State water board rules against Glenwood’s proposed whitewater rights — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver

Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River
Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

IGNACIO — The ongoing effort by the city of Glenwood Springs to establish a new water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River was dealt a setback Thursday by the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB board voted 8-to-1 to adopt staff “findings of fact” that the proposed water rights for a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, and a nonvoting board member, was asked after the meeting what he would tell a kayaker in Glenwood about the board’s vote on Thursday.

“These are complicated issues,” Eklund said. “The CWCB values recreational water projects and takes very seriously its charge to strike a balance among recreational, environmental and consumptive uses. The proponent’s data and analysis weren’t able to demonstrate that the RICD as proposed struck this balance to the satisfaction of the CWCB.”

The CWCB board is required by state law to review all applications made in water courts for new recreational water rights, and to make a determination if the water right would prevent the state from developing all the water it legally can.

Colorado’s “compact entitlements” stem from the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires seven Western states to share water from the larger Colorado River basin.

The compact requires that an unspecified amount of water be divided between Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and estimates of the amount of water Colorado can still develop under the compact range from zero to 400,000 acre-feet to 1.5 million acre-feet.

Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood, told the CWCB board members Thursday that there would be “no material impairment” to the state’s ability to develop new water supplies.

“If the issue really is what’s the additional upstream development potential, we would point out that significant upstream development can still occur,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said that the recreational water right would be non-consumptive, meaning the water would stay in the river and simply flow over u-shaped, wave-producing concrete forms embedded into the riverbed.

Glenwood is seeking the right to call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water to be delivered to three whitewater parks at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers Park, from April 1 to Sept. 30.

It also wants the right to call for 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days between April 30 and July 23, and to call for 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between May 11 and July 6 in order to host a whitewater competition.

Aurora and Colorado Springs, together as partners in the Homestake transmountain diversion project, are opposing Glenwood’s water rights application, which was filed in December 2013.

“We do not oppose reasonable RICDs, but we believe this RICD claim is extraordinary by any measure,” Joseph Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for the city of Aurora, told the CWCB board, which was meeting in Ignacio on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

“We believe that a water claim of over 581,000 acre feet will seriously impair full development of Colorado’s compact entitlement,” Stibrich said. “This claim will severely impact the state of Colorado’s ability to meet its future water needs.”

Stibrich also said “this RICD is going to shift the burden of water supply development to meet the future needs of the state to the Yampa, to the Gunnison, and to the Rio Grande basins, while promoting further dry-up of irrigated lands throughout the state.”

Denver Water is also opposing Glenwood’s water rights application.

As part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a RICD application from Glenwood, but only if Glenwood did not seek a flow greater than 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same size as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant.

Casey Funk, an attorney with Denver Water, said the utility stands by its agreement, but since Glenwood has asked for more than 1,250 cfs, it is opposing the city’s water court application. However, Funk said Denver Water is willing to keep negotiating with Glenwood.

The city made the case on Thursday that it was asking for more than 1,250 cfs on only 46 days between April and September, and it was doing so because the stretch of the Colorado from Grizzly to Two Rivers Park was more fun to float at 2,500 cfs than 1,250 cfs.

According to testimony Thursday, Glenwood also offered to include a “carve-out” in its water right to allow for 20,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted, stored and transported upstream of the proposed whitewater parks at some point in the future.

But that did not do much to sway the concerns of the CWCB staff.

“Staff is concerned with this provision, as it does not include water rights for transmountain diversions,” stated a July 15 memo to the CWCB board from Ted Kowalski and Suzanne Sellers of the CWCB’s Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section.

The CWCB staff memo also found that Glenwood’s recreational water rights would “exacerbate the call on the river and materially impact the ability of the state to fully use its compact entitlements because the RICDs will pull a substantial amount of water downstream.”

Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, suggested the CWCB board give the parties in the case more time to continue negotiating before it ruled on its staffs’ findings.

The River District, which is also a party to Glenwood’s water court case, represents 15 counties on the Western Slope.

“We think that compact issues are effectively done,” Fleming told the board about Glenwood’s application. “We believe there is sufficient water above the RICD to develop.”

But the CWCB board did not take Fleming’s suggestion, and after relatively little debate and discussion, a motion was made to accept the staff’s findings that Glenwood’s RICD failed two of the three criteria the CWCB board was supposed to rule on.

“I think it is really unfortunate that the board took the approach they did,” said Nathan Fey, the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, after the board’s decision against Glenwood.

