The possibility of a major effort to divert water from the Yampa River to the Front Range is remote, but it can't be discounted entirely, water attorney Tom Sharp said Wednesday night.
Sharp made his remarks during a break in the Yampa/
White/ Green Roundtable at Olympian Hall. The roundtable is part of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is gathering comments from across Colorado on the best ways to meet the state's increasing demand for water.
Rick Brown, project manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, listed the concept of a Yampa/N. Platte/S. Platte exchange among five transbasin water diversion "concepts" that he may include in SWSI's November report to the state Legislature. However, Brown said that doesn't mean anyone is recommending diverting water from the Yampa to other basins. And he said he wasn't prepared to give any details about the five projects on his list.
"We're not here to promote any options," Brown said. "People get immediately, extremely emotional as soon as transbasin diversions are brought up. SWSI is not a regulatory process, it's a process where we can discuss options. They may or may not have merit."
Sharp, who sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District as well as that of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, went on record saying the Upper Yampa District controls water rights that could block a transbasin diversion.
Later, he said that as a practical matter, any bid to ship the Yampa's water to another part of the state would be many legal battles and a number of years in the future.
The Yampa, below the headwaters region, is guarded by two wilderness areas (Service Creek and Mount Zirkel) that would block the construction of the infrastructure necessary to divert water from the top of the Park Range over the Continental Divide into the North Platte Basin, Sharp pointed out.
If there is a chink in the armor, it could exist on Rabbit Ears Pass, between the two wilderness areas, Sharp said. There, the engineering task of collecting water from spring runoff and funneling it into Grizzly Creek and the North Platte River, on the other side of the Continental Divide, is not overly complex. However, Sharp said, any move to use that water to offset pumping water over Cameron Pass to growing Fort Collins or other nearby cities would kick off complex legal battles.
The combination of factors would be so costly that such a plan would make sense only to an entity that had grown desperate for more water, he added.
T. Wright Dickinson of Maybell, also a member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told Brown he expects stakeholders in Northwest Colorado to be consulted any time a transbasin diversion that could have implications for this region is put on the table.
"The water is available to the entire state," Dickinson said. "It ain't just our water, but our folks have got to be taken care of."