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Water Right Quantification Decreed for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.
Photo by NPS.

On December 31, 2008, the Colorado Water Court issued a decree quantifying the reserved water right for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  The decree quantifies a water right in the Park for Gunnison River flows ranging from a springtime peak flow, to "shoulder" flows before and/or after the peak flows, to a minimum flow for the remainder of the year.  These flows are critical to the physical and biological processes that maintain the spectacular Gunnison River Gorge through the Park.  The decree also recognizes the importance of other private and public river management issues including existing upstream water users, the potential for downstream flooding at the town of Delta, protection of downstream endangered fish, and operation of Reclamation's Aspinall Unit Reservoirs just upstream.  The decree acknowledges that the Secretary of the Interior will balance these needs with his/her management discretion assigned by federal water-related law.

The quantification of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park reserved water right had been a long-standing and deeply divisive issue among the many interests that have a stake in the management of Gunnison River flows.  The final decree was a product of a year-long formal mediation among all major parties to a lawsuit that invalidated a previous quantification settlement agreement.  Over 30 parties were involved in the final mediation including the United States (National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Western Area Power Administration), the State of Colorado, a coalition of conservation groups, and several water users and interest groups.

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Last Updated: January 24, 2012