City endorses water settlement

Recreational rights proposal reaches final draft

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a settlement between the city and the Colorado Water Conservation Board about a recreational water right application.

The settlement could end the battle between the city and the state water board.

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

To obtain the recreational water right, the city had to meet certain requirements, including five that come under the purview of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The city met three of those requirements, but was taken to court by the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the other two. In late October, Judge Michael O'Hara, acting as a district water judge, ruled that the city met the remaining requirements. O'Hara issued his written ruling in December.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board had 45 days after the issuance of the written ruling to appeal O'Hara's decision. The board has not yet appealed the decision, but it asked the city to modify some of the language written in a document called the decree.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said the proposed changes are minor.

"The settlement reached does not have any substantive impact on the flows and the times on which we can claim the RICD," Lettunich said.

Lettunich asked the City Council to review the proposed decree changes last week. The council's decision to approve the resolution Thursday confirmed its support of the changes.

The decree changes face a few remaining steps. Today, officials from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District are set to review the final proposal. District officials originally opposed the city's application but later, before the trial, reached a settlement with the city. Also, Judge O'Hara will sign the decree so it can be filed with the court.

Attorney Fritz Holleman, who is representing the city in the case, said he hopes the judge will act quickly. Holleman also said he was pleased to see the city and the state water board come closer to an agreement.

"I think that we're on track to finalizing an excellent compromise that preserves the city's water rights in full," Holleman said.

Even if the judge authorizes approval of the decree changes, the case may face uncertainty, Lettunich told council members. He said it is possible that the state Legislature could approve a bill that challenges water rights cases.

"It's going to be an ongoing battle," Lettunich said. But he said it would help to have a final decree.

--o reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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