Tri-State doesn’t feel a ‘sense of urgency’ in deciding water rights |

Tri-State doesn’t feel a ‘sense of urgency’ in deciding water rights

Dan England / Craig Press
Ice breaks up on the Yampa River as Spring invites warmer temperatures. Should the water that the nearby Hayden and Craig power plants use be allowed to stay in the river once the plants cease to operate, native and endangered fish species in the river would have a higher chance of survival.
Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Tri-State Generation and Transmission doesn’t feel a sense of urgency in deciding what will happen to its water rights after 2030, when the plant closes. But it does feel everyone else’s. 

“Tri-State and our members are acutely aware of the importance of water to communities,” the company said in a January statement, “as a key element of future economic drivers.”

Indeed, water in Colorado is more valuable than Black Gold AND Texas Tea put together, and Tri-State uses 16,000 acre-feet of water a year (that’s a lot, as one acre-foot serves the needs of two households a year). Residents are concerned about it being pumped over to serve the Front Range based on the Western Slopes past water history, and others hope that it’s reserved for local agriculture or even for turning Dinosaur Monument into a national park.

Given that, the company had just begun to talk to community leaders about those rights when, yep, you guessed it, COVID-19 hit, and Tri-State had to shift its focus. 

“We are staying in operation, so we are focused very heavily on the safety and health of our employees,” Stutz said in an interview.

Tri-State had a meeting with those community leaders to start the process of figuring out who may get those water rights and was planning more when the virus hit, meaning things are on hold for now. But that is OK, Stutz said, as he’s reminded officials, repeatedly, that the plant has quite a bit of time to reach a decision. 

That’s a decade, if you’re counting, and even after the plant closes, it will need the water to complete reclamation, which should last until early 2030 and maybe longer, Stutz said. That was the tone of the first meeting, said Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, one of the more heavily involved local officials in Tri-State affairs, as well as one of its biggest supporters. 

“Right now they are more concerned with the mitigation of their existing assets,” Commissioner Beck said, “and dealing with COVID-19, as we all are.”

Beck doesn’t seem to be in a huge hurry either, as he also said it was “a little premature to be discussing this topic (with the media) until we have actually had additional meetings with them.”

As with any discussion about water, it’s complicated, as Tri-State’s water rights are junior, meaning others have rights that take priority, and are for industrial purposes and therefore cannot be automatically transferred to another user, Beck said. Tri-State acknowledges that, stating that there’s more than one owner of the station as well as those other water rights to consider. 

‘“The disposition of the water rights in many cases is not solely a Tri-State decision,” the company’s statement said. 

The company promises to listen to the input of interested stakeholders when the time is right to meet again instead of worrying about the essential workers providing services to the 43 cooperatives and public power districts across Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. 

There is no deadline for a decision, and therefore one hasn’t been made yet. But Tri-State would have to continue to have a beneficial use for the water it appropriates.

“We would get input from all stakeholders and members of the local community,” he said. “We will want to develop as much consensus as possible. We have the intellectual resources in place to work through these issues.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.