Governor Owens signs kayak park bill this week
SUMMIT COUNTY – The State Legislature passed a contested kayak park water rights bill during the final days of the session. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Bill Owens, added a degree of legitimacy to the administration of recreational water rights, known formally as recreational in-channel diversions (RICDs).For the purposes of administering those rights, the bill defines a reasonable recreational experience as “non-motorized boating,” which presumably includes rafting and kayaking. At stake is the ability of towns to claim water rights for whitewater play areas, where man-made structures require a certain flow in the river. The fundamental right to such flows was established by a Colorado Supreme Court decision several years ago, but agricultural and municipal water users sought to limit the amount of in-channel stream flows that can be claimed.Some stakeholders said the recreational water rights could be used to limit downstream development, County Commissioner Tom Long said, adding that he has supported the right to claim in-channel diversions for boating, based on the interests of his constituents here in Summit County.Lawmakers and interest groups negotiated the bill throughout the legislative session, finally coming up with some language acceptable to everyone, said Shanna Koenig, co-director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s Water Quality and Quantity group (QQ).Some of the restrictive language that, according to critics, could have deferred “second-class” status on RICD claims was removed, including a 90-percent provision that would have limited the ability to claim recreational flows based on historic stream flow averages.Another clause that would have let water judges review the recreational water rights for years after the formal decree was also removed, Koenig said. Instead, lawmakers adopted language limiting recreational claims to not more than 50 percent of the “sum of historical volume of water where the RICD is located.” That means a community interested in building a whitewater park can’t claim more than half the water in the stream. The restriction would probably apply mostly to small streams, where recreational boating may be marginal to begin with, according to Koenig.Another water bill passed by the State Legislature appropriates up to $10 million from the oil and gas severance tax trust fund for water studies. Breckenridge could, for example, apply for some of this money to do studies for a proposed new reservoir, Koenig explained.Any study or project would have to be approved by a Basin roundtable, and if the projects involves a trans-basin diversion, the basin of origin must also approve. That means if a Front Range water provider wants to study the feasibility of a new pipeline from the West Slope, the basin where the water would come from must also buy into the project.Koenig said that basin-of-origin protection language was key to getting the bill passed. The measure applies to competitive grants for environmental compliance and feasibility studies; technical assistance for permitting both structural and non-structural projects.Another $250,000 was allocated for the study of underground water storage in the South Platte and Arkansas basins.Lawmakers also passed a bill that more precisely defines the right of farmers to lease parts of their agricultural water to cities by spelling out their ability to rotate crops and fallow parts of their acreage.Several other water bills were put on hold but may be taken up my the State Legislature’s interim water committee, according to Koenig. Those include a measure that would have upped fines for water quality violations from $10,000 to $25,000 per day, as well as a bill that would give water judges the ability add conditions to water rights to address water quality impacts.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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