It's too much flexibility, said Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited, a critic of the agreement. "They have absolute, unfettered discretion to decide for themselves whether to make a donation," Peternell said.
July 13, 2007
By Joe Hanel | Herald Denver Bureau
CRAIG - Fish in the Pine River below Vallecito Reservoir would get some extra protection under an agreement approved by a state water board Thursday.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted to accept a donation of water from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Pine River Irrigation District. The deal will put varying amounts of water into the river for a stretch ending 12 miles downstream from the reservoir, home to brown and rainbow trout.
In exchange for the donation, the water board agreed not to file for an in-stream flow right - a water right that could force water to stay in the stream.
Under the agreement approved Thursday, the tribe and the irrigation district get a lot more flexibility to decide how much water is available to preserve the river's environment.
It's too much flexibility, said Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited, a critic of the agreement.
"They have absolute, unfettered discretion to decide for themselves whether to make a donation," Peternell said.
Under the agreement, the reservoir will release 136 cubic feet per second during the summer to supply a 12-mile stretch down to U.S. Highway 160. During the winter, the reservoir would release less - up to 50 cfs, but for a 19-mile stretch.
However, those rates could drop if reservoir managers decide water is not available. Managers also could provide extra water when possible.
State water board employee Linda Bassi recommended that the board approve the deal, which has been in the works for two years of detailed negotiations.
"We're being optimistic and thinking the water will be there," Bassi said.
Don Schwindt, a water board director from Montezuma County, disagreed with Trout Unlimited's criticisms.
"This is a really good way to move forward and solve a problem," Schwindt said.
The state water board has had the right to file for in-stream flow rights since 1973. These rights are different from the recreational water rights Durango wants for its kayak park at Smelter Rapid.
Only the state water board can hold an in-stream flow right, so by relinquishing those rights on the Pine River, the board has guaranteed the tribe and the irrigation district don't have to worry about anyone claiming rights to improve the river's environment.
The agreement will take effect once it is signed by Pine River and Southern Ute officials.