Water rights ruling challenged

Colorado’s highest court is considering a challenge to the water rights held by a Meeker-area water conservancy district for eventual use in energy development.

Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District is appealing a water court finding that canceled its right to about 140,000 acre-feet water in the upper White River Basin.

The trial court had agreed with Western Resource Advocates in a lawsuit that when Yellow Jacket filed an application to maintain its rights, the action was invalid because some members of the Yellow Jacket board of directors had yet to be reappointed.

Oral arguments were conducted on Wednesday in Denver.

The district appropriated the industrial rights in the 1960s with an eye to using them in the event oil shale development took off.

While there was always an understanding that the district, which collects $30,000 a year from property taxes, would partner with private industry to develop reservoirs.

No such arrangement, however, exists, Glenwood Springs water attorney Scott Grosscup said., adding that the district’s efforts are aimed at “establishing resources to protect the White River Basin when there is demand” for water by oil shale development.

While attorneys for the district said the suit amounted to an argument over a technicality, Western Resource Advocates attorney Rob Harris said there is more to it.

“We’re talking about a water district that isn’t needed, running a board that wasn’t legal trying to gather water rights equal to half of the White River,” Harris said, “all to meet the theoretical demands of an oil shale technology that doesn’t yet exist.”

Yellow Jacket’s attorney, Sarah Klahn, said Western Resource Advocates was “whipsawed” by precedent that allows Yellow Jacket to proceed with showing due diligence.

Companies not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office have been found to have filed valid reports with the water court, Klahn said.

“Where in Colorado water law does it say you have to have a fully appointed board as a precondition of a water-rights application?” Klahn said.

The problem of having board members sitting on the board past the end of their terms has been rectified with their reappointment by district court, Klahn said.

Appeals of water court rulings go directly to the state Supreme Court and no schedule for a ruling was set.


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