Dear Governor Ritter
The Board of Directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District just concluded a two-day meeting during which directors expressed extreme disappointment and frustration with the State of Colorado’s recent legal filing that unilaterally throws a wrench into the Black Canyon National Monument reserved water rights case. By unanimous vote, the River District protests the state’s recent objection to stipulations reached with Gunnison basin ranchers and other area water users that protect historical water use and companion Colorado water rights. These agreements were cooperatively negotiated and mutually agreed to by the federal government, area water users, the State of Colorado, and other parties to the case. The state was substantively involved in the drafting of these stipulations and its attorney agreed to the language of the final stipulations. At the state’s insistence, language was added to the stipulations specifically addressing the concerns now being raised by the state. The River District feels betrayed by this recent state action, as do other Gunnison area ranchers and water users. In numerous venues, public and private, the state has agreed with the Colorado River District and others that the first priority in defending against the U.S.’s claims for the Black Canyon case must be protection of existing water uses. Last week’s filing is contrary to the last six years of cooperation and common cause between the state and water users regarding this contentious water case. Further, this action is so contrary to previous state policy positions and cooperative agreements that it jeopardizes many other important water negotiations to which the state is a principal party. I cannot stress strongly enough the Colorado River District’s feeling that the state’s objection to these stipulations is a serious breach of trust with implications critical to this case and beyond.The federal government’s water court filing in January 2001 to quantify the government’s reserved water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison resulted in a record number of water court objectors, mostly individual water users, including virtually all Gunnison basin irrigators. These stipulations with area water users address local concerns, protect existing water users, and will allow hundreds of objectors to exit the case, resulting in a better opportunity for eventual case settlement.More than 20 of these stipulations have been signed and adopted by the water court hearing this case. Another 84 stipulations are pending court approval. These stipulations are also legally consistent with the 2000 “Aspinall Subordination Agreement” that the state signed, protecting present and future upper Gunnison basin water users from a call from the senior, federal Blue Mesa Reservoir. Moreover, these stipulations protect the 2,400 water rights (primarily individual wells) covered by the Aspinall Subordination Agreement from the even more senior Black Canyon water right.I would be happy to discuss our concerns with you further and look forward to the rebuilding the lines of communications, relationships, and trust which we feel have been so badly damaged by this ill-advised action.
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