Agreement Reached in Montrose County Water Rights Fight
by Gus Jarvis
Aug 08, 2012 | 2592 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

TELLURIDE – An agreement between a lengthy list of objectors, including the Town of Telluride and San Miguel County, has been reached with Montrose County that drastically reduces the amount of water it seeks to claim from the San Miguel River and its tributaries.

Details of the agreement were outlined at a meeting of the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday; members of council unanimously approved the agreement.

Under the settlement, Montrose County will drop claims on the proposed Marie Scott Reservoir and other facilities that would be constructed in San Miguel County, and agree to not assist others in developing those facilities, as well. Within six years, Montrose County must select one or two of the four remaining proposed reservoirs to develop, and then abandon the other proposed reservoirs.

The agreement stipulates that Montrose County must agree to volumetric limitations on the use of the water, which will limit the draft of the water rights on the stream system. Finally, the agreement states Montrose County must abandon or forfeit reservoirs that are not constructed within certain periods of time, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop, over specified periods of time.

In comparison to what Montrose County was seeking in its water rights application, this claim to water from the San Miguel River is significantly smaller. In the fall of 2010, Montrose County filed a series of five applications for water rights, seeking six separate reservoirs and reservoir enlargements with a capacity of over 51,000 acre-feet of water, as well as potential annual diversions of over 96,000 acre-feet of water. The applications also sought water exchanges to facilitate diversions, storage and water delivery.

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said Montrose County filed the applications in order to get Colorado Water Conservation Board in-stream flow water rights on the San Miguel River that were filed thereafter. Montrose County asserted, in its applications, that it needed water to supply future industrial, commercial and residential development for the next 50 years.

From the Town of Telluride’s perspective, the agreement is considered a victory.

“I can also tell you it’s been a collective effort of about 12 parties that came together, all opposed to the water filing,” Geiger said. “We worked well together to find a reasonable compromise.”

The volumetric limitation in the agreement is set at an annual average of 3,200 acre-feet, but that figure will be subject to further reductions if a need-based reality check is required, in the future.

“I will say we very much appreciate the town’s efforts for stepping in,” said Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary White. “This really has the potential to impact the future of the river ,and is one of the most significant things, I would say more than the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, to our region, and it all happened really fast. We are pleased with the settlement at this point. That said, we are dropping out.”

White and SMA legal representative Jenny Russell went on to explain that the Telluride-based environmental group cannot be party to the agreement without violating its mission and leaving open the option of further opposition to water claims in the future.

“I think the objectors did a great job in whittling this down,” Russell said. “I think it’s a very good agreement, given that it’s a bad water rights application.”

The agreement comes after District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick issued a summary judgment last June in favor of objectors on a proposed fifth reservoir for which Montrose County had filed an application.

Efforts to reach members of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners for comment have so far been unsuccessful. If an agreement had not been reached, the series of remaining water rights applications was set to go to trial in late October or November this year. or @GusJarvis

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