Silverthorn Kayak Park (Article)
Silverthorne floats kayak park, troubles Denver Water
By Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Staff Writer
Frisco - A proposal to build a kayak park just below the Dillon Reservoir was met Wednesday with concern over the prospect that it could affect Denver's future water supply.
In seeking a new water right, Silverthorne's proposal would ensure minimum stream flows through the Blue River on summer days and peak flows on holiday weekends, but it would kick in only when there is enough water to make boating worthwhile.
Using water rights for whitewater parks has become an increasingly contentious issue in the state, Silverthorne water attorney David Robbins told the Colorado Water Conservation Board, meeting in Frisco.
"Whether we agree philosophically ... or if we don't agree with them, they are a matter of fact and a matter of life," he said.
Representatives of the Denver Water Board, however, suggested that the water rights being sought could interfere with the city's operation of its water-supply system, even though Silverthorne's claim would be considered a "junior" water right.
Under Colorado law, water rights are property that can be sold and traded, and they are based on seniority: Holders of the oldest water rights trump all other users upstream and are entitled to their share first.
In 2001, the state legislature determined that municipalities could seek water rights for whitewater parks, which have sprung up or been proposed in more than a dozen Colorado communities.
But the efforts have continually met with resistance from traditional water users, for whom it is nearly antithetical to allow precious water to to flow away for recreation.
Water in the Dillon Reservoir, which serves Denver's 1 million
municipal users, is drawn through the Roberts Tunnel into the South Platte drainage, one of numerous "trans-mountain diversions" that pipe mountain water to the Front Range.
Denver's spider web of pipes and complex agreements with other users means that water in its other mountain storage facilities is sometimes tapped for downstream users to substitute for the amount the city draws from Dillon.
As a result, the Denver Water Board is concerned that the Silverthorne proposal could hinder the city's ability to use its full allotment of water without infringing on its obligations to downstream users.
Silverthorne officials, though, point out that the water right wouldn't displace any senior rights and that Denver is trying to stake a claim for future water-use possibilities that don't exist in law.
The utility and Silverthorne are trying to hammer out an agreement. In the meantime, the Water Conservation Board must make a recommendation to the state water court about whether to allow the whitewater park.
"The town of Silverthorne, although a small community, is just as entitled to obtain a water right as any large community," said Robbins, taking careful aim at Denver.