Yampa groups may settle

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A group of parties concerned about upper Yampa basin water rights are working toward a settlement with applicants for 1,250 acre-feet of water rights.

The Flattops Water Company and Eagle River water districts applied for the return flow rights in August 2003. Seventeen parties filed against the application and, so far, eight have reached settlements.

The group now close to a settlement includes the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, the town of Yampa, Routt County, Tri-State Gen--eration and Colorado's Attorney General, who is representing state division engineers and some individual opponents who are not represented by attorneys.

Attorney Bob Weiss, who is representing the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the town of Yampa, said a conceptual settlement had been reached.

A few unresolved issues remain, he said, so the settlement is not final.

The return flows, or water leftover from irrigation, come from the Yampa River. The water ends up in the Colorado River because of the landscape near Toponas. With the return flow rights, the company has estimated that it could end up selling $5 million of Yampa River water to serve as many as 10,000 people in the Vail Valley and Eagle County.

The settlement under discussion involves limiting exports to the Colorado drainage of 1,950 acre-feet a year and requiring that, every year, at least 325 acre-feet is used to irrigate land in the Yampa drainage, Weiss said.

The settlement also specifies that during dry years, in which water is directly exported to the Colorado drainage without being used for irrigation, 185 acre-feet of water has to be delivered directly from Stillwater Reservoir to Yamcola reservoir for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. That requirement protects the Yampa drainage during dry years, Weiss said.

"It's a good settlement," he said. "We feel we've done what we said we would do, which is protect the Yampa drainage from too much exportation of water."

Routt County commissioners discussed the proposed settlement Monday and are expected to approve the conceptual settlement today.

Commissioner Dan Ellison said that continued vigilance is warranted as the Eagle Valley continues to grow and look for more water.

"It would seem to me that if they needed more water and had already started on getting water out of the upper Yampa Basin, they would have a tendency to continue," he said.

Settlements have been reach--ed with eight parties so far, said attorney Kristin Moseley, who is representing the Flattops Water Company, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

Those are the Colorado River Water Conservation District; Northern Colorado Water Con--servancy District; Smith Basin of Toponas, LLC; the town of Minturn; the city of Aurora; the city of Colorado Springs; the Homestake Project; and Table Rock Properties, LLC.

If parties remain in opposition, the case will go to trial before a Division 5 water judge from Aug. 22 to Sept. 7.

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