A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks. Credit: City of Glenwood Springs / water court filing

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – An application from the city of Glenwood Springs for new recreational water rights tied to three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River is drawing notice in state water court.

The West Divide Water Conservancy District of Rifle filed a “statement of opposition” with District Court, Water Division No. 5 on Jan. 27.

West Divide said it is “the owner of vested water rights that may be injured by the granting of this application” to Glenwood Springs.

Other such filings are expected from Denver Water, the Colorado River District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

A “statement of opposition” is typically formulaic and opaque. The filer’s true intent can be hard to discern. It may be genuine opposition, curiosity, or an easy way to monitor a case.

In most cases, parties eventually agree to limits on the proposed water right, which are ultimately reflected in a decree from the water court.

“It’s a long process,” attorney Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart in Aspen told the Glenwood Springs City Council on Dec. 19. “It can be a slow process. There’s a lot of opportunities for issues to be raised and resolved.”

On Dec. 31, Glenwood Springs applied to secure a steady flow of water in its proposed whitewater parks. It is seeking a base flow of 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs), from April 1 to Sept. 30. It is also claiming the right to 2,500 cfs of water for 46 days between April 30 and July 23.

And it wants the right to 4,000 cfs of water for five days of big-water boating during peak flows between May 11 and July 6.

The No Name whitewater park site. Looking up the Colorado River from the bank on river right, not far from the No Name rest stop parking lot along I-70, two miles up river from Glenwood Springs. Two rock structures are proposed to be built just upriver from here, to create play waves for boaters and floaters. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Likely of interest

The rights would be dependent upon rock structures being anchored in the river to create play waves at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and on the stretch of river between the Grand Avenue Bridge and Two Rivers Park, just below downtown Glenwood.

Given the size of the water rights being requested, and because they are on the heavily managed Colorado River, Glenwood’s application is likely to draw interest. And under Colorado law, any party can file a statement of opposition in the case until the end of February.

“In February, folks who are interested in participating in the proceeding would have an opportunity to file a statement to that effect,” Hamilton advised the Glenwood Springs council. “And after that, there would be a series of dialogues with the folks who participated in the case and before the Water Conservation Board.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board routinely files statements of opposition in cases where a new “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, is proposed. The state agency reviews RICD proposals and makes findings to the water court.

If ultimately approved, Glenwood’s water rights would carry an appropriation date of 2013, junior to any senior water rights filed before then.

Under state law, any party can make a claim to put available water in a river to beneficial use, as long as it doesn’t injure another party’s existing right to do so.

Horseshoe Bend whitewater park site. A view up the Colorado River toward Horseshoe Bend. The bike path from Glenwood crosses the highway here and goes by two picnic shelters on BLM land. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

In-river structures

Glenwood’s “non-consumptive” rights would be legally tied to the eventual building of six rock structures in the river, creating two play waves in each of the three parks.

The water would stay in the river, but would run over boulders secured in the riverbed to form waves at high, medium and low flows.

The whitewater park at No Name, about two miles upriver from downtown Glenwood, would use the existing parking lot and restrooms at the CDOT rest stop on Interstate 70. The structures would be just upriver of the rest stop and Glenwood Canyon Resort.

Horseshoe Bend is about a mile above Glenwood, where the existing bike path crosses over the highway and runs by a picnic shelter on BLM land, in a narrow and deep part of Glenwood Canyon.

The third park would be on a wide stretch of river below the Grand Avenue Bridge, but above the confluence of the Colorado and the Roaring Fork rivers, where a pedestrian bridge crosses the Colorado at Two Rivers Park.

The three new parks would be upriver of the existing “Glenwood Wave” in the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park, in West Glenwood.

One of three whitewater parks proposed by the city of Glenwood Springs would be built on this stretch of the Colorado River, several blocks downstream from the Grand Ave. Bridge. The view is from the pedestrian bridge that spans the Colorado River at the upper end of Two Rivers Park, just above the Colorado\ Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Slow-moving process

Before building its new parks, however, Glenwood has to navigate its way through water court and obtain conditional water rights. That could easily take three years, Hamilton told the Glenwood council, if other RICD applications are a guide.

Grand County applied in December 2010 for recreational rights in two whitewater parks on the upper Colorado River and attracted 25 statements of opposition.

A decree in that case was issued in January.

Grand County is now seeking approvals from the BLM and the Army Corps of Engineers for its whitewater parks at Hot Sulpher Springs, which now has junior rights to flows ranging from 250 to 850 cfs, and at Pumphouse (below Gore Canyon) which has junior rights of 860 to 1500 cfs.

The county hopes to begin construction this year on two rock structures in the river as part of the $1.2 million “Gore Canyon Whitewater Park,” creating waves already named “Inspiration Point” and “Launch Counter.”

Pitkin County applied for a water right in December 2010 for the proposed “Pitkin County River Park,” which is to include two structures in the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, above the confluence with the Fryingpan River.

That application, for 240 to 1,350 cfs of water, attracted 14 parties and the county is still attempting to reach an agreement with the last objector in the case, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. On Feb 3, the CWCB issued findings in favor of Pitkin County.

In its filing with the CWCB, Twin Lakes claims that “Pitkin County’s proposed RICD … will restrict future water development in the headwater areas where the primary demand for such development exists.” But Pitkin County, in a rebuttal filing said there would still be sufficient water for future diversions, even with its recreational water rights in place.

And the town of Carbondale applied for water rights in May 2006 for the “Carbondale Gateway Boating Park,” under the Highway 133 bridge on the Roaring Fork River.

There were eight statements of opposition filed in that case, and the decree was just issued on Feb. 3, eight years after the application was filed.

Carbondale now has conditional water rights ranging from 230 to 1,600 cfs. The rights are tied to five proposed rock structures in the Roaring Fork, two just upstream of the bridge and three just downstream of it.

A photo illustration showing the stretch of the Colorado River where the city of Glenwood Springs has applied for RICD water rights. Tthe Roaring Fork River, far left, comes into the Colorado just downstream of downtown Glenwood Springs. Horseshoe Bend is about a mile above town, while No Name is two miles up. Credit: Photo illustration: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Rapids ahead?

In the Glenwood case, more statements of opposition are expected this month.

The River District board voted in January to file a statement in the case, citing protection of its water rights and interstate water agreements.

It also wants to maintain the recently approved Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which speaks to managing the upper Colorado River.

That agreement says Denver Water would not file a statement if Glenwood did not claim more than 1,250 cubic feet per second of water for its whitewater parks.

The Shoshone hydro plant, above No Name, consistently demands 1,250 cfs of water under its senior water right from 1902, so Denver Water apparently has no qualms about that same amount being claimed by Glenwood for its proposed whitewater parks.

But Glenwood would also like to see up to 2,500 cfs for 46 days during the heart of the rafting season in May, June and most of July.

And it would like to see five days at 4,000 cfs, so it can hold an event or contest at peak summer flows.

A January memo from Peter Fleming, the general counsel of the River District, said Denver Water “might assert that the claimed flow rates do not follow the strict language of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.”

As such, Fleming said, Denver Water “likely will oppose” Glenwood’s application.

A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city\ Credit: Source: City of Glenwood Springs

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published a version of the story on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014.

Brent Gardner-Smith

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...