Demand for water on rise | SteamboatToday.com

Demand for water on rise

Forum addresses future impacts to Yampa River

Melinda Dudley

— While the Yampa River is meeting Routt County’s needs for now, future increases in water demand and the predicted effects of climate change may make protecting the resource an uphill battle in the future.

The Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, which guides water policy in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, is studying the Yampa River to develop data that can be used in future decision-making, agriculture representative Mary Brown said at Friday’s 2008 Water Forum in Steamboat Springs.

The organization does not yet have an official stance on any pending pumpback projects, as there are too many unknowns to form a “reasoned opinion,” but the roundtable is looking at what claims to the river exist, how much water is in the watershed and how much might be available for other uses, Brown said.

“The idea here, in a perfect world, would be that after we get all these assessments done : we see where swapping can exist to make Colorado whole,” Brown said.

With the Yampa River carrying more than 1 million acre-feet of water per year, and Routt County using only about 10 percent of that, it’s technically a “water-rich” area, said Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board member Tom Sharp.

Many speakers at the 2008 Water Forum agreed that demand for local water will only increase, and that demands from outside the county and even the state will have to be dealt with.

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“The population of the West has increased by 50 percent in the last 40 years, and it’s expected to increase 300 percent by 2040,” U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Oscar Martinez said. “The uses that people expect are going to change.”

In order to protect the Yampa, existing water rights need to be protected, hard data needs to be gathered and people need to concern themselves with water projects in other parts of the state, Brown said. While proposals to pump water from the Green River to the Front Range do not directly affect the Yampa, what Colorado promises to downstream states does, and each project elsewhere brings possible changes to water-sharing arrangements, she said.

“Frankly, we have the least amount of people compared to the other basins. And when it comes down to the administration, it may be every man for himself,” Sharp said.

Things will only become more complicated in the future, making it a reasonable assumption that further oversight of water rights will become necessary, Martinez said.

Other significant factors that will affect water demand and the hydrologic system include climate change, the lodgepole pine die-off as a result of Colorado’s bark beetle epidemic, and changing fire cycles, which in turn can effect water quality, Martinez said.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com