New water law to guide water discussions

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During a tour of the Western Slope last week, Gov. Bill Owens signed legislation aimed at guiding water negotiations between the state's river basins.

On Tuesday, Moffat County commissioners discussed the legislation and its potential impact in Northwest Colorado.

House Bill 1177, also known as "Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act," establishes nine roundtables tasked with negotiating interbasin water discussions.

The roundtables will represent nine river basins. Northwest Colorado is represented by the Yampa-White Basin Roundtable.

"The goal is to get water users from throughout the state to come to the table and talk about the best way to solve our water woes," Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Dawn Taylor Owens said.

HB 1177 also establishes an Interbasin Compact Committee made up of members of the basin roundtables and officials appointed by the governor and legislators. Department of Natural Resources director Russell George will chair the committee, which will draft a framework for interbasin water decisions.

Moffat County Commissioners Saed Tayyara and Darryl Steele attended an HB 1177 discussion in Vail last week.

Steele said he supports the bill because residents of the basins have a say in where their water will go. The Yampa-White Roundtable must agree to any agreement which would send water from Northwest Colorado to another basin.

"It gives us basin protection because, vote wise, we're one of the smaller population basins," he said after Tuesday's commissioners meeting.

Owens said the act is aimed at ending water battles between the Front Range and the Western Slope by allowing individual basins to negotiate with each other.

The Moffat County commissioners will appoint a member to the Yampa-White Basin Roundtable. The deadline for the appointment is July 15.

The roundtable will negotiate water issues, particularly interbasin diversions, with the other roundtables in the region.

Owens said the effect this legislation could have on unappropriated water is unclear.

Unappropriated water is not earmarked for a specific use. The Yampa has some of the only remaining unappropriated water left in Colorado.

Steele said he is committed to keeping unappropriated water in Moffat County because the region's population is expected to grow in the coming years and unappropriated water will provide flexibility.

"We need to have some slack," Steele said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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