The state Senate on Monday passed a water rights bill that would restrict Steamboat Springs' request for a recreational in-channel diversion.
Sponsored by state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, the bill was passed on its second reading by a three-vote margin. Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, and two other Democrats crossed party lines to side with the Republicans.
The Senate will have a third reading of the bill before it goes to the House.
Recreational in-channel diversions are water rights that ensure a minimum streamflow in a waterway for recreational uses such as kayaking.
When the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved the bill Feb. 17, Taylor said the bill would not affect the city's RICD application or any other RICD application filed before the date of the committee hearing.
But Glenn Porzak, the city's water attorney, questioned whether the amended version truly would exclude the city. A section of the bill requires any RICD application filed after Jan. 1, 2001, to have a control structure. As defined by the bill, a control structure would have to be manmade and have two sides and a bottom.
City Council President Paul Strong said he has asked Taylor to not make that section of the bill retroactive. If Taylor would exclude Steamboat, Strong said the city would drop its opposition to the bill.
Strong said Taylor refused to do so.
"It's something they are hanging their hats on, something they are going to use to defeat RICDs in courts," Strong said.
Strong said the city's two kayaking play holes, which are the reasons for the city's RICD, would not meet the bill's definition of a controlled structure. He also worried that building controlled structures to the specifications in the bill could be dangerous for kayakers.
"We put stones in the middle of the river. That is not manmade with sides and a bottom," Strong said.
Concessions already were made on that section of the bill, Taylor said. He said the first draft of the bill required dam-like structures to control the water.
Taylor said the intent of the bill is to protect Colorado's water law.
Taylor fears RICDs could gridlock the state's waterways and limit water storage projects as well as the amount of water other municipalities could use for development.
The issue is not so much recreation, but greed and control, Taylor said.
"Whether Vail or Steamboat, they want to get control," Taylor said. "They are going outside the city limits and trying to control what is happening out in the county for their benefit."
Porzak thinks the bill will have less of a chance in the House, where there is a greater majority of Democrats.
After Isgar, who is chairman of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, approved the bill during the committee hearing, Porzak said he knew the bill had a good chance of passing on the Senate floor.
"The best opportunity is in the House. That is where we are going to push the fight," Porzak said. "We feel we have the votes there."
The amended version of the bill that the Senate approved on first reading would cap future RICD applications at 350 cubic feet per second.
Steamboat and anyone else who filed for a RICD before Feb. 17, 2005, was exempted from the cap.
In December 2003, the city applied for a RICD with a maximum diversion of 1,700 cfs during June, the peak of kayaking season. The city's RICD application is scheduled to be heard this summer in District 6 Water Court.
The city has agreed to spend as much as $10,000 on lobbyists to try to defeat the bill.
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