American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates are both parties in the water court case, and they are supporting Glenwood’s application.

“It is unclear what evidence the staff presented that shows it is of material impairment to developing our water, or maximizing use of the state’s water,” Fey said. “Those are significant concerns, but I don’t think the state made a very strong case on those points. And it sounds like we would prefer to see another transmountain diversion and some future use on the Front Range, rather than protect the current river uses we have in our communities, like Glenwood Springs, now.”

The board’s finding will now be sent to the Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, where the city filed its water rights application and the process is still unfolding.

And while the CWCB board’s determination is not binding on a water court judge, it has to be considered by the court as part of the ongoing case.

But Hamilton, Glenwood’s attorney, said after the meeting that the court would also need to consider additional balancing information presented by Glenwood.

It could be an uphill journey for Glenwood, though, as the CWCB staff has also been directed by the CWCB board to remain a party in the water court case and to defend its “findings of fact,” which includes more issues than were considered by the CWCB on Thursday.

Given the board’s vote on Thursday, Stibrich of Aurora said settlement discussions with Glenwood Springs are now likely.

“I’m certain they will make overtures to us and we’ll talk,” Stibrich said. “We’ll see if something can be reached or not.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story online on July 16, 2015.

More whitewater coverage here.

City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism
City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism

Gore Canyon park dedication floats whitewater enthusiasts’ boats — the Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Upper Colorado Gore Canyon whitewater park

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Marissa Lorenz):

More than 100 people gathered at the Pumphouse Recreation area south of Kremmling on Monday, July 13, for the official ribbon-cutting of the newly opened Gore Canyon Whitewater Park.

The park, completed in March, consists of a man-made underwater structure that creates a series of waves stretching across the Upper Colorado River. The resulting “park and play” area offers a space for kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and other whitewater enthusiasts to cycle through the waves repeatedly or to continue downstream.

It is the fruition of a five-month-long construction project, designed by Jason Carey of RiverRestoration and built by Bryan Kissner and Kissner Construction. And Monday was an idyllic day to revel in its completion…

However, the whitewater park is merely the physical manifestation of a five-year collaborative effort for legal water rights, fishery protection, and increased recognition and value for non-consumptive water uses in Colorado and the American West.

And it was as much, if not more, the commemoration of this less tangible victory that brought commissioners from Grand, Eagle, and Summit counties together with other invested government employees, water conservationists, water advocates, water planners, water engineers, water attorneys, water recreators, and every other sort of water lover to both celebrate and experience first-hand the success of the Gore Canyon Recreational In-Channel Diversion.

Grand County has been the project lead since its inception in 2010. With support from Commissioners Merrit Linke, James Newberry and then-Commissioner Gary Bumgarner, the county would navigate practical, legal, and funding hurdles. They would be the primary donor, with government and citizens giving over $600,000 toward the $1.7 million project.

It was fitting then that Linke would preside over Monday’s ceremony, introducing and expressing gratitude to the project’s many partners. Recognized were fellow funders from Eagle County ($349,000), the Colorado Basin Roundtable ($100,000), Colorado Department of Local Affairs ($200,000), and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($400,000). Other essential supporters such as Summit County, Denver Water, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and American Whitewater were introduced and appreciated…

“Government timelines are like geologic time,” joked Linke, “and this was like lightning speed.”

“The times they are a changin’,” quoted April Montgomery of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, whose $400,000 contribution to the project was their first to be granted to a recreational water right. She praised the project as courageous and said, “It’s exciting to be on-board at a time when recreational water rights are being recognized and valued on par with traditional consumptive rights, such as for agriculture and industry.”[…]

Nathan Fey of American Whitewater, a stakeholder in the Upper Colorado Wild and Scenic River designation and management efforts, explained that the project was praiseworthy for its ability to create a new water feature with a very small ecological footprint.

“Because of the existing recreation area, the park and observation deck do not conflict with the existing uses and can fill a niche for a Class III park in the area,” he explained. “Of 28 RICDs in the state, it is the first on the Upper Colorado and the water rights that accompany it will support local industry and protect against the threat of a water call, shepherding the water downstream to maximizing water use throughout the state.”

