Purgatory Ski Resort Sues the US Forest Service Over Water Rights Dispute

Zoe Loftin |
fluffy snow
A great powder day at Purgatory Resort

On October 27, 2022, Purgatory ski resort in Colorado, filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service over a dispute regarding their water rights in the Hermosa Creek Watershed. According to a report published by Law360, Purgatory is currently fighting for its rights to the Hermosa Creek watershed, a vital water source for the resort. They reportedly have asked the judge to confirm the resort’s rights to this stretch of the Animas River Watershed.

The resort has allegedly had an issue with the inconsistency of the government’s defense for the debate over their water rightsOriginally it was said to have been about the protection of the Colorado Cutthroat Trout and how best to grant access to Hermosa Creek while keeping the species, whose well-being has been of great concern to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, safe. But, the narrative recently shifted to the government stating that it would never approve any permits allowing any water to be diverted from the creek for the benefit of the resort. 

Purgatory Resort Chair 1 the resorts recent addition is the only 6 pack chair at the Colorado resort. credit Expedia
Purgatory Resort Chair 1 the resort’s recent addition is the only 6-pack chair at the Colorado resort. credit Expedia

Purgatory mountain is located about 25 miles north of Durango, in the San Juan Mountains, and operates on USFS land due to a special permit. This permit was reportedly renewed back in 2015 and is not set to expire until 2055. The resort has since had the right to use Hermosa Creek as its water supply for snowmaking and recently, as an aid for recent expansion projects to the mountain. 

When the previous owner of the resort made an exchange of land with the US government in the 90s, the resort obtained more land on the mountain’s front side while the USFS picked some up on the backside. This agreement is now one of the main contributions to the conflict over whether or not the resort’s right to the watershed remains intact. But, according to the Durango Herald, due to the trade, the resort has since been forced to operate across these traded lands to access and divert water from the creek. Purgatory’s argument remains, there was no indication in the land trade agreement, that the resort would be required to give up or alter its rights to Hermosa Creek or that there were any decisions made to abandon these rights. 

Purgatory Resort, CO. Image: Purgatory Resort Facebook Page

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