Summer-Fall 2011 Telluride Magazine

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Page 22

telluride turns Headlines and Highlights from the Local News

By Stephen Barrett

How much water is needed for certain fish species to survive? photo by ryan bonneau

Clash Over Water Rights


Three imperiled species of fish—the roundtail chub, flannelmouth sucker and bluehead sucker—have set off a scramble for water rights on the San Miguel River and, in the process, brought simmering differences between east- and west-end communities to a boil. More than a year ago, state wildlife officials and the Bureau of Land Management requested a dedicated, in-stream flow on the lower San Miguel River to assure there’s enough water left for the fish to survive. The request has been widely supported in the Telluride region by environmental and recreational groups. It has been equally resisted in the west-end communities of Montrose and San Miguel Counties as a threat to their own long-term survival. A dispute was averted last year when the two counties asked to delay the process. The postponement was designed to allow west-end communities to first determine their own future water needs. Under Colorado’s “first in use, first in right” doctrine, the communities had only to apply for water rights ahead of the in-stream flow to gain priority over the fish. Norwood, Naturita, and Montrose County all took advantage of that opportunity, but the Town of Telluride has opposed their requests as excessive and a threat to the environmental values on which our regional outdoor tourism depends. The applications by Montrose County and the Town of Naturita also lay claim to future reservoirs on tributaries within San Miguel County. That’s a proposal San Miguel County commissioners cannot abide. Meanwhile, Montrose County and a private water company serving the Norwood area are fighting the in-stream flow in a separate proceeding, arguing that it overstates the needs of the fish and the amount of available water. The only certainty about the water is that there will never be enough, making the West’s most valuable resource an inevitable source of conflict. summer/fall 2011