Once introductions, acknowledgments, and remarks were all made, the bevy of water-fans made their way down the newly constructed sandstone steps to the base of the water feature itself. Linke cut the official ribbon and cheers were sent up in salute…

For more information about the Gore Canyon Recreational In-Channel Diversion project, contact Caroline Bradford, Project Coordinator at

For information about the Pumphouse Recreation Area, or recreating on the Upper Colorado River, contact the Bureau of Land Management, Kremmling Field Office at 970-724-3000. Information on commercial rafting companies can be had by contacting the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce at 970-724-3472 or Vail Chamber and Business Association at 970-477-0075.

More whitewater coverage here.

Gore Canyon Whitewater Park makes good on promise of Upper #ColoradoRiver — The Denver Post

Upper Colorado Gore Canyon whitewater park

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Officials from Grand, Eagle and Summit counties joined representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Dept. of Local Affairs, Colorado Water Conservation Board, American Whitewater and about 100 others on the banks of the Colorado River on Monday to formally dedicate the new Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at the BLM Pumphouse Recreation Site south of Kremmling.

The $1.7 million wave feature, some six years in the making, is viewed as much more than a play spot for kayakers and river surfers. To those who have rallied support for the complex collaboration, the structure imbedded between boat launches at the rec site represents the symbolic cornerstone of a plan designed to keep the upper Colorado River flowing healthy for many years to come.

“The significance of the wave is that it creates a way to permanently protect the flows for boating on the upper Colorado River,” said project coordinator Caroline Bradford of Eagle. “This whitewater park investment protects the quality of life for locals who love the river and provides a great experience for over 75,000 people who float on this reach of the Colorado River each year.”

While the benefit to kayakers and standup paddlers (SUP) is readily evident in the frothy pile of surf-friendly white foam stretching nearly the width of the river, others stand to reap rewards as well.

The concrete structure would mean nothing without the complementing recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water rights ranging between 860-1,500 cubic feet per second from April 5-Oct. 15, annually. That’s an obvious boon to fish and fishermen frequenting the reach of river recognized with the highest number of fish per mile along the length of the Colorado. And it clearly benefits whitewater rafting outfitters and local boaters seeking a spot to float.

Interestingly enough, the symbiotic relationship between rocks and water in the river runs both ways when it comes to the man-made version. Colorado water law requires a man-made, engineered structure before the flows in any waterway can be legally protected. So without the new feature, there was no guarantee.

“The times they are a changin’,” CWCB board member April Montgomery said at Monday’s dedication. “Colorado Water Conservation Board is evolving too, and we now recognize the importance of recreational uses of water right along with agriculture, municipal and industrial.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Aurora, Colorado Springs opposing proposed Glenwood whitewater parks — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver

City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism
City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are urging the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to deny an application from the city of Glenwood Springs for water rights tied to three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River.

Attorneys for the two cities claim Glenwood Springs is asking for too much water to run over six wave-inducing structures to be embedded in the river along 3.5 miles of river above and below Glenwood Springs.

“Glenwood must prove through robust evidence and a rigorous engineering methodology all the elements of its proposed recreational in-channel diversion, i.e., that the flow it seeks is the minimum amount actually needed, for the recreation experience it seeks to provide, and that the recreation experience is reasonable, in that it will provide substantiated benefit to the applicant,” attorneys for Aurora and Colorado Springs told the CWCB in a June 4 memo.

Under Colorado water law, only local government entities, such as cities and counties, can apply for recreational water rights, and the CWCB must review them and approve limits on them before a water court can then grant such a right.

Glenwood Springs submitted an application to Division 5 water court in 2013, and now the court is awaiting the outcome of the review by CWCB.

The city wants the right to call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, for 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days between April 30 and July 23, and for 4,000 cfs for up to five days between May 11 and July 6.

The parks, each with two wave-producing structures, are proposed at No Name and Horseshoe Bend, which are both upstream of Glenwood Springs proper, and at upper Two Rivers Park, which is just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.

All three proposed features are upstream of the Glenwood Wave in West Glenwood, which produces a popular kayaking and surfing wave, and does so without an official water right of its own.

The CWCB has scheduled three-and-a-half hours at its July 16 meeting in Ignacio to review Glenwood’s application, including hearing testimony from attorneys and hydraulic experts on behalf of Aurora and Colorado Springs.

The two Front Range cities say the recreational in-channel diversion rights that Glenwood Springs is seeking “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage.”

