Proposed legislation that would modify existing state recreational in-channel diversion water rights law is scheduled to go to the full Senate for debate today.
State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 62, which was approved Feb. 17 by the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The bill, which is being opposed by the city of Steamboat Springs and several other mountain resort communities, would cap future recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, at 350 cubic feet per second. Existing RICD applications, such as the one filed by Steamboat in December 2003, would be exempt from the legislation.
Taylor, who has denied accusations that his bill is aimed at Steamboat's RICD application, said the bill is needed to clarify and define aspects of the 2001 legislation that first authorized RICDs. Recreational in-channel diversions are water rights allowing municipalities and other entities to request a certain amount of streamflow on a waterway to support recreational activities such as kayaking.
SB 62 will protect Colorado's water laws and water rights, Taylor said, adding that a proliferation of RICDs pose a long-term threat to the state's water supply if restrictions aren't put in place.
On Sunday, Taylor pointed to recent RICD applications by Golden, Chaffee County, Breckenridge and Vail that request waterflows exceeding the average monthly flow of the waterways. When RICD applicants are granted water rights that, in effect, give them 100 percent control of the waterflow in a given stream or river, future upstream needs are handcuffed, he said.
"These are the kinds of impacts that people don't understand and need to understand," Taylor said. Greedy RICDs such as the one filed by Steamboat also will negatively affect desperately needed upstream water storage projects and, ultimately, could benefit downstream states, Taylor said. Steamboat's application requests a maximum of 1,700 cubic feet per second in June, the peak of kayak season.
His bill, co-written by Steamboat water attorney Tom Sharp, was amended in committee before it was approved by a 4-3 vote. One of the modifications to the bill exempted all RICD applications already filed or granted. The Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee also 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, has said that even though Steamboat's RICD filing has been exempted, the bill will prevent it and any other community from expanding their rights in the future. The bill also could have a serious effect on communities with recreation-based economies that haven't already filed RICD applications, Porzak said.
The Steamboat Springs City Council has voted to spend as much as $10,000 on lobbying efforts to defeat the bill. Steamboat's water rights application is set to go before the District 6 Water Court in August.
Taylor said he'll count Senate votes this morning before deciding whether to put the measure on the floor for debate. He might wait until later in the week to offer the bill for debate and a vote.
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