Crestone Eagle, February 2005:
Interior Department files claim for groundwater at Great
Sand Dunes National Park
-National Park Service
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.
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.