Look before you touch

Water monitoring needed before ordinance, official says

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— Assessing the quality of Yampa River water should occur before use of the Yampa is further regulated, a county official said Tuesday.

At a joint lunch meeting, the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Board of Routt County Commissioners discussed a proposed watershed protection ordinance that is intended to keep pollutants out of Steamboat's water but, in doing so, would increase regulations on future agriculture-related activities in some rural areas outside of city limits. Mike Zopf, Routt County's director of environmental health, advised against implementing such an ordinance without first assessing the Yampa's water quality.

"You can't protect the resource if you don't know what you have," Zopf said.

Zopf has worked with local water officials and the state Department of Public Health and Environment to create the Yampa Basin Watershed Plan, known as the Yampa 208 Plan, a guiding document for future Yampa River management. Zopf said Tuesday that a group working to implement Yampa 208 policies will begin meeting in March.

Those meetings will combine several studies of Yampa water quality, Zopf said, into a comprehensive analysis that is long overdue.

Zopf has advocated for the formation of a group to monitor water quality since at least last summer, when he spoke about the issue at a meeting of water officials in Hayden.

"Most groups are formed when the problem already exists," Zopf said at the time. "We've got good water quality. I think we do need a watershed (monitoring) group and secure funding from year to year."

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Zopf's input would be invaluable on a committee that City Manager Alan Lanning is forming to discuss the proposed watershed ordinance.

After the ordinance drew significant opposition from rural landowners and ranchers, who cited over-regulation on the river, the City Council agreed to "step back" and take a more thorough look at the ordinance - including forming the committee and Tuesday's discussion with commissioners and county officials.

Rita Donham, who lives on the Yampa River west of downtown Steamboat, agreed with Zopf that monitoring the river needs to be the first step. Donham cited her personal observations of Wyoming communities on the Green River that did not do adequate water-quality monitoring and had no way to measure the impact of booming mineral and energy exploration.

"Whether you have an ordinance or not, you better get on the ball with monitoring," Donham said.

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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