January 7, 2009
MONTROSE, CO – Last week, the water court in the Gunnison River basin entered a
decree formally adopting an agreement between the United States, conservationists, water
users, the State of Colorado, and others that will recognize and protect water rights for
river flows in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. After more than 30 years of
dispute, this action resolves one of Colorado’s most contentious water rights battles.
The final settlement reached last year, which now has been blessed by the water court,
creates a flow regime that includes annual peak flows and shoulder flows—tied to natural
water availability—plus a year-round base flow of 300 cubic feet per second.
Collectively, these elements are critical to the health of the Park and the Gunnison River.
With the water rights decree in place, changes to the flow in the Gunnison River will be
noticeable beginning with this spring’s runoff.
“This agreement recognizes the importance of Black Canyon National Park and the need
to preserve its spectacular resources for the benefit of present and future generations,”
said Libby Fayad, representative for the National Parks Conservation Association.
The flow regime will protect the water-dependent resources of the Black Canyon and
help restore the ecological balance in the river system disrupted by three federal dams
immediately upstream of the Park. The flows will create a healthier environment for a
world class trout fishery, cleanse sediment deposits that have caused whirling disease in
trout, clear woody debris, maintain the river channel, and greatly improve the aesthetics
of a flowing river for hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year.
“This landmark ruling acknowledges that the Gunnison River offers recreational and
natural resource benefits that deserve protection,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout
Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project.
“The new flow regime will greatly benefit the ecology and visitor experience at the Park,
protecting it as a national treasure,” added Wendy McDermott, Executive Director of the
High Country Citizens’ Alliance.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates Ph.: (303) 444-1188, ext. 219
Drew Peternell, Trout Unlimited Ph: (303) 440-2917, ext. 102
Steve Smith, The Wilderness Society Ph: (303) 650-5818, ext. 106
Libby Fayad, National Parks Conservation Ph: (202) 454-3306
Andy Spielman, Hogan and Hartson Ph. (303) 454-2476