Two water conservation districts own conditional water rights on the Crystal River in Colorado that date back to 1958. The rights are connected to plans that include a dam on the upper Crystal River and one on North Thompson Creek. Pitkin County has filed a court motion stating that the project planning period has lapsed, arguing that allowing it to continue would just prolong a merely speculative conditional water right. The two potential reservoirs would be for hydropower and irrigation, with an anticipated use to meet the water demands of the energy industry. The project was originally authorized by Congress in 1956, primarily to provide water from the Crystal River for oil shale production.
The districts previously abandoned significant portions of their water rights, reducing the size of the potential reservoirs from 75,000 acre feet to 9,000 acre feet. After over 50 years of “planning period” and little activity, the project was declared as not economically justified, but the conditional water rights are still stewarded by the two water districts. With huge shortages of water and drought, many groups argue that the wild and scenic values of the Crystal River should not be compromised by speculative plans to dam the river and dry it up even further. In July and August of 2012 you could walk across the Crystal River in almost all locations, the depth was only a couple inches deep.
EcoFlight flew Pitkin County’s experts and litigation team to help them prepare critical opinions regarding the project, as part of the County’s efforts to invalidate these rights. The aerial perspective gives testament to the majesty of this uncontained river, which flows freely from high in the Elk Mountains near Marble, Colorado all the way to the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale and eventually the Colorado River. The aerial perspective helps passengers fully grasp how the dams, canals and other elements of the project would affect the area and entail significant costs and impacts to build.
In 2012, American Rivers named the Crystal one of America’s most endangered rivers. After diversions for irrigation, the river slows to nearly a trickle at the confluence, leaving little to no room for any other water projects if the river is to remain in healthy condition.
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