Northwest Colorado residents asked to chime in on future of Colorado’s water supply
January 31, 2014
If you go:
What: Meetings of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable: A series of four public meetings in four Northwest Colorado towns to gather residents’ thoughts about the best ways to meet the increasing demand for water.
The local meetings will feed into a statewide effort to document a water plan for the future of Colorado.
The Yampa-White-Green Roundtable will meet in four communities from 6 to 8 p.m. in the following locations:
• Feb. 6 in Rangely at the Colorado Northwestern Community College, Weiss Room in the Weiss Building, 500 Kennedy Drive.
• Feb. 13 in Steamboat Springs at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave.
• Feb. 19 in Craig at the American Legion Hall, 1055 Moffat County Road 7.
• Feb. 24 in Meeker at the Rio Blanco Fairgrounds, 4-H Building meeting room, 779 Sulphur Creek Road.
Following this series of meetings, public input also will be welcome at the Basin Roundtable meetings held at the American Legion Hall in Craig, on March 12, May 14 and June 18. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.
Steamboat Springs — The snowpack in the mountains surrounding Craig and Steamboat Springs is greater than the historical average this weekend, and that's reason for optimism. But one winter of abundant water won't be enough to change the fact that the gap between water supply in Colorado and demand for the liquid that sustains life is widening.
People in Northwest Colorado — business owners, people who recreate on rivers, farmers, ranchers and anyone who drinks water — are being encouraged to attend one of four upcoming meetings kicking off efforts to plan for future water needs in the combined Yampa, White and Green river basins and across the state.
Why should people care? The Statewide Water Supply Initiative predicts that the gap between water supply and demand could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050. The capacity of Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and and Craig is 25,550 acre feet.
Former Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray, who continues to serve on the Roundtable, said this is an important opportunity but not the last chance for people who have a stake in water management to be heard.
"We're just one of seven basins in Colorado, and this is a chance for each of the basins to have input on identifying their needs and to identify the projects that could help meet those needs," Gray said. "We've got to make sure the public has a chance to participate in all this work that we've been doing before it goes out so that it doesn't appear all of this came from a small group."
The Yampa, White, Green Roundtable, composed of local government officials and water users with varying backgrounds, will host meetings in Rangely, Steamboat Springs, Craig and Meeker in February. The local roundtable and others like it in other parts of the state, are working under a mandate issued by Gov. John Hickenlooper to come up with the draft of a report on how the various basins would cope with the shortfall by December. Hickenlooper's executive order issued in May 2013 requires the roundtables to formalize those plans by December 2015.
The statewide effort will be used by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to prepare a statewide plan detailing how the state will manage water needs in the future.
The water stored in the snow in the combined White/Yampa basins Friday was 117 percent of average and on Rabbit Ears Pass it was 138 percent of average, suggesting the Yampa might see a robust spring runoff. But water policy makers know that the thirsty Front Range continues to look at the rivers of the Western Slope to help meet its future water needs.
Longtime Roundtable member Geoff Blakeslee said part of the original mission of the statewide roundtables when they were formed in 2005 was to encourage dialogue between the basins but typically, they are protective of the water within their boundaries.
"The Front Range water providers are pushing for dialogue about inter-basin compacts," Blakeslee said. "Obviously, they are the ones in need. They've tapped into West Slope water in the past and they'd like to tap into it some more."
Gray emphasized that the Yampa-White-Green Round-table is not starting this year's planning process from scratch. All of the work during the past seven years that has gone into its Basin Implementation Plan will contribute to the draft that is sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in December.
"It's important to understand this plan will be a dynamic plan," Gray said. "This is not your one last chance to have a say. But it's important. It's going to be on the record."
Blakeslee added that during a recent forum on water issues at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs he suggested those in attendance think about water issues in the context of their own relationships with the rivers and streams of Northwest Colorado.
"Some people don't relate to the river at all. Some people's lives depend upon the river, some use it for inspiration," Blakeslee said. "I think that's what we need to think about as we go through this planning process. How do we want to leave things for the next generation?"