Director, Colorado Water Project
(303) 440-2937 x.11
9/30/2002 -- Arlington, VA -- – The national conservation group Trout Unlimited says that the announcement by the Bush administration that it will negotiate away most of its water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will have a devastating impact on the park and its gold medal trout fishery.
“Reducing the water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park takes the heart out of the park. It will be devastating for both the park and its fishery,” said Charles Gauvin, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited.
The decision of the Bush administration is the latest in a long series of battles to protect the river that created the canyon located in Colorado. Carved over millions of years by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon is unique for its narrow opening, sheer jagged walls and depth of over 2,000 feet. It was designated as a national monument in 1933 to “protect the roar of the river,” and elevated to national park status in 1999.
Though dams and other water diversions had seriously altered the river’s natural flow regime, in 1978 a Colorado water judge awarded the Park Service a water right to “conserve and maintain in an unimpaired condition the scenic, aesthetic, natural, and historic objects of the monument, as well as [its] wildlife.” The judge directed the federal government to return to court within five years to quantify and finalize this water right.
Intervening events delayed the federal government’s effort to quantify that right until the waning hours of the Clinton administration. When the Park Service filed its quantification application in January 2001, it sought a natural flow regime, with both base flows and higher spring peak flows. In addition to assuring the protection of the scenic and ecological values of the national park, the proposal, and particularly the spring peak flows, would benefit the resident trout fishery and four fish species in the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The state, along with developers and agricultural interests, opposed robust flows for the park. These parties would prefer to use the Gunnison’s water for other purposes. They found a sympathetic ear in the Bush administration and a willingness to allow the water that is the heart of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to be treated as a commodity to be sprinkled in the future on blue grass lawns and alfalfa fields hundreds of miles away.
“No one would think of sucking the Colorado River dry just before it enters the Grand Canyon, or putting a shopping mall in the middle of the Gettysburg battlefield or allowing the development of a hard rock mine at the base of Mount Rushmore. Failing to protect healthy water flows through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – the water that made the canyon the unique resource it is today – is no different,” said Gauvin.
The decision announced today by the Bush administration, which was made without public input, would trade meaningful protection for the river for a more junior priority water right and a guarantee of substantially less water flowing downstream through the park, the combination of which Gauvin says makes much more likely the possibility that the Gunnison River through the national park will run at a trickle in the not-too-distant future.
“The Gunnison is an example of all that the American public holds dear about National Parks. We call on the Bush administration to reconsider this decision and to use the upcoming negotiations to protect the water that this special river needs,” said Gauvin.
Trout Unlimited, the nation's leading coldwater conservation organization, is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon resources and their watersheds. The organization has over 130,000 members in North America, including 8,000 members in Colorado.
For more information: Steve Moyer (703) 284-9406