Idarado Announces Intent to Recall Senior Water Rights
by Thomas Wirth
May 23, 2011 | 2707 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TELLURIDE – The Idarado Mining Co., which entered into an agreement conveying a substantial quantity of senior water rights in the Bridal Veil Basin in 1992, announced earlier this month its intent to exercise its right to recall water rights from the town. “We conditionally deeded our water rights to Telluride because we were not using them at the time,” said Idarado President David Baker, “reserving the right to recall them for Idarado’s future needs.” Idarado is recalling its water rights to support electrical power generation at the company’s hydroelectric plant, located at the top of Bridal Veil Falls, which is contracted to sell electricity to the Public Service Company of Colorado. Officials say the mining company may also have additional or alternative needs in the future for its water rights, as well. Idarado maintains that the withdrawal of its water rights to generate electrical power will neither adversely affect the flow in the San Miguel River nor diminish current levels of water flow over Bridal Veil Falls. The rights conveyed to the town in the 1992 agreement fall into three different categories, according to town attorney Kevin Geiger – initial, residual and remedial rights. The “initial” water rights, conveyed to the town free and clear of any future claims by Idarado, consisted of approximately 40 percent of the total senior rights conveyed in the settlement. The residual and remedial rights making up the remaining 60 percent of the rights were subject to recall by Idarado within 25 years, if they could show beneficial use. “Idarado sent the town the formal legal notice required to start the discussion of a recall of those residual and remedial water rights,” Geiger said of the May 13 letter to the town. “The town now has a year to evaluate and decide whether we will reconvey that water.” “We still have a lot of information we need to get from Idarado,” added Geiger. “The letter doesn’t provide a lot of detail as to what they are going to do, and, more importantly, where they are going to do it.” Much of the discussion centers around the construction of the Pandora Water Treatment Plant, which both Geiger and Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser say should be relatively unaffected by the outcome of the recall.

“The town had identified this possible scenario occurring, the most aggressive recall option that Idarado could pursue, and the town still retains all of its initial rights, which consist of about 500 acre feet of water,” said Geiger, “as well as all of our junior water rights, which are probably even more substantial than the senior rights, but which don’t have the same priority.”

Following the water rights recall, if it is successful, the town will retain its own and separate water rights above Bridal Veil Falls, as well as a share of the storage space and water system. According to Geiger, senior water rights at Blue Lake consist of about 1,225 acre feet out of about 3,900 acre feet, the active storage capacity of Blue Lake. The junior rights, therefore, make up about 2,600 acre-feet of water. “We have more than adequate water to do the water treatment plant,” said Fraser. “The only possible effect on the water plant is that it may take a little bit longer, because we have another potential legal situation facing us.” Geiger concurred, saying, “We still feel we have sufficient water to go ahead with either a one-million-gallon-per-day or two-million-gallon-per-day water treatment facility,” he said. Geiger went on to explain that the town might not experience any problems regarding Idarado’s use of the rights involved in the recall. If the water is used just at the power station, he explained, “once that water passes through the turbine and goes out the tail race, that beneficial use by Idarado is concluded and the town could pick up that water and still use it as our municipal water. Maybe that’s consistent with where they’re going. “I haven’t had discussions with Idarado on this issue yet,” he added. That seems consistent with the information so far available; as Idarado spokesman Omar Jabara pointed out, the company “just wanted to make sure that the [Bridal Veil] Power Plant had sufficient water to continue running, now and into the future.” While Idarado has no plans to increase power output from the station, Jabara said, the mining company does want to make sure the water “stays in the river” above the plant. Even so, with any possibility of legal action comes some frustration.

“I’ve been on this for ten years,” said Fraser, “and every step forward is another step sideways. “It has been ongoing, time-consuming and costly,“ he said, and “everything that you expect when you get into exercising your water rights. We knew there was a very good chance that this was going to come, and we just said, when it comes we’ll deal with it. “We just continue to move ahead. It’s frustrating beyond belief, but we’re further ahead than we were ten years ago and still doing the exact right thing.” What's next, Fraser said, is an executive-session discussion between Town Council and the town's water attorney. “There will be a next step,” Fraser said, and, “more than likely, more than one. “I’m so pleased that those folks sitting on council 18 years ago decided to start this process,” he added. “Water is of such tremendous value. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we were just starting now.”

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