducted by the Stream and Lake Section, the Southwester Water Conservation District and Harris Water Engineering, Inc., that resulted in several recommendations for the area. “We tried to create a package of the best water rights for local entities and the state as well,” said Dan Merriman of Harris Water Engineering. The study recommended that two Tabeguache wells and a Uravan well be given to Montrose for its use. Three other wells and the San Miguel Power Company Canal water rights would be abandoned; that is, they would be relinquished to the stream, but not be protected instream flows. Johnson Ditch water rights would shift to local government entities such as Nucla, Naturita and Montrose Country to meet existing and future needs, Merriman said. Until Umetco is out of the area, however, these recommendations cannot be carried out.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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