Basin Roundtable postpones discussion on Yampa Doctrine

Group receives water consumption statistics

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— The Yampa/White River Basin Roundtable has yet to make a decision on the proposed Yampa Doctrine governing the water rights of the Yampa River.

At its Wednesday night meeting at the Holiday Inn of Craig, the group of regional water experts unanimously tabled discussion for at least two future meetings after hearing a presentation from Steamboat Springs water attorney Tom Sharp.

The doctrine is Sharp’s proposal to protect the river water rights for the Colorado River System in a worst-case scenario, should the water come into an interstate dispute between the Upper Basin states — a cluster which includes Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, part of Arizona — and the Lower Basin states — Nevada, California, the rest of Arizona — as per the apportionment details set by river compacts set in previous years.

In the doctrine, Sharp wrote that Article XIII of the 1948 Upper Colorado River Compact — which requires that the state of Colorado not cause the flow of the Yampa’s Maybell gauging station to drop below 5 million acre-feet during the course of 10 years — among other things, needed closer, more specific regulation to ensure that Colorado is responsible for the curtailment of its own water should the Lower Basin states require it.

Sharp said the Yampa’s flow is 1.2 million acre-feet and users only require about a tenth of it. But he said modern users could be vulnerable since its water is now needed for regional power plants, reservoirs and other such uses, as opposed to the pre-1950s period when it was primarily used for irrigation and other agricultural purposes.

Attendee Eric Kuhn, of the Colorado River District — who said he wasn’t officially representing the group — spoke against the Yampa Doctrine, saying he didn’t think passing it would better the issue of water rights and regulations.

“I’m not sure I agree that the state will be jumping quickly into rule-making,” Kuhn said.

Though both men had supporters, the recommendation to push back the discussion of the issue came from Sharp himself.

Sharp said the details of the doctrine required close attention, as the wording in the document is complicated and the issue could be “divisive” between those concerned with other rivers in Colorado.

“I’m not comfortable deciding this motion tonight,” he said.

He further recommended that members of the roundtable take plenty of time to mull over a decision.

Another presentation at the roundtable’s meeting was made by state demographer Elizabeth Garner, who gave the group statistics about Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties for their consideration in determining water consumption rates.

Sharp said the information was “very helpful” for the roundtable.

Garner also emphasized the importance of residents participating in the 2010 census.

“Be ready,” she said.

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