Steamboat Springs Colorado Division 6 water engineer Erin Light urged irrigators in the Upper Yampa Valley on Friday to put headgates and flow measuring devices on their ditches lest they find themselves in a jam someday.
Light works for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and spoke Friday to more than 100 people at the 2008 Water Forum in Steamboat Springs. Light is based in Steamboat and is charged with balancing competing water needs in the valley. She said the installation of a flow-measuring device on the 13th Street Bridge this season by the city of Steamboat Springs has changed everything.
For the first time, the city has the ability to make a call for water under its recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, rights. The city's rights are very junior, but they could supersede more senior rights holders who fail to install measuring devices on their ditches.
"No call was made in the summer of 2007 when the river (running through town) was very low," Light said. "I suspect the only reason they didn't was because they didn't have a measuring device. Now, (the city) worked with the (U.S. Geological Service) to install one on the 13th Street Bridge."
The irrigation season that's just about to begin looks promising because of unseasonably high snowmelt. However, Light cautioned against procrastinating.
"Measuring devices are imperative," Light said. "If you have senior rights, but no measuring device, we're going to have to shut you off" in the event that flows drop dramatically and the city uses its RICD to make a call on water.
Rick Brown, outgoing section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told those attending the water forum that proposals to divert water from the Yampa River to the Front Range do not pose the biggest issues for the Yampa Valley.
Because valley residents and business use only 10 percent to 15 percent of the river's water consumptively, other regions of the state likely are to continue looking to the Yampa to solve their own problems, Brown said.
"Any (water) development we do on the Colorado, I believe, must protect your rights here," Brown said.
However, he predicted escalating land prices, which undermine the sustainability of agriculture and bring new people with different goals to the valley, would change traditional land management practices and the application of water.
Second, he said, the continuing water needs of energy development are apt to increase demand on the Yampa.
Looking at the statewide water management system, Brown said, "We need new means of storage and conveyance, we need transfers of agricultural water rights. Are we prepared to do that? The answer is no."