U.S. Forest Service files to confirm water rights

The U.S. Forest Service has filed an application to perfect a portion of the Animas Service Area water right owned by La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

The Forest Service filed the application in District Court, Water Division 7, on Nov. 29 as confirmation of a number of historic existing water uses in the Animas River basin on San Juan National Forest, Columbine Ranger District, a news release said.

The Animas Service Area water right is a unique Colorado water right acquired in response to the recreational in-channel diversion water right owned by the city of Durango for whitewater recreation.

A settlement between the city of Durango, La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District allowed for water to support a whitewater park on the Animas River while setting aside two large water rights that are senior to the city’s allotment for current and future development, USFS said.

USFS explained that the filing will confirm 153 water rights for San Juan National Forest, representing a cumulative total of about 2.3 cubic feet per second of flow in springs and an additional 57.8 acre-feet of storage in Henderson Lake.

To put the amounts into perspective, about 1 cfs of water per year typically is used to irrigate 30 acres of land in the Animas Valley, the news release said. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot.

Most of the Forest Service claims are for surface-water rights to protect water for livestock at 137 small natural springs on San Juan National Forest grazing allotments in the Animas Basin. These uses have been in effect on the national forest since the early 1900s and altogether represent a cumulative total of almost 2.2 cfs.

This is not the only claim being filed by the Forest Service. Other claims are designed to protect existing domestic water use and lawn watering at cabins on the national forest, the agency said in the release.

More information is available from San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles at 385-1289, or Kelly Palmer at 385-1232.