September 21, 2016--In-stream flow rights offer alternative to federal water claims (Pine River Times)

Colorado in-stream flow rights are seen by state water officials as a possible way to resolve U.S. Forest Service reserve water right claims filed back in 1973. Four streams in the San Juan National Forest, including Vallecito Creek, are being looked at as relatively non-controversial ways to promote this by acquiring junior in-stream flow rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers the in-stream flow program within the prior appropriation system. The section of Vallecito Creek being discussed runs 17.7 miles from a high-elevation cirque lake south to the Forest Service boundary above Vallecito reservoir. The other creeks are Himes Creek in Mineral County, Little Sand Creek in Hinsdale County, and Rio Lado Creek, a tributary to the Dolores River.

The La Plata County Commissioners got an update on this on Sept. 13. The federal claims have been seen over the years as a threat to the state's prior appropriation system and state administration of water rights - especially claims on lower elevation rivers and streams that could threaten upstream private or municipal water rights. "We've come close to resolving this in District 7 (Water Court), but not quite," said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. "Right now it's still an active case. Within the last year or two, the Forest Service and state started having discussions... The Forest Service was interested in how in-stream flow could help resolve the reserve rights. We looked at the streams the Forest Service was interested in. If we're successful, it could be a great tool to resolve these outstanding cases without being litigated." He continued, "We're looking for certainty, that they are state appropriated rights. We don't want to expand the state in-stream flow program. We're kind of in a wait-and-see mode." Forest Service staffer Anthony Madrid said. To view the full article visit the Pine River Times.