Department of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Interior: John Wright, 202-208-6416
For Immediate Release: April 2, 2003
Colorado: Dawn Taylor, 303-866-3135

Interior Department Announces Major Agreement
for Gunnison River Water in Colorado

DENVER -- The Interior Department announced today that an agreement has been reached with the State of Colorado on a long-standing dispute involving management of water from the Gunnison River that flows through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The agreement in principle was announced during a signing ceremony with Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation John Keys, Deputy Director of the National Park Service Randy Jones, Director of Colorado's Department of Natural Resources, Greg Walcher and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.

When implemented by the Colorado water court, the agreement worked out between the Interior Department's National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of Colorado will resolve a water rights dispute that has persisted for decades. The two governments believe that the today's agreement demonstrates how the federal government and the state, working together in a cooperative manner, can properly manage and protect the nation's natural resources, including parks and monuments.

Under the agreement, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has reserved water right under federal law and also water rights under Colorado law for flood flows that occur during the spring months in wet years. The agreement establishes a reserved right for base flows of 300 cubic feet per second at the park in order to maintain the flow of water through the canyon. The agreement also provides that the park has a water right under Colorado law for the flood flows that scour the canyon to prevent buildup of sediment and vegetation. The park's right for the flood flows is subject only to rights that have already been acquired either by the federal government or by private and public water users under Colorado law.

"This combination of federal right and state right provides excellent protection for the park," Jones said. "We are especially appreciative of the excellent cooperation we have received from the State of Colorado."

The federal government is not claiming a right to these flood flows under federal law; instead, it is claiming the right to the flood flows in accordance with Colorado laws and in consultation with and subject to approval by Colorado water rights authorities.

"This agreement is great for Interior, great for the park, great for the farmers and great for the people of Colorado," Keys said. "It's an excellent example of Secretary Norton's 'Four C's" at work to serve the interest of all the people." The Four C's are consultation, cooperation and communication- all in the service of conservation.

The agreement also requires the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to meet annually in
the spring to make estimates about the amount of water that is expected to flow through the Gunnison during the year. BOR will then operate the Aspinall Unit in a way that allows the park to obtain the flushing flows according to established schedules.

"This settlement brings with it the end of a generation-old dispute and a new era of cooperation with the federal government that results in real environmental benefits," said Walcher. "Spending millions on litigation is not the way to protect water rights and the environment, and we commend Secretary Gale Norton and the U.S. Department of Interior for working with us on this innovative approach."

During the 1950s, Congress enacted the Colorado River Storage Project Act, which provides for the development of much of Colorado's water supply. One of the main features of CRSPA is the Aspinall Unit (named after former Colorado Congressman Wayne Aspinall), which stores water on the Gunnison River above Black Canyon. The Aspinall Unit stores water for agricultural, municipal, industrial and power needs and also for preservation of fish and wildlife. The water stored by the Aspinall Unit would otherwise flow through the Black Canyon. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Aspinall Unit, expects to expand the project sometime in the future to make project water available for Colorado's future growth needs.

The 30,000-acre Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located about 250 miles southwest of Denver. It was designated a national monument by President Herbert Hoover on
March 2, 1933, and upgraded to national park status by Congress on Oct. 21, 1999. The park is named for the Cambrian rock walls carved by the Gunnison River more than 2 million years ago.
Within the park boundary 15,180 acres have been designated as wilderness by Congress. The wilderness comprises the inner canyon and most of the western uplands.

Related Press Release from the State of Colorado


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