Water forum panel believes Yampa River Basin has chance to do something different
Steamboat Springs — Water is the issue for 2014.
Not that it hasn’t already been a major focus in the West, but Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said 2014 is the year of the Colorado water plan.
At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, Mitsch Bush and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft.
Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress and Mitsch Bush serves on state House committees that oversee water issues.
All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.
Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.
The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.
The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said.
“There’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Opportunity that’s been lost in other basins” to manage consumptive and nonconsumptive uses.
“Our needs are not that great,” McBride said. “We can have a balance there and serve both needs.”
There are pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.
There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.
There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests.
Vertrees said members of the public are invited to attend Yampa/White Basin Roundtable meetings and learn more about the process and concerns of drafting a water plan. Mitsch Bush invited constituents to contact her directly to offer feedback on what they would like to see from a water plan.
The Colorado water plan website also solicits input from the public.
“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”
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