The Colorado Supreme Court upholds water court decision that prevents the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District from diverting water from Morrison Creek

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From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

The district had been looking to firm up its water supply by finding an alternative source to the Yampa River and proposed diverting of water from Morrison Creek. This was met with opposition from the people who owned the land where the diversion equipment and infrastructure would be located. The water court sided with the opposed parties and “found the district’s existing water rights associated with Stagecoach Reservoir to be adequate to meet its reasonably foreseeable demand for water.” The district appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling.

[Steamboat Springs lawyer and Upper Yampa director Tom Sharp] is concerned that because of the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2-year-old lawsuit, the district could potentially have a hard time obtaining additional water rights to help fulfill water contracts it has with customers.

The original lawsuit, heard in water court by District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara, was brought by landowners in the south Yampa Valley and supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineer for Water Division 6. “My clients are pleased the Supreme Court affirmed Judge O’Hara’s finding that the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District had no legitimate need for the water that is claimed in this case,” Denver lawyer Barney White said Friday…

The Supreme Court essentially ruled, Sharp said, that having a contract in place does not demonstrate the need for the water. Customers need to actually use the water and cannot speculate on the possibility of needing the water. The Craig power plant, for example, has an annual $300,000 contract for 7,000 acre-feet, but the water is not used, and there are no plans to use it.

Sharp also is concerned because the ruling implies that if the district needs to justify obtaining additional water rights, it must now know how customers plan to use water. “Because the applicant’s evidence of existing demands included contracts for stored water that had admittedly not yet been put to beneficial use and for which no specific plan for beneficial use was offered, and because the applicant failed to adequately demonstrate a reasonably anticipated future need based on projected population growth, its evidence was insufficient to establish that it had made the required first step to obtain a conditional water right,” the water court ruled.

More Yampa River basin coverage here and here.

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