Water rights meeting today

Commissioners to discuss impacts of requesting rights

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One voice will be noticeably absent in tonight's discussion on how the city's potential decision to file for recreational water rights could impact upstream municipalities and water users: the city's.

Last Tuesday, City Attorney Tony Lettunich advised the City Council that it could attend tonight's meeting, but the city's water attorney, Glenn Porzak, advised against the city speaking out at the meeting.

Tonight's meeting, sponsored by the Routt County Board of Commissioners, is intended as an informational session on how the city's filing could impact the southern end of the county.

"He was somewhat concerned with any active participation. If you want to go to listen, that would be fine," Lettunich said. "Everyone should be aware that Dec. 16 would be the time to come (to the city) if they had comments to make."

On Dec. 16, the city is scheduled to vote on a resolution asking for a filing of a recreational water in-channel diversion.

Part of the county commissioners' concern and reason for tonight's meeting is their view of the fast pace the city has taken in its decision to file for a water rights and its lack of input from the county and upstream municipalities and water users.

County Commissioner Doug Monger said tonight's meeting would bring together members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Upper Yampa Water Conservation Board, a local water attorney and a state water engineer.

"We would like the opportunity to express issues and concerns and to create some level of educational opportunity, at least for us, as well as upstream users that may or may not be affected," Monger said.

On Tuesday, the council agreed that Councilwoman Kathy Connell would attend the meeting and state the city's inability to comment because of legal concerns. Other council members also plan to attend.

The council has supported recreational water rights because of their potential to preserve flows in the Yampa River as it goes through downtown Steamboat, where the city has spent more than $100,000 in river improvements.

Supporters of recreational water rights also say they are a way to sustain river activities for fly fishing, tubing and kayaking, even when future development up the river calls for more water.

Commissioners and landowners upstream from the city fear a recreational water right could place an immediate call on the river, limit any future growth and could cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Ted Kowalski, who is in charge of administering and regulating recreational water in-channel diversions for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will headline tonight's meeting, Monger said. Kowalski is scheduled to talk about the board's stance on recreational water rights and how the state Legislature in 2003 has changed the ability to procure them.

Tom Sharp, who sits on the board of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, also will talk about the potential effects a city's water filing could have. From the beginning of the city's discussion to file for recreational water rights, the district has stated its objections to the city filing on the whole body of the Yampa River.

The district has said it would support and even help fund the city's decision to file on recreation water rights if it only drew from five nearby tributaries -- Fish Creek, Walton Creek, Spring Creek, Butcher Knife and Soda Creek.

Also scheduled to speak is Bob Plaska, the state's water engineer based in Steamboat Springs who would be responsible for administrating the city's recreational water right if approved by the Colorado Water Court. Plaska will talk about the amount of water available in the Yampa River, Monger said.

Mike Holloran, a South Valley rancher and water attorney who represents upstream water users, also is planning to attend, Monger said.

The commissioners also invited representatives from the towns of Oak Creek and Yampa.

Monger said the commissioners hope to use the information presented tonight to help make a decision on whether to support the city's filing for water rights.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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