City in no rush to buy rights


— The City Council said it was not going to rush into purchasing recreational water rights, saying it needs more information and wants to talk to Routt County first.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, the city's Denver water attorney James Witwer and City Attorney Tony Lettunich gave the council an update on what it would take to acquire recreational water rights.

Proponents of recreational water rights said they will protect the river habitat and provide the water needed for kayaking, fishing and tubing.

Under the state's first-in-time, first-in-right water law, recreational water rights would allow the city to take steps to ensure water flows through Steamboat at the same levels at which it flows today. These rights would protect the city's stream flow from water being drained for development upstream.

Because older water rights exist upstream, the city would not necessarily have all the water it requested, especially in drought years. In most wet years, the river would exceed the city's requested levels.

"I think the Upper Yampa Basin has a lot of water and a lot of water that hasn't been spoken for," Witwer said.

Lettunich told the council that purchasing recreational water rights could cost the city from $25,000 to $35,000 as they go before the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state's water courts.

The council said it wanted to talk to the county first, which has jurisdiction over the land upstream from Steamboat.

"We are a larger community than just kayak parks and the city. We have residents and agriculture (water uses)," Council President Kathy Connell said. "We really need to assess what is going on here. We need to take very cautious steps to get the facts, the bigger picture, to look at something rather than just a little kayak park."

Two weeks ago, former City Councilman Ken Brenner asked the city to speed up its investigation into water rights and then last week asked the Parks and Recrea-tion Commission, which oversees im-provements to the Yampa River, to recommend to council to speed up its process.

Brenner's comments were largely sparked by a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that passed down a 3-3 decision to recognize recreational water rights for the towns of Golden, Vail and Breckenridge.

Witwer's firm, Trout, Witwer and Freeman, represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which filed a friend of the court brief in the Golden appeal and participated at the trial and appeal opposing the Vail case.

The client's main concern was the limitless nature these rights would allow. It wanted the rights carefully defined to preserve the potential for upstream water development.

The law could allow sham kayak courses to be built in towns on the Colorado state border, sending water over the state lines and limiting water use in the state, Witwer said.

Unlike the Golden, Vail and Breckenridge cases, Senate Bill 216 would require the city to first appear before the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which then makes its recommendation to the water courts. Passed in 2001, the bill has added the extra step of appearing before the conservation board. The bill also defined recreational water rights.

Pueblo, Upper Gunnison and Longmont have applications pending under Senate Bill 216.

Witwer has been fielding questions from across the state on whether Steamboat, which has spent $90,000 in river improvements in the past two years, is going to file for recreational water rights.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.