Ditch company agrees to pay $9 million for damage in Rocky Mountain National Park
May 6, 2008
A federal lawsuit concerning damage that occurred five years ago to the watershed on the Grand Lake side of Rocky Mountain National Park has been settled.
The Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) of Fort Collins, a mutual ditch company and the owner and operator of the Grand River Ditch, has agreed to pay $9 million for damages to natural resources within the Park, caused by a 2003 breach of the Grand River Ditch, the Justice Department and National Park Service announced yesterday.
“We’re happy with this settlement,” said Superintendent Vaughn Baker of Rocky Mountain National Park. “Our goal, all along, has been to restore park resources that were damaged by the breach. Now we can start.”
Settlement proceeds will be used to restore areas in the Park that were damaged by the breach. This is the largest natural resource damages payment in the history of the Park System Resource Protection Act. The Act is a 100-year old stipulation in which WSSC promised to pay for any damages caused by the Grand River Ditch when it was built to transfer water from Grand County to the Front Range.
The water diversion ditch ” 14 miles long, 17 feet wide and 5 feet deep ” is carved into the slopes of the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1,000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley. At an altitude of 10,175 feet, the ditch captures snow melt from the east side of the Never Summer Range and diverts it over the Continental Divide at La Poudre Pass to the Long Draw Reservoir.
“This settlement will allow the restoration of critical habitat within Rocky Mountain National Park and protection of the essential headwaters of the Colorado River,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This important settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting national park system resources.”
On May 30, 2003, the Grand River Ditch breached about two miles south of La Poudre Pass within the boundaries of the Park. More than 100 cubic feet per second of water flowed through the breach, causing extensive damage to park resources.
From the rush of water, the mountainside beneath the breach was largely obliterated. The erosive power of water, rock and mud caused significant damage to an old growth spruce and fir forest, Lulu Creek, the upper Colorado River, and filled the Lulu City (abandoned mining settlement) wetlands with sediment.
As a result, trails and campsites near the upper Colorado River watershed were not repaired until water levels receded.
The breach occurred at a time when the Colorado River was experiencing typical high water levels adding additional stress to downstream road and foot bridges.
“This settlement will benefit one of Colorado’s crown jewels, Rocky Mountain National Park, for generations to come,” said Troy Eid , U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.