Recreational in-channel diversion applications that already have been filed, including Steamboat Springs' application, have been exempted from a Senate bill that would limit such water rights in the future.
The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved the bill, 4-3, on Thursday after modifying it, including the exemption for RICD applications that have been filed or decreed. State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, is the bill's sponsor.
Officials with the city of Steamboat Springs who applied for a recreational water right on the Yampa River in December 2003, had feared the bill could derail the city's application. The bill would cap future RICD applications at 350 cubic feet per second. In its application, Steamboat requested a maximum diversion of 1,700 cfs during June, the peak of kayaking season.
The bill also requires the entity granted the diversion to be able to control the maximum amount of water requested with a structure that has two sides and a bottom.
The committee removed language that would have required a review of the effect the requested water right would have on future development upstream, as well as water storage and water development projects.
Glenn Porzak, a Denver attorney and RICD expert hired by the city of Steamboat to represent it in its application, warned that even though Steamboat has been exempted, the bill still is not in the city's best interest. He said the bill would prevent the city or any other community with a RICD in hand to expand their rights. It also is severely restrictive to other communities that have not applied for RICDs, Porzak said.
"You have to appreciate that these communities are part of a larger recreational-based economy," Porzak said. "It is important not to exclude those economies in the future."
Taylor said he was pleased with Thursday's progress.
"We have tried making comprises since this thing started," Taylor said. "For opposition to the bill, no comprises are satisfactory until the bill is dead."
For almost two hours Thursday, the hearing committee heard testimony, mostly from those opposed to the bill. The Steamboat case was cited more than any other.
Steamboat City Councilman Ken Brenner and Blue Sky West owner Kent Vertrees spoke against the bill, as did Porzak. The Steamboat Springs City Council has voted to spend as much as $10,000 on lobbying efforts to defeat the bill.
Steamboat attorney Tom Sharp, who helped draft Taylor's bill, fielded questions during the hearing. Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger and Yampa Valley water expert John Fetcher attended the hearing in support of the bill.
Steamboat's water rights application is set to go before the District 6 Water Court in August.
Representatives from mountain towns such as Vail, Golden and Salida, spoke of the importance a flowing stream has to their summer recreational economies. They saw Taylor's bill as placing RICDs below other water rights and said a maximum of 350 cfs would not work for many communities.
Members in opposition also said Senate Bill 216, which was passed in 2001, is working fine. That bill, which was the authoring legislation for RICDs, restricts RICDs to request the minimum amount necessary to ensure a "reasonable recreation experience."
"In the recreation industry, when the ski slope closes, the most valuable asset in the Yampa Valley is the river itself," Brenner told the committee.
Taylor, who has been accused of attacking his hometown, said the bill was not aimed at Steamboat.
"I stand on my record of supporting tourism and all forms of recreation," Taylor said in his opening statement to the committee. "(The bill) is not against any specific municipality or entity. The purpose is to protect Colorado water law and the water rights system."
In the committee vote, Sens. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus; Lewis Entz, R-Hooper; and Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, joined Taylor in passing the bill.
Entz said he was the one who took Senate Bill 216 through congress, and he heard many of the same complaints at that time. "I heard the same testimony that the sky is falling, and it wasn't," Entz said.
Sens. Dan Grossman, D-Denver; Peter Groff, D-Denver; and Lois Tochtrop, D-Westminster, opposed the bill.
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