Pitkin County: Water rights for instream flow transfer to CWCB delayed by two valley districts

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County’s effort to place 4.3 cubic-feet-per-second of water into a trust managed by a state agency, for the benefit of the Roaring Fork River, has been challenged and delayed by the Basalt Water Conservancy District and the Starwood Metropolitan District. The two districts have asked for a formal hearing on the county’s proposal before the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We just had concerns,” said Art Bowles, a board member of the Basalt Water Conservancy District. “We are not at all opposed to them donating water, but we want to just make sure it doesn’t affect us down river.”[…]

“This is the first time that the board has received a request to hold a hearing on a proposed water acquisition,” Linda Bassi, the head of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection section, wrote in a March 9 memo to the CWCB board of trustees. On the other hand, the county’s innovative proposal to place water into a trust agreement administered by CWCB is also the first one the CWCB has received. The proposal was made possible by legislation passed in 2008 which strengthened the state agency’s ability to hold water rights for environmental purposes…

If the trust agreement is approved by the CWCB board, it would set up an arrangement where Pitkin County would be able to easily put under the trust an additional 34 cfs of water rights it owns — primarily from its open space purchases — to the benefit of the river. However, in February, attorneys for the Basalt Water Conservancy District and the Starwood Metropolitan District, sent a letter requesting a formal hearing to review the potential water acquisition. “The Basalt Water Conservancy District supports the minimum stream flow program and it supports instream flows that have designated historical use and are appropriate for that purpose,” said Christopher Geiger, an attorney Balcomb & Green, P.C. in Glenwood Springs…

But [Christopher Geiger, an attorney Balcomb & Green, P.C. in Glenwood Springs], who also represents the Starwood metro district, was critical of the CWCB process to date. “They haven’t provided anyone with the explanation with how the water right is going to be measured or administered in the river for instream flow purposes,” Geiger said. “They haven’t shown that it is going to have any appreciable benefit to the natural environment. At the same time, based on how the CWCB chooses to operate the water right, it might prevent the district from exercising its water rights.”[…]

One of the results of the Basalt and Starwood request for a hearing is an additional physical analysis of the stretch of the Roaring Fork River that the county’s water right would flow through. The analysis is to provide better information about the actual minimum amount of water needed in late summer to “protect the environment to a reasonable degree.” That analysis is best accomplished by looking at the river in late August. Pitkin County has agreed to an extension of the normal CWCB timelines so the data can be gathered and analyzed…

“Administrative agencies are entitled to a significant amount of deference in their decision making process,” said Amy Beatie, the executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, which has worked in support of Pitkin County’s decision. “They are asking for water court-type preparedness in order for a preliminary decision to be made.” Beatie said many of the concerns raised by Basalt and Starwood are typically covered in water court, which is a required next step after a CWCB review and approval.

More Coyote Gulch instream flow coverage here and here.

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