Before deciding if the city should file for recreational water rights, the City Council first wants to know how much water they should ask for.
After hearing arguments for and against acquiring recreational water rights at the Tuesday night council meeting, the council decided to put out a bid for an engineer.
The engineer could tell the city how much water it needs to sustain river activities from kayaking to tubing to fly-fishing. Recreational water rights would preserve in-stream water flows through downtown Steamboat, but it would not increase the levels.
The council has to decide if it should consider filing for water rights that would draw water from the Yampa River or five nearby tributaries.
Attorney Tom Sharp, who also sits on the Upper Yampa Conservancy District and Colorado River Water Conservation District, suggested filing water rights on five tributaries -- Fish Creek, Walton Creek, Spring Creek, Butcher Knife and Soda Creek -- that flow into the Yampa.
Sharp said the Upper Yampa Conservancy District voted last week to support and even split the cost with the city if it decided to file water rights on those tributaries. The district would not support the city filing water rights on the main body of the Yampa.
Sharp also warned entities in the southern part of Routt County would have concerns with a city recreational water right on the Yampa, which could dictate how much water could be extracted from the upper river as growth continues.
"If you take up this claim, it is going to be threatened by South Routt entities and South Routt land owners, who look to this (land) as some day seeing increased development and (needing) more water, and (they) don't like the notion of the city of Steamboat being king of the river," Sharp said.
But attorney Glen Porzak said the five tributaries that Sharp proposes might not provide all the water the city would need.
Porzak represented the towns of Golden, Vail and Breckenridge in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. In a 3-3 decision, the state Supreme Court recognized recreational water rights for those towns.
Porzak told the council to prepare for a legal bill of between $50,000 to $100,000 and a fight with the state if it asked for recreational water rights.
"The Colorado River Water Conservation Board is going to make it as expensive as possible for future municipalities. That is the political reality," Porzak said.
In his previous cases, Porzak said they had to prove that those recreational water rights were instrumental to the town's economy and that it was needed for their water parks to function.
Peter Van De Carr, owner of Steamboat's Back Door Sports Ltd., spoke of the need for recreational water rights.
"Our Yampa River is an integral piece of our resort industry. You need to take a stand right now to preserve that," he said.
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