TELLURIDE – At its January meeting held in Denver last week, the Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously declared its intent to appropriate an instream flow water right on a 16.5-mile stretch of the San Miguel River in Montrose County reaching from Calamity Draw west of Naturita to the Dolores River confluence.
Both the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the US Bureau of Land Management recommended that the appropriation be declared one year ago when the CWCB met for its January 2010 meeting. At that time, however, the board voted to delay the action for another year in order to allow water users time to develop plans for off-stem water storage in the watershed.
The federal agencies made the recommendation primarily to prevent three dwindling species of native fish – flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub – from being listed for federal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“That kicks off our notice and comment procedure,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, noting that any entity choosing to oppose the instream flow has until March 31 to file a notice to contest the action.
The state’s Instream Flow Program tries to reconcile human activity with environmental preservation, and gives the CWCB the authority to acquire instream flow and natural lake level water rights for purposes of environmental protection.
Both supporters and opponents of the action spoke at the meeting.
“It’s always great when constituents can come to Denver and make their voice heard in front of the entire board,” said April Montgomery, who represents the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers on the CWCB.
Bassi said she expects that at least one notice-to-contest will be filed before the deadline expires, and that such a filing would automatically trigger a hearing on the matter in September.
Assuming the action is formally contested, “The only way there will be no hearing is if staff was able to negotiate a settlement with the opponents,” she said.
However, if the action is not contested, “Then the board could take action as soon as May,” Montgomery explained.
“We would make our final decision in September on an uncontested instream flow.”
That said, she also doubted those odds.
“This is just the start,” she said. “I think there’s a good likelihood there will be several parties that contest.”
At the same meeting the CWCB also voted to appropriate three other, far less controversial, instream flows that run through US Forest Service land in Montrose County and were recommended by that agency: North Fork Tabeguache Creek (9.67 miles), Red Canyon Creek (2.69 miles), and Tabeguache Creek (3.66 miles).