Judge James Boyd rules against Powderhorn Ski Area in change case

Photo via PlateauValley.com.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Erin McIntyre):

Three Mesa Creek Ditch water users, Andrea Clark, Tom Kirkpatrick and Dana Black, objected to the resort’s plans to divert the water during the wintertime, transporting it to a nearby reservoir and storing it for snowmaking and other uses…

In that trial, the ditch users argued the ski resort bought a 1- cubic-foot-per-second water right that didn’t totally belong to the seller. They also accused Powderhorn of buying the water on speculation, as it had no way to transport or store the water in question when it asked the state for permission to change the way the water was being used.

George Bevan, a former Mesa Creek Ditch Co. president who died in October, sold the water to the ski resort about three years ago. Powderhorn intended to divert up to 150 acre-feet of the water during the winter, transporting it more than a mile away across private property to the H.U. Robbins Reservoir or a small pond at the base of the resort, and use the water for snowmaking.

The ski resort planned on purchasing, leasing or condemning rights of way necessary to transport the water, according to previous court documents. Powderhorn has 42 snowmaking acres and wanted to expand its operations.

But Boyd ruled the most water that Bevan could have used, historically, for watering his livestock from Oct. 1 to April 1 each year is only 6 or 7 acre-feet, at most.

While he decreed that Bevan owned the right to use 1 cubic foot per second of the water Powderhorn purchased from him, he ruled the water right had been used at much lower levels than the ski resort argued.

Bevan testified he kept a maximum of 400 cows at the location over the winter, using the water right for livestock.

A water engineer testified that amount of cattle would consume as much as 7 acre-feet of water over the course of a winter, and the judge used that amount to determine the historic use of the water right. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons, enough water to cover a football field a foot deep…

The issue of who owns exactly how much winter water in this section of the Mesa Creek Ditch remains unresolved, but the judge ruled that Powderhorn has the right to use the historical amount of water Bevan used and sold to the resort.

The judge also ruled the ski resort is one of only nine original claimants of the winter water right on the ditch, meaning other users who believed they had the right to use the water over time may be doing so illegally.

It’s unclear whether Powderhorn will opt to apply to use the lesser amount of water for snowmaking or pursue its plans to transport the water from Mesa Creek to the ski area. The judge denied the ski resort’s application in this instance but did not prevent it from reapplying in a future application.

The judge’s ruling leaves the ski resort with the option of reapplying to use 7 acre-feet of water over the course of a winter for snowmaking, one-fifth the amount Powderhorn wanted to use.

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