DENVER (Lawfuel) — Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC), a mutual ditch company and the owner and operator of the Grand River Ditch, has agreed to pay $9 million for damages to natural resources within Rocky Mountain National Park caused by a May 30, 2003, breach of the Grand River Ditch, the Justice Department and National Park Service announced today.
Today’s settlement proceeds will be used to restore areas in Rocky Mountain National Park, located in Colorado that were damaged by the breach. This is the largest natural resource damages payment in the history of the Park System Resource Protection Act.
“This settlement will allow the restoration of critical habitat within Rocky Mountain National Park and protection of the essential headwaters of the Colorado River,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This important settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting national park system resources.”
“This settlement will benefit one of Colorado’s crown jewels, Rocky Mountain National Park, for generations to come,” said Troy Eid, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.
“We’re happy with this settlement. Our goal, all along, has been to restore park resources that were damaged by the breach. Now we can start,” said Vaughn Baker Park Superintendent for Rocky Mountain National Park.
On Aug. 31, 2006, the Justice Department filed a complaint on behalf of the National Park Service against WSSC and the Grand River Ditch. The complaint alleged that WSSC and the Grand River Ditch destroyed, caused the loss of, or injured natural resources within Rocky Mountain National Park in violation of the Park System Resource Protection Act and a 100-year old stipulation in which WSSC promised to pay for damages caused by the Grand River Ditch.
The Grand River Ditch is a water diversion ditch carved into the slopes of the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park, approximately 1000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley, the headwaters of the Colorado River, at an altitude of approximately 10,175 feet. The ditch is approximately fourteen miles long, captures snow melt 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.
On May 30, 2003, the Grand River Ditch breached approximately two miles south of La Poudre Pass, within the boundaries of the Park. More than 100 cubic feet per second of water flowed through the breach, causing extensive damage to park resources. The mountainside beneath the breach was largely obliterated by the rush of water out of the ditch. The erosive power of water, rock, mud and vegetation caused significant damage to an old growth spruce/fir forest, Lulu Creek, the upper Colorado River, and filled the Lulu City wetlands with sediment.
U.S. Attorney Eid co-counseled this case along with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section and attorneys with the National Park Service.