Colo. SC rules water district overdid growth estimates

From Legal

DENVER -- The Colorado Supreme Court has denied water rights for a reservoir to serve a southwestern county by ruling the local water authority over-estimated the area's future growth.

In Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District et. al. v. Trout Unlimited (docket# 06SA338) the Supreme Court overturned a 2004 water court ruling allowing the Pagosa Water District conditional water rights from the San Juan River. It would have allowed total annual storage of 64,000 acre-feet of water through 2100.

Opponents Trout Unlimited, a fishing advocacy group, argued that the rights were based on unrealistic population-growth estimates for Archuleta County. The Pagosa Water District served 9,500 people with 2,000 acre-feet in 2005; based on 2005 use, capacity of 64,000 acre-feet would serve over 300,000 residents.

The Supreme Court agreed, arguing that water rights cannot be claimed speculatively in Colorado. "The water court must...make factual findings concerning whether the districts can and will place the claimed amount of unappropriated water to beneficial use within a reasonable time," wrote Justice Gregory J. Hobbs.

The San Juan Water Conservancy District, which fought the suit with the Pagosa Water District, still holds conditional rights to 6,300 acre-feet of water for the Dry Gulch reservoir.