DENVER — The Colorado Water Conservation Board on Monday unanimously ruled in favor of Pitkin County’s effort to create a new water right for a kayak park in Basalt on the Roaring Fork River.
“It’s a critical step in the process,” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely after the hearing, held at the Hyatt hotel in the Denver Tech Center. “It’s moving in the right direction.”
The CWCB is required by state law to determine if a proposed recreational in-channel diversion, or “RICD,” meets certain requirements. Having found that the county’s proposed water right for the Basalt kayak park passes the test, its written finding will now be sent to District 5 water court, which is reviewing the county’s water right application.
If the water court ultimately issues a decree for the new in-channel water right, it will form the basis of what will be known as the “Pitkin County River Park.”
The kayak park will include two surf waves created by placing two rock structures in the Roaring Fork River. The waves are designed to be accessible for beginner and intermediate kayakers, and would be rated at “green” and “blue” levels of difficulty, akin to the rating of ski trails.
The section of river is just below the Basalt bypass bridge on Highway 82 and above the confluence of the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers near downtown Basalt.
The project also includes work on the riverbank along Two Rivers Road between Fisherman’s Park and the entrance to Elk Run, to make it more accessible for both boaters and anglers. The county owns land along the river near Fisherman’s Park.
If the water right is decreed as presently configured, it would allow the county to call for differing levels of water to be sent down the Roaring Fork River to the Basalt kayak park.
From April 15 to May 17, the county could call for 240 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to flow through the park. By comparison, the Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek has been flowing at about 100 cfs in January.
Then, from May 18 to June 10, the county could call for 380 cfs. And during peak runoff, from June 11 to June 25, it could call for 1,350 cfs of water to flow through the kayak park and create the biggest surf waves of the season.
After June 25, the water right steps back down to 380 cfs until Aug. 20, and then back to 240 cfs until Labor Day.
The new water right would be “non-consumptive,” meaning the water would stay in the river and not be diverted for a “consumptive” use, such as irrigation.
The county applied for the new water right in water court in December 2010. If it is approved, the water right would have an appropriation date of 2010, making it a “junior” water right, compared to “senior” water rights dating back to the early 1900s or late 1880s, as many water rights in the region do.
As part of the water court process, the county has negotiated settlement agreements with over a dozen other water rights holders in the Roaring Fork River basin. As such, the scope of the county’s proposed water right has been narrowed.
For example, the length of the season when the new water right would be in effect was reduced by 25 days to a period between April 15 and Labor Day, and the county can only call for water from upstream junior water rights holders to flow through the park during daylight hours.
And the county agreed to a “carve out” provision that allows up to 3,000 acre-feet of new water rights to be developed upstream of the kayak park over the next 15 years, without being subject to the local government’s new water right.
Those provisions, and others, were enough to convince the CWCB board on Monday to rule in favor of the in-channel diversion water right.
There is, however, still one party objecting to the water right in state water court, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
Twin Lakes diverts about 50,000 acre-feet of water each year off the top of the Roaring Fork river basin, primarily for municipal use in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West and Aurora.
Twin Lakes is concerned the water right for the kayak park will limit its ability to develop other new water rights in the Roaring Fork River basin in the future.
However, at the CWCB meeting, the water attorney for Twin Lakes sounded OK with new language approved by the board that was designed to address Twin Lakes’ concerns.
“It sounded positive,” Ely said of Twin Lakes’ evolving position. “They have to go back to their board, and so, we’ll see.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. This story was published by the Daily News on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014