A meeting Wednesday of regional water experts and river users will focus on how to best protect and plan policy for the Yampa River and will take place at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Craig.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A meeting Wednesday of regional water experts and river users will focus on how to best protect and plan policy for the Yampa River and will take place at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Craig.

Meeting to discuss Yampa

Attorney: Junior water rights vulnerable to interstate water contract

If you go

What: Yampa/White River Basin Roundtable meeting

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Holiday Inn & Suites in Craig

Online: Learn more about the roundtable through the Interbasin Compact Committee’s Web site at http://ibcc.state.co.us/Basins/YampaWhite/

Local water attorney Tom Sharp is proving to be a fountain of ideas — well-received or not — for protecting and improving regional water supplies.

In September, Sharp proposed a multi-entity water storage exchange that ultimately would give the city of Steamboat Springs as much as 2,000 acre-feet of storage rights in Steamboat Lake. The proposal offered a potential alternative to the future construction of a new reservoir for the city on the Elk River. That idea still is in its infancy.

On Wednesday night, Sharp will explain another long-view idea, his Yampa Doctrine, at a meeting of the Yampa/White River Basin Roundtable in Craig. The roundtable is a group of regional water experts and river users that works with state officials to guide long-term water policy.

The Yampa Doctrine is an effort to protect local water users in the event of a worst-case scenario for the Colorado River system: a so-called “compact call,” a case of extreme water shortage in which the 1922 Colorado River Compact is enacted and Lower Basin states — Nevada, part of Arizona and California — call for their allocated water from Upper Basin states including Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, part of Arizona and New Mexico.

Sharp said Monday that there is not yet a specific plan for how state water officials would acquire the allocated water — in other words, who gets shut off — if such a call occurs.

“What (the Yampa Doctrine) would do would be to protect the Yampa Basin users from being forced to curtail their use, to stop their use, when there is a Lower Basin call and the Upper Basin has to deliver up water at Lee’s Ferry (in Arizona),” Sharp said.

Sharp said Yampa River users could be vulnerable to state action because regional reservoirs and power plants have “very junior water rights.”

“We need to be prepared to make the Yampa Doctrine argument as a defense to being the youngest guy on the block,” he said.

State water officials have not agreed with his interpretation of water policy language, Sharp said.

“Nobody else particularly thinks that’s appropriate,” he said of the Yampa Doctrine.

Wednesday’s roundtable meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Craig. The agenda also includes updates on several regional and statewide water studies.

River recreation advocate Kent Vertrees said a study of water flows needed for non-consumptive river use could be completed at the end of 2011. Accumulating that type of data will help the roundtable shape future water policy.

“It’ll be an interesting conversation,” Vertrees said about Wednesday’s meeting. “What is our vision that we want to have in the Yampa Basin?”

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