County explores recreation flows |

County explores recreation flows

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News file
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Grand County officials have filed for “Recreational In-Channel Diversion” (RICD) water rights on the Upper Colorado River.

Appropriated on Dec. 21, the 2010 water rights, if realized, may give Grand County traction with future water cases affecting the Fraser and Colorado Rivers, according to county officials.

A recreational in-channel diversion allows for a call in a certain place and time for the benefit of “boating, rafting, kayaking, tubing, floating, canoeing, paddling, and all other non-motorized recreational uses” as “part of (the county’s) ongoing effort to improve water-based recreational and economic opportunities for its citizens and the general public,” states the water rights application.

The “byproduct” would be allowing Grand County to be “in the conversation” when it comes to decisions about future river uses, according to Grand County Commissioner James Newberry.

But the process of securing water rights can take years.

“At this point in time, it’s an idea, a concept,” said Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner. “It’s a slow, cumbersome, arduous journey.”

Objectors to the Division 5 conditional water rights filing in Garfield County’s 9th Judicial District Court, Glenwood Springs, have until the end of February to oppose the application. Town boards and rights holders from Kremmling to Winter Park are considering opposing the filing as a means to join the case to ensure their water interests are protected – in some cases, a position of objection could be viewed as “friendly opposition,” and in others, genuine opposition.

In response to the opposition after Feb. 28, the county may take part in the process of “alleviating concerns before going to water court,” Bumgarner said.

Upon the possible confirmation of conditional water rights, county officials would consider sites where rock structures could be built to enhance the high-water kayaking and rafting experience, and where water flows would be measured.

Grand County’s application for conditional rights names a Hot Sulphur Springs Whitewater Park in Pioneer Park near the town, with no rights at flows above 900 cubic feet per second (cfs), and a Gore Canyon Whitewater Park in two locations, one above and one below Pumphouse recreation area west of Kremmling, with no rights at flows above 2,500 cfs.

One or more of these sites could be the source of calls for recreation water in the river from the headwaters of the Colorado and in the length of the Fraser River.

If Pumphouse were ever in priority, it could mean the protection of water for rafting and kayaking through to the county border during runoff times of the year, according to Bumgarner.

A rancher near Kremmling, Bumgarner declined to comment about whether he views the county’s filing as potentially injurious to his own water interests.

The county’s 2010 water right would be junior to existing rights and may only influence future development and diversions on the river, he said.

Whitewater groups and Great Outdoors Colorado have been identified as potential partners in helping to pay for secured rights, which further along, could cost the county in the ballpark of $1 million, Bumgarner said.

Besides owning shares in the Vail Ditch, which directs water from the Meadow Creek Reservoir at about 10,000 feet in elevation to irrigation systems on the Granby mesa, the Colorado River water recreational rights would be a first for Grand County government.

The county’s application is under review by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

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