Aurora and Colorado Springs own existing water rights on a number of transmountain diversion systems in the upper Colorado River basin, including in the Busk-Ivanhoe system on the Fryingpan River headwaters, the Independence Pass system in the Roaring Fork River headwaters, and the Homestake diversion on the Eagle River headwaters.

One criteria the CWCB is charged with reviewing is whether a proposed recreational right would limit the state’s ability to build new water supply facilities as allowed under the Colorado River compact.

Aurora and Colorado Springs say the proposed Glenwood recreational right would create such limits “by shepherding half the volume of the Colorado River to the bottom of the basin.”

The cities point to state estimates that there is up to 1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to still be developed in the state, with 600,000 more acre-feet each year that could be developed in the Colorado River basin upstream of the proposed Glenwood whitewater parks, and 150,000 acre-feet below them.

If the Glenwood recreational water right has the effect of limiting upstream development, primarily by restricting how much could be diverted during two months of high spring flows, then the state won’t get all it’s potentially entitled to under the compact, the two cities told the CWCB.

“This will result in further ‘buy and dry’ of agricultural water rights, and could in addition motivate West Slope users to make trans-basin diversions from other river basins, such as the Yampa and Gunnison,” Aurora and Colorado Springs told the CWCB.

The two cities also say that a new recreational water right in Glenwood would interfere with cooperative efforts to send water downstream from various reservoirs for any number of reasons, including keeping enough water in the river near Palisade for endangered native fish.

“Such a large appropriation of half the flow of the Colorado River will put pressure on upstream consumptive users to fully develop their existing senior rights, instead of reaching flexible cooperative arrangements,” attorneys for Aurora and Colorado Springs said.

The Front Range cities further argue that most of the recreational traffic on the Colorado River above and below Glenwood Springs occurs when the river is running at lower flows, between 1,000 and 2,000 cfs, and so asking to hold elite whitewater competitions at 4,000 cfs is not “reasonable,” especially as such high flows are only likely to occur once every three years.

“Current use indicates that the bulk of recreational demand in the Glenwood area is for family-oriented recreational experiences rather than for higher-level experiences,” the two cities said. “Glenwood has not substantiated either an actual demand for intermediate and elite level experiences, or an economic benefit from such recreational experiences.”

Aurora and Colorado Springs make a number of other arguments against the Glenwood RICD, including that “the installation of artificial, manmade structures to effectuate the recreational in-channel diversion could produce an unnatural, engineered feel that would impair the scenic beauty of Glenwood Canyon.”

That “engineered feel,” they said, could have a “negative economic impact” on tourism.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. More at

More whitewater coverage here.

Gore Canyon Whitewater Park opens July 13 #ColoradoRiver

Upper Colorado Gore Canyon whitewater park

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Georga Feek):

After five long years, the $1.7 million Colorado River enhancement project, known as Gore Canyon Whitewater Park, is now complete and open.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board needed to approve the implication of the recreational in-channel diversion (RICD), known commonly as a whitewater park. After the Grand County team showed 100 letters of support from kayakers and other recreationalists, the RICD was awarded.

The project’s fundraiser and coordinator, Caroline Bradford, explained the RICD and its promise for future generations and recreation.

“You have a manmade structure in the river that diverts the stream flow in order to provide whitewater for recreation,” Bradford said. “We want people to be able to play on the river for generations to come.”

To fund such a massive project, Grand County citizens and boaters donated more than $600,000 to the cause. Eagle County citizens donated $340,000; Colorado Basin Roundtable Basin Account Fund granted $100,000; Colorado Water Conservation Board granted $400,000; and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs provided $200,000.

To commemorate its completion, a Grand Opening Celebration of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will take place on July 13, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a rafting trip until 3 p.m.

The day’s activities will include a whitewater paddling exhibition hosted by American Whitewater, a formal ceremony, a catered picnic, and then the raft trip from Pumphouse to Radium.

The cost to raft is $62 per person, and you need to RSVP to Caroline Bradford by July 6 at or by calling 970-688-0812.

More whitewater coverage here

Buena Vista: PaddleFest wrap up — The Chaffee County Times

Buena Vista
Buena Vista

From The Chaffee County Times (Andrea Newell):

From May 22 to May 25, visitors browsed the dozens of vendors, watched and cheered on competitors and took to the water or trails themselves.

Aside from locals, PaddleFest drew in many people from outside of Chaffee County. Colorado Springs resident Anna Durham came to attend her first PaddleFest and was happy to take part in the Kayak Stroke Clinic at Town Lake.

