FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2006
CIVIL COMPLAINT FILED TO RECOVER DAMAGES FROM GRAND RIVER DITCH BREACH IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
DENVER, CO – The United States Department of Justice, on behalf of the Department of the Interior, has filed a civil complaint today in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, against Water Supply and Storage Company (“WSSC”) in an attempt to recover damages related to the May 30, 2003 breach of the Grand River Ditch in Rocky Mountain National Park. The government’s civil suit to recover damages is pursuant to the Park System Resource Protection Act, as well as a stipulation made in 1907, and renewed in 2000, between the defendant, and the United States Forest Service, regarding the operation and maintenance of the Grand River Ditch.
The Grand River Ditch is a drainage ditch that is 17 feet wide and 5 feet deep carved into the slopes of the Never Summer Range, approximately 1,000 feet above the Colorado River and Kawuneeche Valley. The ditch is approximately fourteen miles long. It originates on the south side of Baker Gulch, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, at an elevation of approximately 10,280 feet. The ditch cuts along the east side of the Never Summer Range within park boundaries, leaves the park at La Poudre Pass at an elevation of approximately 10,175 feet, and terminates at the Long Draw Reservoir.
In 1894 the WSSC began constructing a drainage ditch, now known as the Grand River Ditch, along the slopes of the Never Summer Range in what was at that time the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve. The Grand River Ditch captures snow melt and rain water from the east side of the Never Summer Range and diverts it over the Continental Divide at La Poudre Pass to the Long Draw Reservoir. From there, the water flows into the Cache La Poudre River, where it is further transported to water users along the Front Range and eastern plains.
In 1907 a duly authorized agent of WSSC entered into a stipulated agreement with the United States Forest Service for a right of way through the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve for a “conduit” that would later be known as the Grand River Ditch. The 1907 stipulation requires WSSC to pay the United States for any and all damage sustained by reason of use and occupation of the forest reserve by the company regardless of the cause and circumstances under which such damage may occur.
In 1915 Rocky Mountain National Park was established. In 1930 portions of the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve, including the portions of the Never Summer Range through which the majority of the Grand River Ditch flows, were added to Rocky Mountain National Park. In a February of 2000 the United States and WSSC agreed that the 1907 Stipulation remains in full force and effect and that the National Park Service is a successor-in-interest of the United States Forest Service with regard to the 1907 Stipulation.
On or around May 30, 2003, the Grand River Ditch breached approximately 2.4 miles south of La Poudre Pass, within the boundaries of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The breach was caused by water backing up in, and eventually overtopping, the ditch, as a result of excess accumulated snow, ice and other debris in the ditch. Approximately 105 cubic feet per second of water from the Grand River Ditch emptied through the breach and plunged to the valley below. Water flowing through the breach excavated a gully measuring approximately 167 feet wide and 60 feet deep. A large portion of the mountainside below the breach was washed to the valley floor by the erosive power of water, rock, mud and vegetation. The breach caused significant damage to an old growth lodgepole and spruce/fir forest, Lulu Creek, the upper Colorado River, and associated wetlands, all within the boundaries of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The breach caused over 60,000 cubic yards of sediment to flow into the upper Colorado River and associated wetlands. Much of the upper Colorado River watershed within the Rocky Mountain National Park was closed to visitors until water levels receded and damage to trails, bridges, and campsites could be repaired.
The government’s complaint alleges that while under the operation and control of the Water Storage and Supply Company, water from the Grand River Ditch breached the banks of the ditch, causing extensive destruction of, loss of, and injury to a sub-alpine forest, Lulu Creek, the upper Colorado River, wetlands (and associated flora and fauna), trails, bridges and campsites within Rocky Mountain National Park.
The government is asking that the court hold the defendant responsible for all response costs and damages, including interest and costs, associated with the breach. In the event that the defendant is unable to pay to restore the damage, the government has also asked the court to condemn the Grand River Ditch so it can be sold to pay such judgment.
The case is being handled by James Freeman, with the Environmental Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice, and United States Attorney Troy Eid of the District of Colorado.