The city of Golden is known as the home of both
the Colorado School of Mines and Coors beer. But that image is
changing. The city’s kayak course on Clear Creek has put
Golden on the map of recreational boaters from around the country.
There’s one small problem with the
course: Golden has no guaranteed right to the water that keeps the
rapids churning. The town’s request for a water right, the
third and largest such request in Colorado history, has turned into
a statewide debate about how much water should be kept in streams
for recreational uses.
Conservation Board, a 15-member group appointed by the governor to
oversee the state’s water resources, is leading the
opposition to Golden’s plans. Under Colorado law, anyone can
request a water right as long as they alter the flow of a waterway
and the water is put to beneficial use. A kayak course qualifies
under those guidelines, but Dan McAuliff, deputy director of the
board, says approval of Golden’s request would set a risky
"The board was concerned about it
because under this kind of diversion, there’s just a lot more
potential for mischief," says McAuliff. "What if someone were just
to drop a boulder in the stream and say, ‘I’ve diverted
water, and it makes kayaking better.’ Is that person entitled
to a water right?"
The board is so concerned
with Golden’s brand of water use that it’s pushing the
state Legislature to make recreational water rights more difficult
to obtain. Glen Porzak, Golden’s water attorney, says that
the board favors traditional water users, such as industry and
agriculture, over uses that keep water in the river.
Says Porzak, "If Golden was using it for a
power plant, they wouldn’t be opposing us."