Some visitors to Buena Vista didn’t realize PaddleFest was happening over the weekend. “We came down for the hot springs and didn’t even realize what was going on. But it’s a good surprise,” said Fort Collins resident Jillian Drobnick as she watched the BV Pro Rodeo whitewater semifinals.

One of the many vendors present, Colorado Search and Rescue, was ready to both inform visitors about their services and provide rescue throw bags on the water when necessary. Search and Rescue representative Kurt Miller was happy to see such good participation in the events, as well as a great turnout for PaddleFest overall.

Participants were all too happy to get involved. Evergreen resident Leda Olmstead came for the opportunity to river race and surf. “It’s really fun,” she said. “The weather’s gorgeous now. … Lots of awesome people. Nothing to dislike.”

Dan Buehler and family from Parker got into the trail and bike racing May 24. Buehler placed third in the Rule the Roost Mountain Bike Race. “It was good,” he said. “It’s a great trail. It’s the first year (for the bike race) so it’ll grow on pretty well. Pretty challenging and lots of single track.”

Earl Richmond, co-owner of CKS and co-founder of PaddleFest, proclaims this event to be “the best PaddleFest ever” according to comments from the community. “The reason is we had an amazingly good turnout, lots of people having lots of fun, the weather held out just fine and everyone pitched in and volunteered their time to make it a very successful weekend.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Snowpack/runoff news

Remember to look at the Basin High/Low graph for your favorite basin to get an idea about snowpack there. The % of normal measure loses most of its meaning after runoff starts.

From CBS Denver:

Denver Water says because of the high levels of rain they have had to create some room in several reservoirs so they’ve allowed some to spill over. That allows them to keep some space for any additional spring runoff.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson says they’re expecting quite a few benefits from all the rainfall.

“It’s always good to fill up our reservoirs and what it really does is it gives us more flexibility and more opportunities for some other things, and this year we’ll see some great opportunities to provide additional flushing flows into the rivers and streams below our reservoirs to really help out those fish habitats,” Thompson said. “We’ll also see a great kayaking and rafting season, so great year to be kayaker or rafter in Colorado.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Stephen Meyers):

The Poudre River’s commercial rafting season began Friday, and thanks to the river ripping three times as fast as normal for this time of year, the early season should provide a thrilling whitewater ride for guests.

The roaring water is also a boon for Fort Collins’ economy.

Commercial rafting on the Poudre pumped $4.6 million in direct expenditures into Fort Collins in 2014, making an $11.8 million economic impact, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

Commercial rafting companies took 37,225 rafters down the Poudre River last year, a slight bump from 2013 (37,214 rafters) and an enormous jump from the drought and fire impacted year of 2012, when the river shut down for a month.

The Poudre River, which typically peaks in late May or early June at 3,000 cubic feet per second, was running at 2,020 cfs Friday at a height of 5.32 feet. Normal flow at the canyon’s mouth for May 15 is about 700 cfs.

“The water is already high enough to run all sections of the river. Some years it’s too low (for the Class IV sections) on opening day,” said Bob Klein, manager of A Wanderlust Adventure. “All signs point to us having another great year.”

From 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

Water levels at Chatfield have risen eight feet since May 1, but that’s nothing compared to Bear Creek Lake, which rose 40 feet since the start of the month. Some roads there are completely submerged, but water managers say that’s how it’s should work.

“The whole purpose is to kind of capture the water as it comes down in big flood events and then release it slowly, so we don’t flood anything downtown,” Maxwell said.

Bob Steger is the manager of Raw Water Supply with Denver Water. He said while they’re keeping an eye on the rain expected this week, it’s also a welcome addition to their system of 10 reservoirs. They are now at 93 percent of capacity, 10 percent higher than they usually would be at this time of year.

“This is the time of year when we are trying to fill up our reservoirs, so wet weather is a good thing,” Steger said. “Not only can we fill our reservoirs, which is what we’re trying to do this time of year, but it gives us the flexibility to help with some environmental things and recreation as well.”

That means benefits to fisheries, like trout habitat, to recreation, like rafting, and to the rivers themselves.

“The wet weather also means we don’t have to divert as much water from the Colorado River basin into the metro area,” Steger said.

That can be significant because the less water diverted from the Colorado River for the Front Range, the more that’s left for the western slope and other states that get water from the Colorado River. That includes California, which is in the midst of a severe drought.