John R. Adams: Ruling was right
April 19, 2011
Steamboat Springs — In an opinion issued on April 11, 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court held that a water rights application filed by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District for a pipeline from Morrison Creek to Stagecoach Reservoir was speculative. The Court's opinion highlights just one example of how the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has wasted public funds in recent years by pursuing water projects for which there is no documented need or plan for water use.
The District has planned and is moving forward with several large water projects that are not based on actual or projected water demands. If these projects are allowed to continue, we as local residents and taxpayers will not only bear the financial burden but will also suffer the resulting degradation to some of the area's most pristine natural environments.
The District already owns a large portfolio of direct flow and storage water rights that are more than sufficient to cover the current and reasonable future needs of the District's constituents. The District's largest water facility is Stagecoach Reservoir, which has a current capacity of 36,460 acre-feet. The District's existing delivery contracts account for less than half of this capacity. And as the Supreme Court found, the 7,000 acre-feet of water under contract for delivery to Tri-State Generation is not associated with any existing or planned project and has never been released for use. Since it began storing water in Stagecoach Reservoir in 1991, the District has released only a small percentage of the water contracted for. In reality, the District's actual delivery obligations out of Stagecoach Reservoir are at most only a few thousand acre-feet per year.
In spite of its enormous surplus capacity, however, the District just completed an enlargement of Stagecoach Reservoir, is planning to construct a new reservoir, and has filed applications to appropriate additional water rights. The new reservoir would be located on Morrison Creek and is estimated to cost about $20 million to construct. The reservoir would be 5,000 acre-feet in capacity and would inundate approximately 330 acres of land, including portions of Morrison and Silver creeks. Much of the area to be inundated by the reservoir is currently in an undisturbed native state and provides habitat to numerous wildlife including trout, elk, moose and bear. The project also would significantly impact the natural flows on Morrison Creek, causing additional ecological impacts downstream.
There is no reason for the District to spend public money on these types of projects at this time. Rather, the District should be focused on servicing its current contracts and meeting reasonable projections of future demands with its existing infrastructure and water rights. With planning, conservation and good sense, the District can meet its commitments without additional costs to property owners and damage to the local environment. The District should consider refunding the huge surplus of taxpayer dollars it has accumulated over the years by virtue of the mill levy that is imposed on its constituents. Since there is no need for water projects at this time, why is there a need to collect a tax?
John R. Adams,
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Editor's note: John R. Adams was part of a group that opposed the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District's plans to divert water from Morrison Creek.