The fight to protect those rights has been going on “for years and years,” City Manager Patrick Rondinelli said.
“The federal government tried to wipe out all water rights.”
A tentative agreement was reached in June of last year on the amount of water that should flow through the national park and was formally decreed by the Gunnison Water Court on Dec. 31.
The city previously withdrew its opposition to the proposed decree and effectively consented to the settlement, according to Rondinelli, but with the settlement adopted, the action by Ouray City Council Monday night was to ratify withdrawing that opposition, which passed unanimously.
The water fight involved many entities, including the Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior, Western Area Power Administration, Trout Unlimited, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, and more.
Environmentalists have long said the health of the river was vital to the Black Canyon and to endangered species, but that conflicted with the needs of hydropower interests, said Steve Glaser, water director for High Country Citizens’ Alliance.
The final settlement reached in June will protect the river as well as making some concessions to the need for hydropower by setting a flow regime tied to natural water availability plus a year-round base flow of 300 cubic feet per second.
Western Resource Advocates, another environmental group, stated in a press release last month that the park’s ecology is affected by the Aspinall Unit, consisting of the federally-owned Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam and Crystal Dam, which create hydropower.
The final settlement balances the needs of hydropower while ensuring the Black Canyon will have sufficient water flow.
“These flows will create a healthier environment for a world-class trout fishery, cleanse sediment deposits that cause whirling disease in trout, clear woody debris, maintain the river channel, and greatly improve the aesthetics of the flowing river for hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year,” the release states.
The settlement agreement also protects cities like Ouray from the potential of having their water rights called up.
Water flows through the Black Canyon had been a topic of debate for 30 years and after a brief discussion and vote to ratify the withdrawal, Councilmember Betty Wolfe summed up the council’s action: “It’s been fixed and we’re happy about it.”