Community Agriculture Alliance: Planning for 'wet water'

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The Yampa-White-Green Roundtable met last week in Craig to further discuss Northwest Colorado’s Basin Implementation Plan that in July will be sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be implemented into the 2015 Colorado State Water Plan.

The roundtable consists of 25 board members from across the three drainage region, and the BIP plan will focus on consumptive needs, non-consumptive needs, how to plan and protect future demands, and potential water shortfalls.

The imposing task is how to keep the water in our basin and plan for “wet water,” or water that is in the river system, not just on paper.

Community Agriculture Alliance

This weekly column about agriculture issues is written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. It publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

When compared to other Colorado basins, our basin is relatively undeveloped and has limited water usage and storage. Other West Slope basins in close proximity to the thirsty Front Range metro areas with trans-mountain diversions that take West Slope water to the East Slope have gone through water planning, but their rivers lack a normal hydrologic cycle and are dry in comparison.

A quick look at Winter Park’s Frasier River will show the water planning did not achieve “wet water,” and millions of dollars now are being spent trying to convince Denver Water Authority, the owner of the water rights, to leave some water in the river.

Past water planning often relied on median flows for projected calculations, but if you lived here in 2011 and 2012, you understand the difficulty in relying on middle flow values.

In 2011, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs total flow was 598,000 acre feet, but one year later, total flow was 178,000 acre feet. To add emphasis to this dramatic fluctuation, the lowest recorded flow was in 1977 at 122,000 acre feet. “Wet water” planning is no easy task.

The roundtable is a diverse group representing municipal, energy, industrial, recreational, environmental and agricultural interests. The group recognizes that the sustainability of our river system and economic health are at risk, and it is working diligently to address the needs for existing uses, future growth and recreational and environmental values.

During the past month, the roundtable conducted five public meetings in Steamboat Springs, Craig, Meeker, Rangely and Browns Park. The public process has been a valuable component to the BIP process and additional local public meetings likely may be held as the Colorado State Plan is developed.

On March 6, more than 300 water leaders and members of the public from across the state gathered for the 2014 Statewide Basin Roundtable Summit in Golden.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Owens each gave a keynote address highlighting the important work of the basin roundtable process and the development of localized Basin Implementation Plans that will comprise a large portion of Colorado’s Water Plan.

As part of the process, the Yampa-White-Green Roundtable is examining years of consumptive and non-consumptive studies, and with public input will finalize a Basin Implementation Plan that protects an equitable apportionment of the native floes and helps mitigate the risks of overdevelopment of the region’s water resources.

The diverse interests represented on the roundtable agree that planning for “wet water” is a significant challenge but vital to the future sustainability of Northwest Colorado.

For additional information, visit www.coloradowaterplan.com or attend the next Yampa-White-Green Roundtable meeting April 16 in Craig.

Ren Martyn is ranch broker with Steamboat Sotheby’s and board member of the YWG Roundtable and Community Ag Alliance.

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