Vote on RICD delayed

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An amendment that would exclude Steamboat Springs from a recreational water rights bill was made during a state house committee hearing Monday.

The House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources did not vote on the bill. After almost five hours of testimony and deliberation, Vice Chairman Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, tabled the vote until Wednesday. The table came after a motion failed 5-5 to send the bill to the House Judiciary Committee for further review of the bill's constitutionality.

Committee Chairwoman Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who is involved in the Gunnison recreational water rights decision, stepped down from the hearing because of a conflict of interest. In the event of a 5-5 vote, the motion to approve the bill would have failed.

Although the bill's future remains uncertain, what was clear Monday afternoon was that Steamboat Springs was not intended to be affected by the bill.

Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling, said the intent of the bill was not to affect those who have applied for a recreational in-channel diversion before a senate hearing committee heard the bill Feb. 17.

Recreational in-channel div--ersions are water rights that ensure a minimum stream flow in waterways for recreational water uses such as kayaking.

"It is not our intention to do away with RICD water rights," Hoppe said, "but to provide direction and conform RICDs to other water rights in the state."

The bill was proposed by state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. The bill places restrictions on RICD applications. The bill that came before the house committee proposes capping any future RICD applications to 350 cubic feet per second and requires structures that can control the water.

One of the committee's proposed amendments clarifies a section of the bill that stated any water rights application filed after Jan. 1, 2001, would have to have the newly defined control structure.

Steamboat officials, who applied for a RICD on the Yampa River in December 2003, feared this wording would affect their application. Hoppe proposed an amendment that would strike the Jan. 1, 2001, date and use the Feb. 17, 2005, date instead.

Another amendment also changed wording in the section of the bill that states a control structure is one that is naturally existing or permanently placed by the applicant to divert and control water. Some feared the previous language would dictate cement-like dams for kayaking features.

However, the committee also added more restrictive wording to the bill capping the amount of an applicant's RICD request to the historical average flow rate of the river or 350 cfs, whichever was less.

Steamboat Springs and the Yampa River came up frequently during Monday's hearing. Three local businessmen in the boating industry spoke to the detrimental effects the bill could have on the recreational economy. Steamboat Springs City Council members Kathy Connell and Ken Brenner also pleaded with the committee to kill the bill.

"These water rights are as important to the future of Colorado as the decision in 1985 of whether or not to have snowmaking," Connell said.

Steamboat officials were not the only ones requesting that the committee kill the bill. Representatives from Pitkin, Eagle and Chaffee counties and the cities of Fort Collins, Aspen and Silverthorne also talked about the importance of recreational water rights to the tourism industry.

The group argued that capping all RICD applications at 350 cfs discriminated against the larger rivers and in some cases would not provide enough water to entice kayakers to come to their rivers and spend money in their communities.

Much of the opposition Monday discussed the effects RICDs could have on the future of the state's agriculture and residential water uses.

Steamboat Springs attorney Tom Sharp, who helped Taylor draft the bill, said RICDs had the potential to gridlock the state's water supply.

Others were concerned about how RICDs could prohibit water storage projects and weighed the beneficial use of recreation over residential consumptive use.

"There are a lot fewer people rafting everywhere in Colorado than are consuming drinking water on the Front Range," said Patti Wells, Denver Water's chief legal adviser.

State Rep. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, questioned placing recreation use over consumptive use.

"If we have a really good snow year, we have a really good ski year. If we have a really good runoff year, then we have really good kayaking," Harvey said. "I don't think the state should have to lock that in. It starts placing recreational use above agriculture, industrial and municipal."

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.

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