San Luis Valley Water Settlement A Rare Success
Trout Unlimited Plots Strategy for Upcoming San Juan Water Negotiations
3/22/2000 — — Contact: David Nickum, Exec. Dir. Colorado TU (303) 440-2937; firstname.lastname@example.org
March 20, 2000. Boulder, CO . . . While the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Attorney General celebrate the San Luis water settlement, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project is looking ahead to the next series of water negotiations for the San Juan and Delores River basins. As a legal participant, or intervener, in both sets of negotiations, Trout Unlimited is working to ensure that the Forest Service protects its rights to provide enough water for fish and streams to live and thrive.
The use and distribution of the West’s water has always been highly controversial, and offered little or no consideration for fish or the health of watersheds. Lack of water is particularly damaging to native trout, salmon and steelhead, all of which need abundant, clean cold water to migrate and reproduce. Low stream flows also harm fish by id ensifying water pollution problems, raising water temperatures, and making fish more vulnerable to predators.
“Despite its 20 years in the making, the success of the San Luis Valley agreement is exciting,” stated Dave Nickum, Colorado TU Executive Director. “While the Forest Service has made some questionable policy concessions that might harm streams in the future, there is no question that the streams and the fish won a healthy amount of water out of the settlement. Still, fisheries on the forest may be at risk should Forest Service projections about the amount of water available prove to be overly optimistic. In order to obtain this agreement, the Forest Service has compromised its ability to adjust to meet site-specific water needs.”
“The water agreement on the San Luis is unique in many ways,” said Kate Zimmerman, attorney for Trout Unlimited. “The fact that all the fish and water the Forest Service is trying to protect are uphill, while the water projects and uses that the farming and ranching community sought to secure lie downhill for the most part, made this case a no-brainer.”
The San Luis water agreement is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Resolving the litigation between Colorado and the Forest Service on the San Juan River may be much more difficult. In the San Juan’s watershed, many more private water holdings lie on the forest itself and pose a threat to fish and other National Forest resources.
“The Forest Service is going to have to fight to protect the rivers’ water needs,” said Nickum. “Trout Unlimited is involved in the San Juan litigation to make sure that the Forest Service doesn’t back away from its responsibility to protect streams. Hopefully, we can learn from the San Luis Valley success, but the San Juan is an entirely different animal and will demand different strategies if we are to reach another win-win settlement for water users and the environment.”
Established in 1998, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project fights to ensure that fish and rivers have enough water to survive and flourish. The project, in cooperation with Water Watch of Oregon, works to restore and protect water in key Western rivers where diversions for irrigation, industry, and growing cities have depleted ‘living’ stream flows, and threaten fish stocks.
With 6,800 members in 26 chapters statewide, Colorado Trout Unlimited is dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of Colorado’s trout fisheries and their watersheds. Trout Unlimited is the nation’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization representing over 117,000 members.