Here’s the release from email from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):
Trout Unlimited announced today that it has reached settlement in principle with the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the San Juan Water Conservancy District in long-running litigation on the districts’ claims for water rights for the so-called Dry Gulch Reservoir and Pumping Station project near Pagosa Springs. The settlement, which still needs to be written into a decree and approved by District Court Judge Gregory G. Lyman, sets significant limits on the amount of water the districts can divert from the San Juan River for the proposed project.
The settlement represents a dramatic downscaling of the Dry Gulch project. In 2004, the districts filed an application with the district court in Durango for water rights they claimed to need to serve future population growth in Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County. The districts claimed storage rights of 35,000 acre-feet in Dry Gulch Reservoir, a refill right for the reservoir of 35,000 acre-feet, and the right to divert 180 cubic feet of water per second from the San Juan River.
Under their original application, the water districts could have diverted as much as 128,400 acre-feet of water per year from the San Juan. Under terms of the settlement, the utilities can take no more than 11,000 acre-feet from the San Juan River in any one year and no more than 9,300 acre-feet per year on a 10-year rolling average.
Moreover, the districts are prohibited from diverting water if doing so will cause flows in the San Juan River to drop below minimum flow thresholds designed to protect fish and the environment. These flow thresholds are double the amount of the existing Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water rights.
“This is a victory for the San Juan River,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “The original application could have been devastating to fish habitat and the river ecosystem, but now we have a settlement that balances the districts’ need for water with the health of the San Juan.”
In 2006, TU appealed the decision of the district court awarding the utilities’ 2004 water rights application. Citing concerns that the districts were speculating in water and claiming more water than they needed, in 2007 the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the water court decision and remanded the case. In so doing, the Supreme Court established new, stricter standards for public utilities claiming water rights for future population growth.
In 2008, the district court issued another decree awarding the utilities water rights for a 25,000 acre-foot reservoir and diversions of 150 cfs. Trout Unlimited appealed to the Supreme Court again, arguing that the revised water rights were still speculative and not consistent with credible future water demand projections.
In November 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with TU, again reversing the water court decision. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier ruling that public utilities must base the size of their water rights on credible evidence of future water needs.
“The settlement underscores that municipal water projects must be based on well-founded, substantiated data about future growth and water needs,” Peternell said. “In a time of water scarcity, Colorado must embrace water solutions that meet a range of needs, including municipal growth, agriculture and wildlife and recreation. No water user can take more than its fair share.”
Here’s Part One of Bill Hudson’s series Dry Gulch gets a little dryer running in the Pagosa Daily Post. From the article:
Evan Ela had been representing both PAWSD and SJWCD since 2004 in their joint attempt to secure new water rights sufficient to fill that crucially necessary 35,000 acre-foot reservoir. That water rights application was approved by Durango judge Greg Lyman, but was then challenged by national fishing organization Trout Unlimited — twice. Both Trout Unlimited challenges were essentially upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, sending the case back to judge Lyman for further hearings.
Over the past year, PAWSD, SJWCD and Trout Unlimited have been engaged in settlement discussions.
The essential question was this: Would PAWSD and SJWCD be willing to reduce the size of the requested new water rights — and as a result, reduce the size of the Dry Gulch Reservoir — in order to help preserve a free-flowing, wildlife-supporting San Juan River?
One year ago, I would not have expected either the PAWSD board or the SJWCD board to even consider backing down on their requested water rights. But over the past year, a couple of significant changes occurred on the PAWSD board. New directors Roy Vega and Allan Bunch joined that board — and then WSCWG member Jan Clinkenbeard was appointed to a seat left vacant by resigning member Bob Huff. Those changes created a completely new majority on the PAWSD board.
Meanwhile, the SJWCD board also saw a couple of changes to its nine member board, as three resignations led to new members Pat Ullrich, Larry Ash, and Diane Bower being added to the board.
And maybe, everybody was just tired of arguing about Court Case 04CW85.
More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here and here.