Steamboat Springs Leery of Shell Oil's recent filing for substantial water rights on the Yampa River, the Yampa Town Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to join any official opposition to the plan to pull water from the waterway whose name the town shares.
Although Yampa does not have the financial resources to mount its own legal battle against Shell Frontier Oil and Gas, the town could become a party to any opposition filed without incurring potentially huge legal costs.
In the past, Yampa has piggybacked onto other water rights oppositions with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Town Clerk Janet Ray said.
"A future demand on this over-adjudicated river will just make things tougher," Trustee Tom Yackey said. "Any new rights that are filed on it stand to make us vulnerable."
The town has not become aware of any formal opposition that has been filed yet, Ray said.
"I think it's a good idea to be prepared for something to happen, and be ready to do so if it does," Trustee Jeff Drust said about the board's decision to piggyback ahead of an actual opposition.
At a joint meeting of the Routt and Moffat county boards of commissioners in late January, the Moffat County commissioners said they plan to follow their land-use board's recommendation to formally oppose Shell Oil's water right application, though Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said he was skeptical it would do any good.
"I don't think there's a leg to stand on to say this isn't a valid use of the water," Gray said at the joint meeting Jan. 26.
The idea of Routt County joining Moffat County in its opposition, and sharing the legal cost, also was discussed.
"There is a huge concern up and down the river about this filing," Ray said, based on a recent meeting of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable.
Shell Oil's filing for 375 cubic feet per second was made Dec. 30 in the District 6 Water Division office in Steamboat Springs. The water, which would be drawn from the Yampa during high flows fed by snowmelt in the spring and early summer, would fill a proposed 45,000 acre-foot reservoir for use in oil shale development.
That amount represents a minority of the Yampa's peak spring flows, which commonly exceed 11,000 cfs west of Maybell, where the river is about to meet its confluence with the Green River. The 375 cfs being sought by Shell is comparable to the typical mid-July flow of the Yampa River at the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat Springs.
The reservoir would be built off the main stem of the Yampa in the Cedar Springs Draw in Moffat County. The proposed reservoir's potential 45,000 acre-foot size compares to the 33,275 acre-feet in Stagecoach Reservoir and 25,450 acre-feet in the newly expanded Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig.
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