Boaters may get to rely on rapids |

Boaters may get to rely on rapids

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailySandy Bent takes a relaxing paddle with her family on the Colorado River near State Bridge.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Colorado has always been a bit old fashioned when it comes to dolling out the water in our rivers.

It’s a tradition as old as mining and ranching ” water is good for drinking, agriculture and industry. And that’s about it.

Playing in the rivers though ” rafting and kayaking, for instance ” had for years been a tough sell in the complicated world of water law. The recreation that entices millions of people to buy homes and spend their vacations here has often gotten the cold shoulder from those dividing up the state’s most fought over natural resource ” water rights.

Looks like those values are evolving.

A policy adopted by the Colorado River District, a powerful group with a lot of say in how water is used in western Colorado, is one of many signs pointing to a major shift in attitude toward kayaking and rafting in Colorado.

These days, laying in the water is a good thing, they say.

The policy isn’t much different than the old one, actually. It merely makes a statement.

It’s an official recognition of the importance of recreational water use in western Colorado to our lifestyle and economy, something the district has recognized for many years, says spokesman Jim Pokrandt.

It may seem like a no brainer to you, who perhaps went rafting three times a week this summer, but when you view this policy symbolically, it reflects a major turnaround for many Colorado water interests that have fought to preserve water for traditional uses.

“(Water law) has always been catered toward the agricultural vs. recreation,” said Sean Glackin, a kayaker and owner of Alpine Quest Sports. “It’s good that folks are starting to recognize recreation as a valid use. It brings a lot of money into the area and the whole state of Colorado.”

While there has always been tension between the old traditions and the growing popularity of recreation, for the longest time, it wasn’t much of an issue, Pokrandt said.

Tension has been rising mainly in the past 10 years as towns like Vail have put rocks in the middle of rivers to create features for whitewater parks and then file for the rights.

It’s one thing to kayak in the river, but to take that water away from everyone else just for sport and fun? Traditionalists wouldn’t hear of it.

“Back when those things first came on the scene, there was definitely a battle on traditional uses of water ” it didn’t fit,” Pokrandt said.

The courts have since loosened things up. Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who’s been in the thick of water conflicts for years, says with many prominent and hard fought court cases siding in favor of recreational water use, he’s seen a reluctant acceptance from the old school of thought.

“To me, it typifies the change between the old and the new west,” Porzak said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, another powerful group in the water world, strongly opposed Vail when it applied for water rights to preserve it’s whitewater park a couple years ago. It turned into a very lengthy legal battle, one that went to the Colorado Supreme Court, and Vail ended up being one of the first groups able to obtain water rights for recreational use.

The mere idea of it seemed like a complete waste of water to the board, Porzak said.

“It was completely foreign to them ” not even in their thought processes,” Porzak said. “To say they were adamantly opposed would be the understatement. The conservation board was really the primary opponent and ultimately pushed us all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The town of Avon is in the process of applying for water rights for its whitewater park, which was built last year and has already hosted a successful White Water Rodeo.

The park, near Bob the Bridge, also represents a significant investment for the town, one that could be in danger without water rights guaranteeing that enough water will be there in the short window of the whitewater season.

“Some other project in the future could take that water away,” said Justin Hildreth, a town engineer.

Hildreth and the town hope that with a precedent set by Vail’s whitewater park, and with the river district’s formalized policy, it will be easier to obtain the water rights. Pokrandt says so far, the district has supported giving rights to this white water park.

“The river district is reflecting the current values of Coloradans,” said Caroline Bradford, a long time watchdog of local water issues. “I think that they will support people playing in the river.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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