Black Canyon awash in water-rights victory

By Mark JaffeThe Denver Post

MONTROSE — A roaring white arc of water cascading over the Crystal Dam and into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on Wednesday was a sign of victory.

The National Park Service has been fighting for water rights for parks across the West for nearly 40 years.

"Whether it is a geyser at Yellowstone or the water that shapes and stabilizes Colorado's Great Sand Dunes, water is vital for the parks," said Bart Miller, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates in Boulder.

The Park Service already has won water rights for 25 parks in nine Western states, the last two for Colorado's Black Canyon and Great Sand Dunes. Eight more agreements are being negotiated.

It took 36 years and Colorado's biggest water-rights battle — with two court cases, more than 300 letters of opposition and 45 different parties in the final negotiations — for the canyon to get its water.

Hydropower agencies, ranchers, a Front Range suburban water supplier, conservation groups and federal agencies all were at the table.

"In the end we struck a balance," said Trout Unlimited attorney Drew Peternell. "Nobody got everything, but everybody got something."