Cutthroat debate |

Cutthroat debate

Water proposals raise ire of commissioners

Proposals by state water officials aimed at maintaining water levels in two local streams are unnecessary, Moffat County officials said Tuesday.

At issue are water rights and efforts to protect Colorado cutthroat trout.

Moffat County commissioners signed a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Tuesday in which they said they oppose instream-flow designations on Beaver Creek and Little Cottonwood Creek.

The instream-flow designations are designed to maintain the water levels in the streams.

If the water board approves the designations, the state would have a water right on the streams. The water right could be used to maintain current levels if there is a future conflict about where the water should go.

Officials from the Colorado Water Conservation District say the designations are needed to maintain water levels for cutthroat trout.

But county officials say the designations aren’t necessary.

“It won’t change anything in addition to what already exists,” said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director.

The Moffat County Land Use Board has looked at the proposals at length, Comstock said. It has determined that instream flows on the two creeks aren’t necessary.

In the letter to the conservation board, commissioners say state and federal wildlife authorities already own substantial water rights to Beaver Creek, which is in the far northwest corner of the county.

Those rights guarantee enough water for trout, commissioners say in the letter.

“Instream flows do not accomplish further protection of trout populations or habitat,” commissioners said in the letter.

Commissioners also say that a designation for Little Cottonwood Creek, which flows into Freeman Reservoir north of Craig, would make it difficult to expand the reservoir in the future.

But officials from the Colorado Water Conservation District say the designations would help maintain cutthroat trout populations.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management asked the state to acquire the instream flow designations, said Todd Doherty, a water resource specialist with the conservation district.

Maintaining stream levels could help keep the Colorado cutthroat trout off the endangered species list, Doherty said.

The instream-flow designation is not designed to take water away from other users, said Jeff Baessler, a senior water resource specialist with the conservation district.

Baessler and Doherty met with the Moffat County Land Use Board last month to discuss the instream-flow designations.

Even if the board grants the designation, the district’s water right wouldn’t trump other water rights that already have been established, Baessler said.

“We may or may not get that water because there are senior water rights that may take that water,” Baessler said.

But the designation could provide a safeguard in the event of a water diversion on the stream, Baessler said.

The water board will review proposals at a meeting in January. But county officials will have at least until the end of March to continue protesting the designations, Baessler said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or

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