Department Of Interior
|Office of the Secretary
Contact: Hugh Vickery
|For Immediate Release:November 19, 2003
Norton Commends Colorado Water Conservation Board
For Approval of Innovative Agreement on Gunnison River
Interior Secretary Gale Norton today commended the Colorado Water Conservation Board for voting to move forward with an innovative cooperative agreement between the Interior Department and the state of Colorado that will resolve the tangled water issues on the Gunnison River while providing water flows needed by Black Canyon National Park.
"The board's decision
is a crucial step in resolving a decades-old dispute, providing water
for both the park and for upstream communities," Norton said. "More
important, it serves as a model for how we can resolve contentious and
unproductive water disputes throughout the West through cooperation
and partnership rather than acrimony and litigation with states."
The agreement provides a
minimum of 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water and periodic spring
rises necessary to scour the canyon and remove buildup of sediment and
vegetation. This conforms to a plan worked out by the National Park
Service, which manages the park, the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages
the federal reclamation project on the river, and the state of Colorado.
On average under the agreement,
more than 500,000 acre-feet of water will flow through the canyon annually,
or enough water to meet the needs of more than a half million families
for one year. In extremely wet years, more than 1 million acre feet
will pass through the canyon.
"While water issues
vary and one size does not fit all, we hope that this will be the first
of many agreements across the West to resolve long-standing water rights
disputes involving federal lands," Norton said. "We want to
bring states that are directly affected by the federal government's
claim of water rights into the process."
Assistant Secretary of the
Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson told the board
at a hearing today that each spring the Bureau of Reclamation will hold
a meeting with the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service,
the State of Colorado, water users, environmental interests, and the
public to discuss the upcoming water year and how to develop a hydrograph
for the peak flows to be released in the park.
"Through this process,
the Park Service, the state, environmental organizations and the public
will have a say in how the instream flow right is administered,"
Over the past three decades,
the Gunnison, like many Western rivers, has been the subject of a dispute
centered on how much water the federal government has a right to as
"reserve" water. States have opposed these federal claims,
since large federal rights can disrupt state systems for allocating
water. Courts have ruled that the federal right to water exists but
have seldom clearly identified how much water the federal government
owns in places like Black Canyon.
Rather than focusing on the federal "reserve," the department decided to seek a solution under state water law, Manson said. "Instead of leaving it up to the lawyers and the court system, our vision involves communication, consultation, and cooperation with the state, affected water users and landowners," Manson told the board. "It involves the federal government not asking how much is available but asking how much we truly need."
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