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Colorado Legislature may take sides in Forest Service-ski industry water rights showdown

Interim committee of Colorado lawmakers to grapple with several water-related bills this week.

Interim review committee to discuss several water measures this week

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado lawmakers may weigh in on a dispute between the ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service with a resolution opposing the federal agency’s efforts to protect publicly owned water rights originating on national forest lands.

The proposed resolution, under review by an interim legislative committee, would oppose a new Forest Service water rights clause in ski area special use permits that would bar resorts from transferring certain water rights to third  parties.

The Forest Service clause also requires ski areas to transfer certain water rights to the United States or to subsequent special permit use holders if a permit is terminated.

The measure is one of several water bills on the agenda during a session of the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The bills will be discussed by lawmakers Thursday (Sept. 27) morning, with public testimony in the afternoon. The session will be streamed on the web. Go to this Colorado Legislature website and click on the House Committee 0112 link. Continue reading

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Short-term water lease to boost Colorado River flows

The headwaters of the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Colorado Water Trust breaks new ground with first direct-flow lease

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even after wet winters, the Upper Colorado River can run perilously low in late summer and fall due to numerous diversions, and in this drought year, high demand threatens the state’s namesake river even more.

But thanks to a deal brokered by the Colorado Water Trust and sanctioned by the State Engineer’s Office, the Colorado will get a measure of relief. Some “extra” water historically used for irrigation will help boost flows in some critical reaches of the Colorado. Continue reading

Proposed river access bill getting mixed reviews

PHOTO VIA CREATIVE COMMONS. A bill aimed at resolving some conflicts between river-side landowners and commercial rafting companies is drawing criticism from non-commercial boaters and anglers.

New state measure is bad public policy and could hurt  non-commercial boating and fishing interests, says the director of CU’s Natural Resources Law Center

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some non-commercial kayakers, rafters and anglers around Colorado are rallying to change a proposed state law on river access, claiming the measure benefits commercial operations at the expense of private river users.

And they’re getting some legal backing from Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado’s School of Law.

“I just think as a matter of public policy it’s inappropriate,” said Squillace, who testified about the bill during a Feb. 8 hearing. “You’re dividing people into two classes. Those who can pay (for a commercial raft trip) and those who can’t or prefer not to … The implication of the law is that everybody else lacks the same rights that the commercial outfits have, he said.

Other non-commercial boaters support the measure, saying it’s a step in the right direction for the greater “right-to-float” movement.

House Bill 1188 would protect commercial river running operations from trespassing charges on Colorado waterways with historic commercial use. The bill was passed by the Colorado House Judiciary Committee this week and could be headed for a floor vote next week. Colorado water law gives boaters and anglers the right to float down streams and rivers, but if they touch bottom or the riverbank, they are technically trespassing.

Follow the bill here.


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Soothing the waters?

Commercial rafting companies in Colorado are supporting a state law that would ensure consistent access to rivers. PHOTO COURTEST KODI RAFTING.

A potential bill being discussed by state lawmakers could help ease conflicts between commercial rafting companies and fishing guides and private landowners along the state’s rivers, but as written, the measure does nothing to address similar concerns voiced by private boaters and anglers.

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the bills being discussed as the State Legislature ramps for its session could ease conflicts between licensed rafting companies and fishing guides and private landowners along Colorado Rivers.

Summit County’s State Rep. Christine Scanlan has been mentioned as a co-sponsor of the bill.

Under Colorado Water law, boaters have the right to float along a stream, but if they touch the bottom of the river or the banks of stream where it passed through private land, they are technically trespassing.

Under that law, some private land owners have sought to hinder river access. In some cases, those conflicts have threatened the existence of long-established businesses by preventing them from operating on certain rivers, said owner Christian “Campy” Campton, owner of Frisco-based Kodi Rafting.

He characterized the bill as a job-protection measure aimed at protecting the state’s economically important rafting industry, worth about $140 million in 2008.

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