River Closures and Colorado Law
Hey buzzards, I've been in contact with Colorado's Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation concerning the legal authority to close rivers. For everyones benefit, here's the Divisions take on the CO statute and rules.
Colorado's boating statutes (33-13-111 C.R.S.) grant authority to peace
officers, such as the Eagle County Sheriff, to close waters to boating when
specific conditions exist. Those conditions include: a state of disaster
emergency has been declared, disaster relief efforts are underway, an
accident or other emergency occurs in or immediately adjacent to the water body, rescue efforts for victims are actively underway, or there is an active construction project underway. The state statute also grants the
State Parks Board the authority to determine by rule when the operation of a vessel could constitute a hazard to human life or safety. Under this
authority, the Board has adopted rule #217.
#217 establishes three different levels of response: public advisements,
partial use restrictions, and use restrictions. Public advisements and
partial use restrictions do not prohibit the use of vessels. A full use
restriction does prohibit the use of vessels, whitewater canoes, kayaks,
etc. on rivers and streams. However, the rule clearly states that a hazard
to human life and safety shall not be deemed to exist based solely upon the river's flow rate. The rule is intended to provide peace officers with
three different levels of response while preventing boating closures based
solely on high water levels.
If, for example, a low bridge combined with high water were to create a
small stretch of river or stream that could not be navigated by a boat
because there is not enough room to make safe passage under the bridge, then a condition would exist that creates a hazard to human life and safety. A use restriction order could be used by a peace officer in this situation. The order must specify the beginning and ending locations for the boating closure, the proposed duration of the order, and state the facts
establishing the basis for the order. Closure signs are required to be
posted at access sites around the closed section of water and the law
enforcement agency is required to notify Colorado State Parks that a use
restriction order has been issued.
Hope this helps empower padlers out there.
Colorado Stewardship Director