Kayak parks a complex enterprise
AVON- Kayakers in the Vail Valley appreciate that Vail jumped through countless hoops to build a whitewater park. But all the compromise left Vail with a sub-par course, said 15-year-old kayaker John O’Neill.”It’s not a very good park anymore,” O’Neill said. “It’s getting all washed out.”Professional kayaker Brad Luddin agreed, saying it was hard to stay competitive by training in Vail. “It was a great first stop toward a whitewater park, but now they’re losing credibility,” Luddin said. With his pro status, Luddin travels the world to train, but at 15, O’Neill doesn’t even have a drivers license to get to the big water. “It would be great to have more (kayak parks) around here,” O’Neill said. “That way, my parents wouldn’t have to drive me all the way to Glenwood (Springs). They could just drop me off around here, and I could play all day.”The plan
Although O’Neill will likely have his driver’s license before the Vail Valley sees any new whitewater parks, the town of Avon is currently trudging through the red tape of building one. While it’s too late for Avon, state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, is trying to streamline the complex process of building a water park. “We’re striving to clean up the process,” Curry said. “It’s a compromise that everyone is frustrated with. I’m sure we’re going to have some pretty heated debates about it.”Such is the plight of finding a middle ground – no one is happy, Curry said. The bill, the work of the Water Resources Review Committee, will be introduced in the state legislature’s upcoming session. Curry will carry the bill in the state House of Representatives. Most kayakers haven’t heard of the new bill, though anything to help get more whitewater parks is welcome. “It can be nothing but positive,” said kayak instructor Chris Amoroso. “If you build it, they will come.”How much water?
When a town, like Avon, wants to build a whitewater park, it must prove there will be enough water when kayakers want to be in the river. And the proposed bill deals with how much water a town could depend on and the criteria that water courts will use to judge proposals. It turns out even courts are debating how to measure the worth of a park. But the proposed bill would clean up the definitions of complicated terms, making it easier to figure out if someone will get the go-ahead to build. “Each court is doing their own thing,” Curry said. “I feel like to do our jobs, we need to give the courts more information to make a decision.Kayakers set the barCurry wants to use kayaking – as opposed to activities like tubing or canoeing – as a measure of how much water a park needs.”The basis of the water right has to be backed up,” Curry said. “Tubing is harder to quantify. Kayakers have a pretty good sense of how much is needed for their use. This will make it more scientific.”Although kayaking will be the benchmark, other activities would still be permitted in whitewater parks. “We recognize the importance of recreation, but we need to limit the water right to what is needed for recreation so it doesn’t create undesired consequences,” said state Sen. Jim Isgar, D- Hesperus, who represents southwest Colorado and chaired the Water Resources Review Committee.
Isgar said giving water for kayak parks may mean there isn’t enough water to build homes upstream, for example. What’s the water for?But kayakers urge legislators to look more deeply into benefits of kayak parks. “They should look at this as an economic development,” Amoroso said. “It draws people at a different time (of the year) than skiing and would help us be a year-round resort.”Luddin said he recognizes the water could go to other projects, but nonetheless “it’s an argument I only see one side of.””People come here for the recreational opportunities,” he said. “If you take those things away, the economy is going to start to crash a bit. Kayaking still generates a lot of money, and it’s so great and so healthy to have people out there playing in the park every day.”Despite how much will be promised to water owners in whitewater parks, the bill would include a “fairly radical” disclaimer, Curry said. During water shortages, the parks won’t be allowed to claim their water.”It’s a self-regulating mechanism,” she said.
Cutting the board down to sizeAnother goal of the bill is to limit the power of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the godfather of water rights. Instead of commenting on six aspects of a proposed water park, the board will comment on three, and board members will have less time than before to add their two cents. “It focuses the board’s attention on three issues that the board clearly has expertise in,” said Ted Kowalski, an attorney for the water conservation board. “I think it’s appropriate,” he said. “These issues aren’t necessarily within the board’s expertise. We’re open to that.”On the home front, the bill is receiving support from a local conservation group, the Eagle River Watershed Council in Avon.”I think it’s a good idea,” said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the council. “It changes the power structure in our state, and it needs to be changed. It’s been the same for 100 years.”
Cutting down on law suitsIsgar and Curry both think the bill will reduce the number of lawsuits fought over whitewater parks. Curry’s own town of Gunnison spent more than $500,000 in legal fees battling over one such park. “Clearly something needs to be done,” Isgar said. “There’s a lot of confusion of the quantification of these water rights, and it’s a fairly new type of water right. I think that’s the reason for a lot of the uncertainty around them. They don’t fit neatly into our water law, which makes them very expensive to argue in court.”But Kowalski said the new bill may rise new questions that may be battled out in court. “That being said, I want to be fair,” he said. “There are some questions that people have legitimately about the current status of the law. This is a good attempt to try to answer some of the questions that are out there.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado