Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf explains why more resources need to be dedicated to monitoring the Yampa River basin water quality.
Steamboat Springs City and county officials agreed Monday to fund ongoing studies of water quality in the Yampa River.
While details of the funding have yet to be worked out, the agreement is a significant step forward in a process spearheaded by Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf. In March, Routt County and city of Steamboat Springs officials met with more than 15 representatives of local water interests for a presentation of water quality monitoring programs already operated by hydrologists with the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS monitors water quality in rivers including the Upper Gunnison, Eagle, Blue and Roaring Fork.
While more than 10 agencies conduct various levels of water monitoring in the Yampa Valley, Zopf said unified, easily understandable information is needed.
"There's a lot of information out there," Zopf said. "But that information is not easily accessible or useful for laypeople and other uses of government."
A local USGS monitoring program would cost about $213,000 to install, and more than $125,000 annually to maintain and operate. City and county officials agreed Monday to share those costs and to move forward with specific planning and details of the monitoring program.
While City Councilman Towny Anderson questioned the program's costs, especially $24,000 annually to maintain a database, Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said water quality risks such as future development and industrial growth more than warrant a top-level monitoring program.
"We've been talking about this for years," Mitsch Bush said. "You need to have baseline data: This isn't an emergency, but there is an urgency here."
City Councilman Ken Brenner, an outspoken advocate for water quality issues, supported a USGS program Monday and suggested the city pursue state funding that is allocated to each river basin in Colorado. The Yampa/White River Basin Roundtable, a group that addresses water issues in Northwest Colorado and could recommend such funding, meets in Steamboat on July 18.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said property owners with water rights on the Yampa River also should be financially involved in a monitoring program.
Zopf said there are more than 40 water discharge permits on the Yampa River in Routt County.
"If I was somebody that had one of those permits, I'd want to be on board," Monger said.
A report from USGS hydrologists indicates a local water quality monitoring program could start as soon as late fall or in the winter of 2008.
"We need to track this in perpetuity," Zopf said. "We need to know what's happening in our valley."