From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
Durango Mountain Resort is getting ready to sue the U.S. Forest Service over access to its water rights – rights it needs for future development on the mountain.
The dispute comes at the same time the Forest Service is under fire nationally for its attempts to force ski resorts to turn over their water rights as a condition for getting their permits renewed.
Meanwhile at the state Legislature, a bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, to curb the Forest Service’s water-rights policy appears to be dead as Democratic leaders defer to the federal agency for the second consecutive year.
Roberts’ bill would not help Durango Mountain Resort, which has a slightly different dispute with the Forest Service. But the resort’s CEO, Gary Derck, sees a pattern of the Forest Service trying to get control of ski resorts’ water rights…
The ski resort owns conditional water rights to six wells on the back side of the mountain, on land its previous owners traded to the Forest Service in the 1990s. The trade did not include water rights, but the agency now says it will not allow Durango Mountain Resort to access the wells.
Lawyers for the Forest Service have asked a local water judge to deny Durango Mountain Resort’s rights to the wells. The resort’s rights are conditional, and it needs to prove to a water judge every six years that it is working toward making the rights absolute and putting the water to use.
But starting in 2010, the Forest Service began opposing the ski area in water court.
“Any additional proposals to divert and convey water from the upper East Hermosa Creek will not be accepted by the San Juan National Forest and authorization will not be granted,” former Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote in a June 2012 legal filing.
The ski area’s owners say they have legal rights to access their water rights, and after several years of wrangling with the Forest Service, they are getting ready to sue.
“We’re trying to find a way not to go to court because it would be expensive, and we’re just a little old ski area down here in Southwest Colorado,” Derck said.