||Contact: Dawn Taylor|
| : March 31,
SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT REACHED ON
DENVER - The State of Colorado announced today a historic agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior to settle what is believed to be the most controversial water court case in Colorado history. Greg Walcher, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, signed the agreement on behalf of the state, along with Commissioner John Keys of the Bureau of Reclamation, Randy Jones of the National Park Service, and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.
"This settlement brings an end to a generation-old dispute and ushers in 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."
Over 383 parties - including the State of Colorado - had gone to court to oppose a National Park Service (NPS) reserved water right claim to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The filing was to quantify a reserved water right awarded to the NPS in water court more than twenty years ago (but never quantified). After Colorado's repeated requests to work with the State on the issue were denied, the NPS filed for quantification on the last day of the Clinton Administration. The filing was structured in a way that could have created drought-like conditions in the Gunnison during some times, and devastating floods at others.
Thousands of West Slope water rights (3,500 water rights upstream of the reservoirs and 3,350 water rights downstream and below the reservoirs), gold medal trout water, power production, irrigation, and recreation could have been seriously impacted. The quantification even raised dam safety issues and the potential of flooding downstream in the Town of Delta.
Under the terms of the settlement, the NPS will receive a 300 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) reserved water right with a priority date of 1933 (when the park was created). But instead of new federal rights, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will file for instream flow rights to peaking flows when there is sufficient water in the basin, in accordance with Colorado water law. These flows will occur an estimated one of every three years and will accomplish a myriad of environmental benefits.
They will be released with the cooperation of the NPS, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the CWCB and water providers in the basin. More detail on how the flows will be administered and protected in collaboration with the Department of Interior will be worked out within the next 120 days.
"This is precedent setting agreement and it demonstrates what we can do when we work together in a collaborative manner," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "The Interior Department places a high premium on acknowledging and respecting the role of states in helping us to properly manage and protect the nation's natural resources."
The historic agreement is thought to be the first time that water rights to satisfy federal objectives are to be filed and protected by state governments, under state water law. In exchange for that agreement by the federal agencies to work through state law, Colorado agreed to a provision guaranteeing that the law will be enforced, giving the National Park Service the certainty it needed.