Charlie Preston-Townsend: Planning the future of Yampa River

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The Friends of the Yampa is a volunteer-run nonprofit based in Steamboat Springs and dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the recreational and environmental integrity of the Yampa River and its tributaries through stewardship, advocacy, education and partnerships.

In response to the Colorado Water Plan, we have four primary expectations for future water planning:

1.The state of Colorado shall view the Yampa River as a significant and reliable supplier of water to meet Colorado River Compact obligations;

  1. Colorado shall hold non-consumptive needs as a priority and consider the significant conservation work that has been accomplished in the Yampa River Valley as an example for future water planning;

  2. The Yampa Valley and Western Slope water users must be assured that, in the event of a compact call, negotiated equitable apportionment principles will be utilized to protect our many important junior water rights;

  3. Maximum efficiencies through reduction and reuse programs shall be fully implemented before any further trans-basin projects are undertaken in the Yampa River basin and across Colorado. In fulfilling these expectations, Colorado will benefit from a gem of American river antiquity in the Yampa River, featuring a living, flooding, changing and thriving natural system.

The state of Colorado shall view the Yampa River as a significant and reliable source of water to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

Twelve of the past 15 years have been drought years in the state of Colorado and the greater Colorado River basin. Weather projection models predict this trend to continue and worsen.

Lake Powell, as Colorado’s bank account to fulfill compact obligations, has struggled to maintain a sufficient water level to ensure downstream delivery obligations and electric power generation. The Yampa River, as an unimpeded and underdeveloped river, stands as a steady contributor to fulfilling Colorado’s Compact obligations.

Colorado shall hold nonconsumptive needs as a priority and consider the significant conservation work that has been accomplished in the Yampa River Valley as an example for future water planning.

The state of Colorado stands to benefit from the unencumbered hydrograph of the Yampa River as it sustains our traditional economy, agricultural heritage and recreational activities for tourism and residents. Non-consumptive uses such as rafting and kayaking, fishing and hunting along with tourism are activities that will continue to prove beneficial to the state of Colorado.

Protecting the Yampa River’s flows also will benefit the four endangered fish species that count on the spring flooding, and the warm, sediment rich water present in the naturally flowing Yampa River.

The Yampa River Legacy Project, through land and river conservation efforts, successfully has conserved lands worth more than $70 million along the Yampa River Corridor. This collaboration was an effort to protect the integrity of the Yampa River’s agricultural heritage and unique riparian and recreation values. These conservation measures were accomplished through a collaborative, inclusive effort by a diverse group of stakeholders throughout Northwest Colorado.

The Yampa Valley and Western Slope water users must be assured that, in the event of a compact call, negotiated equitable apportionment will be utilized to protect our many important junior water rights.

In the event of a Western Slope curtailment to meet compact obligations, strict adherence to prior appropriation would be harmful to many important junior water rights. By utilizing a negotiated equitable apportionment method in cases where it is beneficial to critical junior rights, the state of Colorado will be better prepared to deal with water shortages.

Finally, the Eastern Slope of Colorado must maximize water use efficiency through a variety of methods including, but not limited to conservation, reuse, fallowing, new and expanded Eastern Slope storage and wise land-use planning principles.

The Front Range of Colorado is generating the majority of new water demand and should use their existing water resources as though there is no additional water. Conservation efforts have made progress, significantly in some areas. Reuse projects are being designed and built. Cooperative efforts between water suppliers and agricultural water right holders should be emphasized, striving to share water between efficient agriculture and responsible water providers.

Expanded and new Eastern Slope water storage projects need to be seriously revisited. Eastern Slope water providers must partner with their local governments and establish policies for land use approvals that ensure there is a sustainable water supply prior to approval of new growth. Projected long-term water shortages in the Colorado River basin, along with the anticipated growth of eastern Colorado make a strong argument for continued emphasis on these measures.

Any new trans-basin diversion on the Yampa River threatens the role of the Yampa River as a significant and reliable source of water to meet Colorado River Compact obligations and threatens the recreational and environmental integrity of the Yampa River, and thus must be opposed.

The Friends of the Yampa are grateful for the opportunity to provide input and respectfully urge the Governor, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Yampa/White/Green Roundtable to take these points into consideration when preparing the Colorado Water Plan.

Charlie Preston-Townsend is vice president of Friends of the Yampa.

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