The Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley believes Steamboat Springs City Council has a duty to protect the quality and quantity of water it provides to current residents of this community in perpetuity. Steamboat Springs needs to adopt a formal water dedication policy that fits the city, just as most other Colorado communities have done.
Without city action, water demands may outstrip the supply of raw water. The Steamboat Water Supply Mater Plan shows that by 2027, the levels of water usage consistent with projected buildout west of Steamboat Springs will increase from 3,100 acre-feet to 7,200 AF a year, more than double current usage levels. The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District's requirements will almost double; with the west area build-out inside the urban growth boundary, the city's requirements will almost triple.
In the 10 driest years between 1930 and 2005, the reliable firm yield of the Fish Creek Basin and the Yampa River is only 7,000 AF. This means that without an increase in water supply, Steamboat Springs will have to shepherd its raw water supplies by implementing drought management measures, for example, to meet its residents' needs.
Not only is our raw water supply in in-stream flows low in dry years, but our infrastructure for water storage and delivery will not accommodate significant growth. On any one of the 10 peak days in the summer, the filtration plant runs at 77 percent of capacity, and the infiltration galleries run at 100 percent. The state requires us to expand capacity by building additional infiltration bays at about $1 million each in the 2012-13 timeframe. We can buffer the demand on peak days by adopting a community water conservation program. The Yampa River infiltration galleries, our swing producer during peak demand, can add another 2,000 AF to our annual capacity. With augmentation from Stagecoach Reservoir upstream, we have the potential to expand in galleries. But, even with a water dedication policy, we will have to cobble resources and scramble to provide and deliver water.
We cannot expand Fish Creek Reservoir - it only holds 4,167 AF. Even if we gain access to the Elk River water, the net increase to our water supply will be modest, between 1,000 and 3,000 AF. If a fire in the Fish Creek Basin ruins water quality and flow, Steamboat Springs will only have 3,000 to 5,000 AF available annually, i.e. 2,000 AF from the Yampa and 3,000 AF at most from the Elk. These projections assume that the supply of water will not change - what if our climate becomes drier in years to come? A 1922 water right call would affect all but our most senior in-stream rights in Fish Creek. We need a redundant supply of water.
A water dedication policy does not change the rules for annexation, as some allege. To annex land, the city negotiates with the petitioner who seeks annexation, here Steamboat 700. The city is obliged to obtain exceptional net benefits for city residents, making sure the annexation is revenue neutral and development pays its own way. Mr. Dahl, the city's annexation attorney, says the city's negotiating team put water rights, water delivery, and water treatment issues on its list of items to be negotiated last April, 10 months ago. After annexation, the petitioner becomes a developer. According to HB 08-1141, the city shall not approve an application for a development permit unless it determines that "the applicant has satisfactorily demonstrated that the proposed water supply will be adequate."
Thus, the city must take action to guarantee that any annexation and subsequent new development does not interfere with the quality of service to existing customers or interfere with measures required to meet reasonably anticipated future water demand.
Stephen M. Aigner, Ph.D., Organizer, Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley