In hot water

Farmers not pleased with state-mandated water measuring devices

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MAYBELL -- Anyone diverting water from the Lower Yampa Watershed will have to install government-approved measuring devices, the Colorado Division of Water Resources told a group of about 35 people Wednesday at a meeting in Maybell.

The decision stems from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is working to save four endangered fish -- the Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.

Erin Light, an engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources who requested the installation of the meters and organized the meeting, said the metering flumes are needed to determine how much water is being taken out of the river, as a certain water level is crucial to the fishes' survival. The devices are to be installed by April 1.

"We are not going to curtail your water right," Light said. "And you can still take what you need to put to use."

Hugh Turner, who owns Bear River Ranch just west of Sunbeam, scorned the idea of having to install six water meters, one for each pump.

Turner said that during the past five years, he has, out of his own concern for water usage, he has spent about $250,000 switching from flood irrigation to pivot irrigation. Turner said he uses 5.5 cubic feet per acre of his allowed 13 cubic feet per acre.

"I already know what I take and now I have to pay her so she knows, too? That doesn't make sense," Turner said. "I think I did my part."

Ray Tenney, of the Colorado Water Conservation District, said the district has made $15,000 in grants available to water users in the Lower Yampa. Information on the grant program can be found at www.crwcd.org, and applications will be taken between Nov. 15 and Jan. 31.

In addition to the water meters, those who started diverting water after 1988 will have to buy a fish screen; those who started diverting water before 1988 will be paid for by the recovery program.

Turner said there are circumstances the Division of Water Resources hasn't addressed, such as how the division plans to monitor water flowing back to the river after use.

Turner argued he uses a pump to put water into a pond and then uses pivot irrigation to service the rest of his land, while the pond slowly drains back into the river.

Light said there are tests to calculate for factors such as seepage and flow-back, but they have not yet been executed.

From 1988 to 2006, the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program as received more than $162 million. According to a presentation Wednesday by Tom Pitts, a water consultant and the program's area representative, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton called the Upper Colorado program a national model for recovering endangered species.

John Henry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or jhenry@craigdailypress.com.

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