Water Rights Decision Goes Against Montrose County
by Peter Shelton
Jun 20, 2012 | 3833 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Filing on Johnson Ditch in West End Denied for Being Speculative

Montrose County lost a court case on Monday in its ongoing push to secure water rights in the West End. 

District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick issued a summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs/opposers Sheep Mountain Alliance in a case involving water rights on the Johnson Ditch. The county applied for the rights in 2010, it stated, to support industrial and residential growth anticipated to accompany the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill.

Sheep Mountain’s attorney’s argued that Montrose County’s uses for the water were speculative, and the judge agreed.

This case is independent of the other water rights the county has filed on for instream rights on the San Miguel River. Those claims, which would require controversial, and expensive, storage reservoirs, will be decided in water court in October.

In the just-dismissed case, the county had filed on water belonging to the Uravan Water Trust, rights that were held as part of the “decommissioning of milling activities at the [defunct] Uravan mill.” According to court documents, “Upon termination of the Trust, the water rights will be conveyed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).” Montrose County’s filings on the San Miguel River were made, in part, to beat an instream water rights filing by the CWCB to protect habitat and recreational uses on the Lower San Miguel.

Opposers to the Johnson Ditch filing claimed the “applicant must demonstrate . . . that its intent to appropriate is not based upon speculative sale or transfer . . .” And Judge Patrick concluded Monday that Montrose County failed to establish standing to seek the water right and that “the Applicants’ intent in the Johnson Ditch water rights is too speculative as a matter of law to satisfy the ‘can and will’ test.”

County Engineer Brian Wilson said he believes the judgment will not affect the other cases before the water court. But Sheep Mountain attorney Jenny Russell, and other opposers in San Miguel County, hope the ruling bodes well for dismissals in October as well. “Sheep Mountain Alliance welcomes the court’s decision,” Russell told The Watch. “The reality is that Montrose County never has been, and never will be, a water provider, which is the minimum requirement for them to succeed in the remaining water rights cases.” 



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