San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights application amended, some objectors remain

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The agreement, which was also signed by the Town of Telluride, allows Montrose County far fewer water rights — both in volume and the ability to build reservoirs — than it originally applied for. The agreement mandates that the county drop its claims for the Marie Scott Reservoir and other facilities, which were proposed to be constructed near Specie and Beaver mesas, and forces Montrose County to select, within six years, one or two of the remaining four proposed new reservoirs to develop and abandon the others. It subjects all the water rights to volumetric restrictions of 3,200 acre-feet, and subjects the county to what are known as need-based reality checks. Under this measure, Montrose County is given a period of time to demonstrate that the predictions it had to justify the water rights applications were valid. If it fails to meet those requirements, its water use limit will be reduced.

The Town of Telluride, which was one of the parties that filed in opposition to the county’s application, signed off on the settlement agreement after determining that it sufficiently protects the water in the river. Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said the town will likely send the judge a fully executed stipulation and proposed decree this week to consider entering as an order to the court…

Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis, meanwhile, said he is happy with the settlement. He feels the agreement is a fair and realistic settlement that provides the county enough water to meet its needs…

Not everyone has given it the OK, however. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Division of Water Resources remain as objectors; Montrose County Attorney Bob Hill told the Montrose Daily Press this week that the county is working out some details with them. And Telluride-based environmental organization Sheep Mountain Alliance dropped out of the settlement agreement to preserve its right to challenge Montrose County in the future…

Montrose County filed the six applications for water rights in the San Miguel River and its tributaries in 2010. It filed the applications in a bid to get ahead of a planned Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water rights application, which aims at ensuring minimum flows in the waterway to protect aquatic habitat, and cited a need to supply future industrial, residential and commercial development, including a golf course, uranium milling activity and an anticipated population growth.

In its filings, Montrose County sought to adjudicate diversions of more than four cubic feet per second, six separate reservoirs and reservoir enlargements with a capacity of more than 51,000 acre-feet and potential annual diversions of more than 96,000 acre-feet, and water exchanges to facilitate diversions, storage and water delivery, according to Town of Telluride documents.

The filing raised alarms in the river’s watershed; soon, the Town of Telluride filed statements of opposition, joining several other objectors in the case, including Sheep Mountain Alliance, the owner of Gateway Resorts, San Miguel County and private landowners in the region.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

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