New Yampa River Fund could finance local water projects
Elected officials in Craig and Moffat County are official signatories to a fund that could finance river improvement projects along the Yampa River.
On Thursday, Sept. 19, community members gathered in Steamboat Springs for the launch of the Yampa River Fund, an endowed fund that will be used to fund projects to improve river health, protect the water supply, and boost river flow in dry years.
Currently the fund has about $2 million, but organizers plan to build the fund up to $5 million.
The Yampa River Fund specifically directs its money to goals included in several Northwest Colorado river management plans, including those created by the Yampa, White and Green River Basin Roundtable, and many others. These goals include protecting water users on the Yampa from curtailment, finding ways to address water shortages, and keeping water infrastructure up to date.
Another factor that instigated the water fund are the reservoir releases that are becoming a regular occurrence to increase river flow in dry years.
Those releases come at a cost, said Kent Vertrees, president of Friends of the Yampa. In the past, the Colorado Water Trust and other entities have fundraised to pay for those releases.
“Who’s going to pay for that in the future?” he asked. “This endowment was originally thought of as a way to help pay for that.”
Other signatories that have joined Craig and Moffat County in the fund include the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Trust, the Community Agriculture Alliance, Friends of the Yampa, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, Routt County, Smartwool, Steamboat Ski Resort, the Nature Conservancy, and the towns of Dinosaur, Hayden, Oak Creek, and Yampa.
Still others could be added to that list.
“Moffat County Cattlemen’s and the conservation district will probably be signing it,” said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County’s director of natural resources.
At the end of July, Moffat County’s commissioners met at Mathers Side Door Kitchen with Comstock and Tom Gray, a rancher and water advocate who’s been advising and advocating for elected officials in Craig and Moffat County in regard to the Yampa River Fund.
Commissioners were worried at first they would be outnumbered by the myriad signatories.
“They might want to include climate change resolutions that a lot of us won’t agree with,” said Commissioner Ray Beck at the July meeting.
But Gray assuaged their worries in this area.
“I haven’t seen anything so far that says you have to agree with climate change,” Gray said.
Comstock said fund organizers have tried to include Craig and Moffat County.
“They have tried very hard to include us,” Comstock said in July.
The fund would have a steering committee of nine members along with a four-member board and the Nature Conservancy has apparently taken the lead on dispersing the funds. Any decision made on the board must be by unanimous consent, meaning if Moffat County doesn’t agree, it won’t happen.
“That veto power that exists on the board ensures that we agree with what happens,” Comstock told commissioners Tuesday before commissioners ultimately decided to sign and become board members of the Yampa Fund.
“One more thing I should mention, it doesn’t cost you a thing,” Comstock said.
Craig City Council signed the agreement at their Sept. 10 meeting. The city is interested in using the fund to possibly finance a diversion structure on the Yampa River near Loudy-Simpson park.
“They do seem intrigued and interested in our diversion project,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius of the fund organizers.
Councilman Chris Nichols said he read the agreement with a keen eye.
“I didn’t see anything, but sometimes there are clauses you don’t catch,” he said. “But if everyone is confident this won’t impede our future plans, I’m for it.”
Gray said Moffat County and Craig signing the dotted line represents more than a year of his hard work.
“We worked on it for over a year and tried to make it fit our community as well as others whose perspectives are different than ours,” he said.
Steamboat Pilot and Today reporter Eleanor Hasenbeck contributed to this report.