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 – Over a dozen objectors have filed statements of opposition in state water court regarding the city of Glenwood Springs’ application for new water rights tied to three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River.

Three of the objectors are municipal water providers on the Front Range — Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Colorado Springs Utilities. They depend on water from the Colorado River basin and are concerned about new recreational water rights limiting their future water management options.

Three entities — the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the BLM and the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool — are concerned about the proposed locations of the whitewater parks.

The Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on the Western Slope, is generally supportive of Glenwood’s application, according to the district’s attorney Peter Fleming, but like the Front Range entities, it also has concerns about limiting the amount of water available for future junior water rights upstream of the proposed whitewater parks.

The West Divide Water Conservancy District, based in Rifle, simply told the court it “is the owner of vested water rights that may be injured by the granting of this application.”

Another four entities say they just want to monitor the case: the town of Gypsum; the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District in Palisade; the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association, both in Grand Junction.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) also filed a statement, as it routinely does for applications of a new “recreational in-channel diversion right,” or RICD. The state agency is charged with reviewing such proposals and sending findings to water court.

And Grand County has filed a document perhaps unique to water court — a “statement in opposition in support of application.” This means Grand County supports Glenwood’s applications, but wants to be involved in the case via the filing of a required statement of opposition.

“Grand County has been actively involved in efforts to preserve, protect, restore and improve streams in the headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries and resolve various controversies with Denver Water,” the governmental entity told the court. “The recreational in-channel diversion right that the application seeks is consistent with Grand County’s efforts.”

Grand County recently obtained a decree for two whitewater parks on the Colorado River, at Pumphouse below Gore Canyon and Hot Sulphur Springs.

Technically, there were 13 statements of opposition filed in the case. The three Grand Valley water users, however, filed a joint application, so there are a total of 15 objecting entities.

And Aurora and Colorado Springs, in addition to each filing a statement, also filed together as the Homestake Steering Committee. The two cities are partners in the Homestake Reservoir on the headwaters of the Eagle River, which flows into the Colorado River at Dotsero, which is located above the three proposed whitewater parks.

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.Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Denver’s opposition expected

Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart in Aspen, who is representing the city of Glenwood Springs in water court, confirmed the list of objectors in the case.

He said he expected that Denver Water would file an objection, as Glenwood has asked for the rights to more than 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water.

That rate of flow is the same as the senior water right held by Xcel Energy for the Shoshone hydro plant, which also is above the three proposed whitewater parks.

And that’s the amount of water for a Glenwood whitewater park that Denver Water said it could support in the recently finalized Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which was signed by Denver Water and 17 other entities.

“One of the provisions for support was that the recreational in-channel diversion wouldn’t exceed 1,250 cfs at the Dotsero gage,” said Travis Thompson, a media coordinator with Denver Water. “This is the amount of water needed to mimic the senior Shoshone call.”

For its proposed parks, Glenwood is seeking a base flow of 1,250 cfs, from April 1 to Sept. 30.

But it also is 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 during peak flows between May 11 and July 6.

Hamilton, Glenwood’s water attorney, said the requested water rights sought above 1,250 cfs are “purely based on kayakers and boaters saying it sure would be great to have that much flow.”

He said he’s in discussions with Denver Water about Glenwood’s application and will soon be talking with all the objectors in the case.

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

Access an issue

Access to proposed whitewater parks can sometimes be one of the factors reviewed by the CWCB and water court, Hamilton said, but not always.

In the case of Glenwood’s application, CDOT owns the property around the No Name rest stop off of I-70, including the riverbed itself, where the first of three whitewater parks is proposed.

In its filing, CDOT told the court that the Glenwood municipality “must prove they have a legal right to use the property and structures contemplated in its application, including the bicycle and pedestrian trail.”

According to Tracy Trulove, communications manager for CDOT in this region, the No Name rest stop is designated as a safety facility by CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, and not as a recreational facility. That could mean Glenwood may need federal approval for the No Name whitewater park.

Hamilton said in regard to the No Name location, “there needs to be significant detailed coordination before that became reality.”

The BLM owns property at the proposed Horseshoe Bend location, about a mile below No Name.

David Boyd, a public affairs specialist with the BLM, said the agency “is not in opposition to the park itself, but seeks a stipulation in the water right for Horseshoe that the proponents follow the BLM permitting process” for access and construction.

Hamilton acknowledged BLM’s likely role in the park, but said Glenwood owns property, and the riverbed, just downstream of the BLM parcel and that’s where the city envisions the structures for the Horseshoe Bend park being built.

And the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool is concerned that wave-creating structures built in the river near the hot springs pool could harm the underground aquifer that supplies hot water to the pool.

Kjell Mitchell, the president and CEO of the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, said engineering studies have shown the boundary of the underground aquifer extends from above the pool to below Two Rivers Park.

The city has proposed that one of its whitewater parks be built just above Two Rivers Park.

“The primary issue of our concern is the potential scouring of the river which could create a hole in the bottom of the river and damage the aquifer,” Mitchell said.

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.Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and river issues. The Daily News published this story on Friday, March 7, 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...