City Council on board with water quality plan

The Craig City Council decided unofficially Monday night to join the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in updating a Water Quality Plan for the Yampa River basin.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Division Representative Bill McKee was in Craig to hold a workshop with the Council, asking for participation in updating a plan that would evaluate possible Yampa River pollution sources. The last time a plan of this type was done for this area was in 1986.

McKee has worked to get an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planning department grant of $15,000 and commissioners in both Routt and Moffat counties have pledged $7,500 in matching funds. The only participation from the City of Craig will be its cooperation.

The goal of the Water Quality Plan is to develop a regionally-based watershed protection plan. The focus will be on water quality and river system health.

"We have high quality rivers here," McKee said. "We want to keep them that way."

The plan would evaluate possible river pollution sources, but will not address immediate solutions.

Council members were concerned the city would bear financial responsibility for solving any problems identified. Once a source of pollution is identified, how is it determined whose pollution it is and who is responsible for its clean-up, City Manager Jim Ferree asked.

"We don't want to be tied into addressing a problem discovered by the completion of this study," he said.

Councilors were assured by McKee that would not be the focus of the study.

"I want to be careful we don't create problems where we don't have problems," Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said. "We don't want to put all the monkey on one person's back."

The study will focus on nonpoint sources of stream pollution runoff water contaminated because of urban development, construction site erosion, urban stormwater, irrigation practices or grazing management.

"I think evaluation of nonpoint sources of pollution is one of the most important assessments we can make," McKee said. "It's a concern, when you start to have more and more people come in, how that development impacts streams," McKee said.

The plan will update water and wastewater service area maps; designate water quality management agencies to carry out recommendations of the plan; develop criteria and guidelines for control and prevention of nonpoint source pollution; and provide a preliminary source water protection review to identify areas where raw water supplies may be vulnerable to contamination or further monitoring is necessary.

Section 208 of the 1972 Clean Water Act requires the creation and regular update of Water Quality Management Plans. The last plan addressing this area was done for Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties. McKee wants to see this plan address just the Yampa River basin.

Once a work plan is completed, the EPA will allocate the money. The Yampa River Basin Partnership will act as the sponsoring entity and will organize the effort by creating a request for proposals and hiring a consultant.

Once the plan is complete, it must be approved by the state Water Quality Commission.

McKee recommended officials accept the responsibility to update the plan before the state or EPA does.

"I'd rather have this be a locally-based plan as opposed to something the state or EPA brings in," he said.

Once set in motion, it should take nine to 12 months to complete the plan.

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