Judge issues water opinion

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The judge who ruled in favor of the city of Steamboat Springs' water right application issued an official written ruling Monday.

The ruling is a final step to make official the oral statements that Judge Michael O'Hara made in late October.

City officials filed for a recreational water right on two kayaking holes, called Charlie's Hole and the D-Hole, of the Yampa River in December 2003. A recreational water right, if senior to certain other rights on the river, can help the city try to ensure a minimum stream flow for recreational activities such as kayaking. The rights are also called recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs.

To obtain a recreational water right, the city had to meet certain requirements, including five that come under the purview of the Colorado Water Conservation Board -- an entity that opposed the city's application. The city met three of those requirements before the trial started.

According to O'Hara, who was acting as a District Water Court judge during the trial, the city met the other two requirements, as well.

"The Court finds that the applicant is an entity entitled to obtain a water right for a recreational in-channel diversion . . ." his ruling states.

The state has 45 days to issue a notice of appeal of O'Hara's decision, said Ted Kowalski, a staff member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Board officials plan to discuss whether to appeal during the board's meeting Jan. 24 and 25 in Denver.

Fritz Holleman, one of the city's water attorneys, said Monday that O'Hara's opinion was important.

"This is a complete victory for the city and for recreational water rights in Colorado," he said.

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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