From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The city of Glenwood Springs has paddled around the last of several big obstacles in its way to obtaining water rights for three potential whitewater parks in the Colorado River, at Two Rivers Park, Horseshoe Bend and No Name.
While final approvals are not expected from various entities until late January, the city’s water attorney, Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, told a state agency last week that general agreement in the water court case was at hand.
The proposed water rights are for “boating, rafting, kayaking, tubing, floating, canoeing, paddling and all other non-motorized recreational uses.”
Glenwood Springs made the crux move in its five-year journey on Wednesday, when Aurora and Colorado Springs signed off on a “call reduction provision” in the city’s proposed water rights decree.
The provision carves out 30,000 acre-feet from the city’s proposed 2013 water right to allow for future upstream transmountain diversions by the Front Range cities. Glenwood Springs had earlier offered a 20,000 acre-foot carve-out provision.
The city made another key maneuver on Thursday, when the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to amend a negative 2015 finding on the city’s water rights application, and agreed to settle with the city in water court.
“Forgive us for being cautious and careful and slow,” said Russ George, who represents the Colorado River basin at CWCB. “This one is not an ordinary [Recreational In-Channel Diversion]. It has its own complications, and overall it had become just a tricky, thorny, complicated project.”
It was also announced Thursday that the Colorado River District and the town of Gypsum support the settlement in concept and are working on final approvals.
Horseshoe Bend lowest priority
Under the settlement, Glenwood Springs has agreed to consult with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the location, size, design and construction at the three prospective whitewater park sites, including giving Horseshoe Bend the lowest priority of the three locations because of bighorn sheep in the area.
“Horseshoe Bend kind of sits in third position for a variety of reasons,” Jay Skinner, an instream flow specialist for CPW, told the CWCB directors on Thursday. “It certainly is our least favorite of the three sites.”
The Two Rivers Park location is just downstream from central Glenwood Springs, and just above a busy boat ramp at the park.
Horseshoe Bend and No Name are not far upstream from downtown in Glenwood Canyon. They are on a Class II stretch of river below the Class III-to-Class IV Shoshone run. The highway is separated from the river at Horseshoe Bend, and there is an I-70 rest stop next to the river at No Name.
The city has previously obtained settlements in the water court case from BLM, CDOT, Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool.
“This ends three years of really intense negotiations and collaborations with the applicant (Glenwood Springs) and a lot of work finding compromise and middle ground on this,” Pat Wells, general manager of water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities, told the CWCB Thursday.
Aurora and Colorado Springs, as partners in the Homestake storage and diversion project, have a high interest in the city’s claims for flow levels in the Colorado River, as they now intend to build a dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek as part of the “Eagle River MOU” project, according to an October report from the attorney of the Colorado River District to the district’s board.
That project includes diverting 20,000 acre-feet of additional water under the Continental Divide from the upper Eagle River basin. It also includes diverting 10,000 acre-feet of water for Western Slope uses.
In 2012, the two cities told federal officials “as much as 86,400 acre-feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project.”
As such, Aurora and Colorado Springs wanted some protection from Glenwood Springs’ pending water right, which would carry a priority date of 2013.
The city’s water right would span 183 days, from April 1 to Sept. 30 each year.
For 137 of those days, the water right calls for a steady flow 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same level of flow that the senior Shoshone hydropower right can call for on the river, above the proposed whitewater parks.
So, for the bulk of the time, the Glenwood’s new water right would make no difference on the river, as it is in the shadow of Shoshone.
But the city wants to step out of that shadow and call for 2,500 cfs of water for 46 days, from June 8 to July 23. And it could call for 4,000 cfs of flow on five days around the Fourth of July, in order to hold competitive boating events.
It is in the 46-day high-flow period when the carve-out will kick in, and reduce by about 25 percent the amount of water the city was pursuing.
“It does limit, significantly, the amount of time that this water right is going to be able to call,” Rob Harris, an attorney representing both Western Resource Advocates and American Whitewater, in support of Glenwood Springs, told the CWCB. “But frankly, that’s the nature of compromise.”
Harris said the remaining flow levels in the river still work for the whitewater parks.
“These are the proper flow rates,” he said. “These rates are the rates that stakeholders in the city and in the community have asked for, and balancing that with this carve out is appropriate.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, and other Swift newspapers. Both the Times and the Post published this story on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018.