City retains water attorney

Council hires Glenn Porzak to file for recreational water rights

The Steamboat Springs City Council hired a lawyer Tuesday in its quest to file recreational water rights by the end of the year.

After agreeing to put out a proposal for hiring an attorney last week, the council approved retaining well-known water attorney Glenn Porzak.

Porzak successfully argued at the Colorado Supreme Court this spring for recreational water rights in Golden, Vail and Breckenridge. Porzak charges $255 an hour and estimated it would take about 10 hours to review the work the city has done and then to file for a recreational water right.

Since May, the council has looked at filing for recreational water rights, which would preserve the flow of water in the Yampa River coming through the city, but would not take any water out of the river.

"Time is of the essence," City Councilman Paul Strong said. Strong said he is worried the legislature will change the water law to make it more difficult to file for a recreational water right.

The council has been told that defending the controversial water right could take between $100,000 and $200,000. Part of Tuesday night's approval was for the proposal to come back to council if more than $3,000 was going to be spent.

Even before he was officially hired, Porzak passed along advice to the city. From a suggestion by Porzak, City Attorney Tony Lettunich advised city staff to stop its conversations with the Colorado Conservation Water Board and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Lettunich said any conversation between the two entities and the city would now go through Porzak.

Strong said Porzak believes conversations with the Colorado Water Board about minimum in-stream flows have been used against municipalities filing for water rights in court.

Councilman Bud Romberg cast the lone no vote to retain Porzak. Romberg questioned if a lawyer was needed and suggested that the city first hold meetings with the upstream communities and the Routt County commissioners.

After council members voiced support for hiring a lawyer, Romberg asked if the city should not go with its current water attorneys -- Trout, Witwer and Freeman -- who already are familiar with the city and charge $100 less per hour. Romberg said the city should only hire Porzak if it decided it wanted to file for the maximum in-stream flow densities.

"Mr. Porzak will be considerably more aggressive than the other firm. I'm not sure we want to take that kind of approach if we are dealing with our neighbors," Romberg said.

The county commissioners have expressed concerns about the effects in-stream recreational water rights could have on local agricultural, municipal, commercial and industrial users. The commissioners asked the city to gather more information and hold discussions with them, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, other interested water users and upstream communities before filing for water rights.

Romberg asked that the city wait until those discussions are held before filing for water rights or hiring a lawyer. Lettunich said objections could come even if the city waited until 2004 to file.

"Regardless, we will be looking at disputes that may not be resolved until after filing," Lettunich said.

In a previous case Porzak worked on, Lettunich said, 12 objections were raised and all but one, the Colorado Water Board's objection, were resolved.

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