Wednesday, September 27

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Interior Department files claim for groundwater at Great Sand Dunes National Park

As directed by Congress, the United States of America filed a claim in state water court today seeking confirmation of the United States’ appropriation of in-place groundwater beneath Great Sand Dunes National Park, an action which was supported by the local water districts and by the state of Colorado.

In accordance with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, P.L. 106-530, the Secretary of the Interior established the Great Sand Dunes National Park effective Sept. 24, 2004. The establishment of the park was strongly supported by the state of Colorado and the residents of the San Luis Valley. Consistent with explicit provisions of the Act, the Department of the Interior appropriated ground water necessary to protect and preserve the ecosystem and resources of the park. The United States, through the Department of Justice, has filed in the Colorado water court an application seeking confirmation of the appropriation. The filing was made on Dec. 30, 2004, and seeks a water right decree for all of the unappropriated groundwater underlying the park. The filing was developed in conjunction with representatives of the state of Colorado and water users in the San Luis Valley, who are expected to file statements in support of the application with the water court within the next 60 days.

The Act is unique in its treatment of water rights for federal reserved lands in that it: (1) explicitly disclaims the existence of a federal-reserved water right for the park; and (2) directs the Secretary to appropriate water right through “the procedural requirements and priority system of the laws of the State of Colorado.” Because of the unique Congressional directive, water rights obtained through this process will not create a precedent for any other claims by the National Park Service at this or other parks.

“The action today is taken with the support of local water districts and the state of Colorado,” said Great Sand Dunes National Park Superintendent Steve Chaney. “By working together we are ensuring that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to experience the beauty of Great Sand Dunes National Park. We also are protecting an important source of economic prosperity for the San Luis Valley and an internationally famous resource that draws visitors to Colorado from around the world.”

The groundwater right sought by the U.S. government is essential to maintaining the dunefield for which Great Sand Dunes is famous and is also necessary for maintaining the park’s plants, animals, wetlands and other scenic and natural features.

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