Water right hearing planned | SteamboatToday.com

Water right hearing planned

Christine Metz

— The first judgment on the city’s recreational water right application will come at the end of May.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has scheduled a hearing on the city’s recreational water right application for two days starting May 26. The board’s decision will be passed along as a recommendation to the District 6 Water Court.

“This is only a recommendation that they make. The Water Court has the ultimate decision-making authority,” the city’s water attorney Glenn Porzak said.

A date has not yet been set for the Water Court hearing, which will occur in Routt County in front of Judge Michael O’Hara.

On Dec. 26, the city filed for recreational water rights on the Yampa River for two river structures: the D Hole and Charlie’s Hole. The two structures are kayaking play holes, but the city’s application indicates that the water rights also would benefit other recreational uses, such as boating, tubing, rafting, floating and canoeing.

The city and those who have filed opposition to its application will have a chance to make presentations to board at the May hearing.

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The hearing, which could have been held anywhere in the state, will be at the Steamboat Grand Resort and Conference Center and is opened to the public. Catherine Gonzales, a public information officer for the board, said the hearings are usually held in the area where the recreational water rights request was made.

Anyone who filed an opposition to the city’s water right can make a presentation. Gonzales said the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District is among those scheduled to make a presentation to the board.

More than 20 oppositions have been filed against the city’s application, among the organizations filing are Routt County, Oak Creek, Yampa, four metro districts and the Upper Yampa District.

A recently enacted state law requires the state water board to make a recommendation to the Water Court on all recreational water rights filed.

The board has opposed recreational water rights filings in four other areas: Golden, Vail, Breckenridge and Gunnison, Porzak said. The water courts have ignored those recommendations and granted the water rights in all four cases.

The board’s policy is to not approve filings for more than 350 cubic feet per second, Porzak said. The city’s application has a maximum request for 1,700 cfs in the first half of June and the minimum request for 120 cfs from July 15 to Oct. 31.

Tom Sharp, who is president of the Upper Yampa District and an outspoken opponent of the recreational water right filing, is also on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“It tells you what the answer is going to be,” Porzak said. “The most important thing is that the water judge has the say in this matter.”

In a December meeting in Steamboat, Ted Kowalski of the Colorado Water Conservation Board said the board takes seriously the wording in Senate Bill 216, which says the water right should provide “minimum flow for a reasonable recreational experience.” Kowalski said the state board opposed cases such as the one in Golden, where requests for flows were higher than the average flow for that time of year.

“Really, what the General Assembly wanted was to keep one entity from having a monopoly on upstream development,” Kowalski said during that meeting.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com