Court voids agreements on Gunnison River water in Black Canyon
September 14, 2006
DENVER ” Agreements between the federal government and Colorado that environmentalists said could have harmed fish and other wildlife dependent on the water flowing though the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park have been thrown out by a federal judge.
Environmentalists argued in a lawsuit that the Gunnison River flowing through the spectacular gorges of the 14-mile long park needed both a minimum and a peak flow in order to maintain its ecosystem.
Agreements reached by the Interior Department and the state in 2003 established a minimum flow for the river through the park, but said peak flows above that could be diverted to other uses, such as to farming.
State and federal officials said they would protect the park and preserve the river for other uses.
However, the agreement meant the government surrendered its senior water right, established in 1933 when the canyon was deemed a national monument, and allowed the river to be diverted by farmers, ranchers, cities and utilities.
In his 32-page ruling released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer wrote that giving up the canyon’s older water rights was “nonsensical” and disagreed with the government’s argument.
“The agreements were not to ensure the protection of the canyon because the Black Canyon was already protected,” Brimmer wrote.