Persistent hot, dry and windy weather coupled with almost no precipitation have residents all across the state on heightened wildfire alert.
Three fires this weekend were the latest reminders for Craig and Moffat County residents of the extreme fire danger in Northwest Colorado.
With more fires anticipated throughout the summer and the Yampa River running near historically low levels, many residents have voiced a concern about the city of Craig’s ability to deliver water to its residents.
“As of today our water situation is just fine,” said Craig City Manager Jim Ferree. “Obviously that could change, but I don’t see us running out of water anytime soon.”
Craig Public Works Director Bill Earley validated Ferree’s statement saying the city of Craig has some of the most senior water rights on the Yampa River.
And even during two of the worst drought years, when the city of Craig diverted 2,247-acre feet from the Yampa River in 1996 and 2,244-acre feet in 2002, no one has ever made a “call” on the lower main stem of the Yampa River, Earley said.
“There’s plenty of water in the system,” he said. “There’s almost never a problem with flows in the Yampa.”
A call is when a person or entity exercises its water rights. Anyone with less senior rights must turn off their water until the caller has received the water it needs.
Hypothetically speaking if the Yampa were to run dry, which also has never happened before, Craig has enough water in storage at Elkhead Reservoir to sustain the city’s needs for several years, Earley said.
About five years ago Craig officials approved participating in a project to raise the Elkhead Reservoir dam, more than doubling its size from 12,000-acre feet to 25,000-acre feet and increasing its ownership from 1,700-acre feet to more than 4,400-acre feet of water.
Just like in the Yampa, the city has never needed to call on its water reserves at Elkhead nor has it ever had to implement its water conservation plan, Ferree said.
That’s because the Elkhead Reservoir’s drainage basin averages at 60,000-acre feet of water annually.
“Even if the reservoir was sucked dry, 95 years out of 100 it would refill,” Earley said.
“It fills and spills every year,” added Ferree. “I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but city officials in the past, and the council from five years ago, have made a lot of smart decisions to ensure lack of water does not become one of our primary concerns.”
On Friday, city of Steamboat Springs residents and businesses were hit with mandatory water restrictions. The Stage 2 restrictions, which went into effect immediately, dictate the permissible uses of treated municipal water during times of drought.