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Colorado Bill Proposes Right of River Navigation

Posted: 01/06/2010
by Nathan Fey

The Colorado River Outfitters Association is supporting new legislation that protects Colorado’s tourism industry by clarifying the rights of commercial guides to operate on Colorado’s historically run rivers. Colorado State Representative Kathleen Curry has indicated her willingness to carry the River Jobs Protection Act in the Second Regular Session of the Colorado General Assembly. American Whitewater has been involved in drafting and review of the bill, and will release a official statement later this month.

The 2010 River Rafting Job Protection Act protects Colorado’s tourism industry by clarifying the rights of commercial guides to operate on Colorado’s historically run rivers.

Commercial river running contributed $142 million to Colorado’s economy in 2008 when more than 500,000 people enjoyed our scenic rivers. Yet, the ability to provide commercial river running is under serious threat because wealthy out-of-state landowners want to prohibit licensed outfitters from providing trips on historically rafted rivers.

 

Background

·      Commercial rafting contributed $142 million to Colorado’s economy in 2008 while providing river trips to more than 500,000 people.

·      Wealthy out-of-state landowners are trying to close Colorado’s rivers, even though those same rivers belong to the people of Colorado and have been commercially rafted for more than 20 years.

·      Landowners are protected from liability if a rafter is injured while passing through their property.

 

Problem

·      A wealthy Texan purchased property to subdivide into ranchettes on the Taylor River near Gunnison and is threatening expensive legal action against commercial river outfitters, who have been providing river trips on the stretch of river for more than 20 years.

·      Another out-of-state landowner drove a small commercial outfitter out of business on the Lake Fork near Lake City under similar circumstances in 2000.

·      Commercial outfitters, the guides they employ, and the local economies that they support are at risk if wealthy out-of-state landowners successfully prohibit them from floating on Colorado’s rivers.

 

Solution

·      Establish that licensed outfitters, floating on historically commercially floated rivers cannot be charged with civil trespass if they make accidental contact with the bed or banks of Colorado’s rivers, or portage around hazards that would put their passengers at risk

·      Affirm protections for landowners from liability for participants of commercial river trips.

 

Consequence if Not Approved

·      The ability of Colorado’s $142 million river rafting industry to operate on Colorado’s rivers would be put at serious risk.

 

AW staff worked with the Colorado River Outfitters to develop rules and language for earlier conceptual drafts of the bill.  With the release of final draft legislation, AW has brought together a team of legal experts with decades of history working on the "right to float" in Colorado, to review and better understand the implications for the general boating public. The River Jobs Protection Act is not intended to address public rights of navigation, only commercial outfitters rights.

For more information on how the bill might affect private paddling opportunities contact: Nathan Fey, Colorado Stewardship Director. American Whitewater


Associated Projects

Colorado River Access (CO)
The decades old debate over public use of waterways in Colorado continues, and AW is working to protect the rights of all paddlers to enjoy Colorado's Rivers.