Grand County has every reason to unite behind instream flow bill
Monday, Feb. 25, 2008, may one day be remembered as an important date in the annals of Colorado water law.
It’s the day HB08-1280 was passed by the Colorado House of Representatives.
Clearing the lower chamber is an important step forward for legislation that represents a sea change in how Colorado treats and views water.
In a nutshell, what HB 1280 would do is make donating or leasing a water right for the sole purpose of enhancing instream flows a “beneficial use.” And that, in turn, means that water rights owners who make a decision to use their water in this manner no longer need fear losing their water right under the “use it or lose it” components of existing Colorado water law.
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Given the current state of water appropriations and diversions in Colorado, it’s as clear as a free-flowing mountain stream that the state’s definitions for beneficial uses of water are in need of updating. And nowhere is that more apparent than places such as Grand County, where significant portions of headwaters are diverted to other basins.
Back in the day, it was a given that the the Colorado water establishment was against letting a water right flow to California without first diverting it for another use. But times change, and so should the law.
Towns such as Winter Park and Fraser, and dozens of others across the West Slope, depend on having sufficient quantity and quality of water.
Front Range diversions can make that an iffy proposition in dry years.
Increased streamflows generally assure higher water quality as impurities are diluted, which makes it easier and less expensive for towns to treat water for municipal use.
That strikes us as a water use “beneficial to mankind.”
If you disagree, try telling a fly fishing outfitter or a whitewater rafting company operator that enhancing instream flows isn’t a legitimate and beneficial use of water. In addition, the livelihoods of thousands of Colorado families depend on streamflows sufficient to ensure the health of fisheries and recreational uses such as rafting and wildlife viewing.
Yet, without HB 1280 or a similar change in the law, allowing a water right to stay instream puts that water right in legal jeopardy.
And never mind the fact that enhancing instream flows helps ensure the health of riparian ecosystems so future generations can enjoy all the beauty this state has to offer.
Is that a beneficial use?
Of course it is.
But it is not a “use” enshrined in current law, and there are powerful interests who
would just as soon see that it never is.
It’s encouraging that this legislation survived its journey through the House. That in itself is no small feat. Kudos to the local citizens and officials involved in the effort.
This bill’s journey now becomes even more perilous as it heads to the state Senate, which has often served as the killing field for sensible water legislation.
Vigilance and the unflagging efforts of our lawmakers will be required. Citizens can help as well by letting lawmakers know they support the bill. And a little luck wouldn’t hurt, either.
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