Chalk one up for Trout Unlimited

By The Denver Post

 Trout Unlimited recently won a major victory in the broad realm of in-stream flow protection when the Colorado Supreme Court clamped legal limitations on the ability of water providers to divert water toward future population growth. The suit concerned a 2004 application filed jointly by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the San Juan Water Conservancy District for conditional water rights for Dry Gulch Reservoir and pump station. The reservoir would store 35,000 acre feet of water obtained by pumping 200 cubic feet per second from the San Juan River to serve population growth in Archuleta County through the year 2100.

TU challenged the application, claiming the diversion would significantly impact the river's flow. As often is the case, the water court ruled for the developer. TU appealed on grounds that the water was being claimed for speculative purposes.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision and remanded the case, instructing the water court to reevaluate the districts' future water needs.

Drew Peternell, TU's attorney, hailed the ruling for its broader implication.

"It establishes a precedent throughout Colorado that municipal water providers cannot claim water rights for which they do not have a demonstrable need," Peternell said.

"This decision is especially significant in the fact that the Supreme Court recognized the potential of water conservation as a means of limiting water demand."

Several of the state's largest municipal providers filed briefs in support of the Pagosa bid, arguing that cities should be afforded broad deference in appropriating water rights. The court rejected that argument.