Club 20 discusses hot button issue at meeting: Water

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

Water: It's a valuable resource and a delicate subject. Deciding who controls it and how it will be distributed has been a hot button issue for decades, and the debate keeps heating up. Water was one of the topics at the Club 20 winter meetings on Wednesday.

On the Western Slope, we need water not only in our homes and businesses but for irrigation and use on mountains and rivers. That's why Club 20 made motions to create resolutions against some issues that they feel could be threatening water on the Western Slope.

Water is a big part of the Western Slope mountains.

"By far the majority of Colorado ski areas operate on federal lands pursuant the special use permits," water law practitioner Scott Balcomb said.

It would only make sense that it was one of the major focuses of Wednesday's Club 20 meeting. One issue that hit particularly close to home was the Ski Area Water Rights Clause.

"For years the ski areas and the forest service have gotten along fine with the ski areas acquiring their own water rights to operates, whether it's wells for mountain restaurants or base areas or water supplies for base making," Balcomb said.

But that changed last year. Club 20 is concerned the forest service is now looking to enforce a rule that would require ski areas to put any new water rights it develops in the name of the federal government in order to get a new permit.

"The skiers are very concerned about it," Balcomb added.

This issue affects Powderhorn Mountain Resort because of its recent change in management.

"Powderhorn is right on the cutting edge of this issue because of the change in ownership and the need to get a new permit last fall," Balcomb said.

Club 20 argues this would be taking the mountain's property and worries similar rules could be implemented in other industries if it survives in the ski industry. One other reason Club 20 is concerned? An effort to change water rights in the state.

"[There are] two initiatives, Initiative no. 3 and no. 45," Colorado Water Congress executive director Doug Kemper said.

Kemper says these initiatives would make water rights subject to a second look, and could ultimately change who has access to public and private water. An appeal has been filed with the Colorado Supreme Court and Kemper says he's concerned about three things.

"The property rights, the access to land. It deals with the Appropriation Doctrine, so it deals with water rights and also with water quality act as well," he said.

This could be bad news for some property owners, because water running through private land could be open to the public.

"The concern there is that the water rights that make those things possible is in jeopardy," Kemper said.

In their meetings on Wednesday, Club 20 took the first steps to protect water rights. Club 20 will write and submit recommendations to the board of directors. If approved, members will enlist outside legislative and community help to get involved in protecting water rights.

The Colorado Water Congress is expected to hear from the Colorado Supreme Court in March or April.

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