Three topics dominated the June 17 Park County Advisory Board on the Environment (ABE) meeting – in-stream flow water rights proposal, oil and gas master leasing plan, and some Beaver Ridge resident complaints regarding the Glory Z Mine.
ABE is an advisory board to the Park County Commissioners on environmental issues.
Instream flow proposal
ABE is finalizing a recommendation for four or five streams and/or natural lakes to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for consideration for minimum in-stream flow or natural lake level water rights. ABE is also interested in pursuing water rights to protect playa lakes, wetlands and fens in Park County.
ABE will meet with the commissioners on July 9 to discuss the recommendation with the commissioners’ decision on whether to move forward set for July 10.
ABE is also proposing that the commissioners hold a public meeting later this year for citizen input before submitting the list to CWCB for consideration.
Currently, 66 stream segments have instream flows and six natural lakes have lake level water rights in Park County. See map for locations. ABE compiled a long list of streams and lakes and asked the local districts of United States Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to prioritize them.
USFS chose five streams and their tributaries with a priority of protecting the watersheds and wetland fens as well as fisheries.
They were Lost Creek, Rough and Tumbling Creek, Rock Creek, Beaver Creek (near Fairplay) and the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the South Platte.
USFS did not prioritize the rest of ABE’s list, according to Kristen Meyer, South Park Ranger District biologist.
CPW’s Aquatic Biologist Jeff Spohn ranked Rock Creek and Johnson Creek and Upper and Lower Square Top Lakes as the first priorities as waters where cutthroat trout may be introduced by CPW. All other streams and lakes on the list by ABE received either a priority 2, 3, 4 or 5.
Spohn suggested the two agencies work together to narrow the list to the top five out of the nine chosen by the agencies. Other streams may also be considered. That list should be submitted to ABE by June 27.
Eddie Kochman, ABE chair, suggested ABE develop a long term guiding document for acquiring flows and levels on all streams and natural lakes that don’t currently have protection by water rights.
ABE decided to postpone that until the stream and wetland restoration and protection strategic plan, that is being partially funded by Park County’s Land and Water Trust Fund (county’s one percent sales tax), is completed in December 2015.
Linda Bassi, CWCB stream and lake protection section chief, met with ABE in April to explain the process, which takes a minimum of three years before taking a proposal to water court.
She told ABE that CWCB has staff and funding to look at about five proposals per year.
Not every proposal submitted by other entities is pursued by the CWCB staff or board.
Bassi encouraged ABE to choose streams that would have little or no opposition in water court, such as those on federal forest land or wilderness areas.
Most, if not all of the streams and natural lakes on the initial lists by the USFS and CPW are on public land.
ABE members met with the two water conservancy districts in Park County and the Land and Water Trust Fund board in May.
All entities said they could not support or oppose instream flows until specific streams had been chosen.
The conservancy districts were concerned about their ability to exchange water up or down a stream where instream flow rights exist and must be maintained.
The Central Colorado Cattlemen’s Association also wrote ABE with concerns about impacts to its members’ water rights and could not support the proposal without knowing which streams are on the list and if any agricultural rights also exist on that stream.
All entities said they will weigh in on the issue once the streams are identified.
Instream flows and natural lake level water rights can be held only by the CWCB to preserve the natural environment of streams and lakes in the state to a reasonable degree.
State law allowing the environmental water rights was passed in 1973. All the rights have priority dates of later than 1973.
Minimum instream flow water rights are not for the whole length of a stream but for between specific points on a stream.
Natural lake rights are for a specific water level.
Bassi emphasized that new instream and natural lake water rights are administered within the state’s prior appropriation system.
Any new instream or natural lake level water rights are junior water rights and in most cases do not affect senior water rights, meaning those rights adjudicated before the instream flow or lake level was adjudicated.
If a willing owner donates, leases or sells a water right to CWCB for an instream flow, then the right maintains its senior appropriation date. The instream flow must also be added as an allowed use by water court.
These methods are less common than CWCB getting a new instream water right adjudicated.
If water rights’ owners change a use or a diversion point through water court, then the priority date becomes the date the change is adjudicated.
In the above scenario, that water right could be affected if the new adjudication date becomes more junior than an instream flow adjudication date.
Any water rights adjudicated on a specific stream after the instream water right could be affected if the stream doesn’t have enough water for all water rights.
A call on the river means there is not enough water in the river or stream to meet all the water rights.
When that happens, water rights that are more senior than the year of the call can use the water.
Calls on the river are common after each spring’s snowpack runoff and can have a call priority date of mid-to-late 1800s.
But typically, when a call is made on a river, instream flow rights are too junior to be maintained and are also part of the call.
Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, and Tom Eisenman, county administration officer, updated ABE on a June 2-4 trip to Washington, D.C. to emphasize the importance of Bureau of Land Management completing oil and gas master leasing plans in Colorado, including South Park.
The trip was organized by the National Wildlife Federation and also included members of NWF, Trout Unlimited and local governments.
The group talked with Colorado senators and staff, senior BLM staff and other federal agencies in the Department of Interior.
O’Neill and Eisenman told ABE that the trip was successful and they found support from the agencies they spoke with.
O’Neill said the BLM has decided to use a collaborative inter-agency process for the first time in Colorado to develop an MLP for South Park.
“I applaud the efforts of the BLM to identify and support a comprehensive process (for developing a master leasing plan),” Eisenman said.
He said he was pleased that the BLM supports not only more open dialogue and engagement with the general public, but also with other agencies under the Department of Interior, such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service.
The MLP will be a stand-alone section of the update to the Royal Gorge Resource Management Plan.
That update will begin later this year.
O’Neill said Keith Berger, the Royal Gorge field manager, informed them that a stakeholder roundtable meeting will be conducted sometime this summer to delineate the boundary of the MLP as the first step in the process.
Master leasing plans are new tools approved in 2010 under Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to evaluate the overall impacts of oil and gas development by taking a landscape-level look at areas where other key natural resources overlap with oil and gas reserves.
The goal of an MPL is to address conflicts up front to avoid or minimize any cumulative environmental impacts.
The Colorado Wildlife Federation asked BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office to develop a master leasing plan for South Park in 2011.
Shortly after, ABE urged the commissioners to also request a MLP, which the commissioners did.
In 2012, the Royal Gorge Field Office said no to the requests, then in 2013 decided to complete a MLP for South Park, but to continue leasing land for oil and gas exploration.
Again, Colorado Wildlife Federation and the county requested a moratorium on leasing while the plan is developed.
Earlier this year, BLM announced that no new oil or gas leases will be allowed until the management plan is adopted, which could take up to three years to develop.
ABE voted to recommend that the county commissioners request the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mine Safety inspect the Glory Z Mine for compliance with its mining permit.
The open pit mine is northwest of Fairplay, adjacent to State Highway 9 and was operated by Sanborn Sand and Gravel for many years.
It is now operated by Golden Cross Aggregates, Inc.
Issues of noise, fumes, hours of operation, dust, air and water quality concerns were expressed by some residents of Beaver Ridge subdivision located across Highway 9 from the mine both in a letter to ABE and at the June 17 meeting.