Guest Column: Come hell or low water

By Jackie brown

Chair, Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable

RBC | “This is no way to run a desert!” The 2018 water year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018, is shaping up to be a record-setter for low water. The optimist in me is just hoping to get through with no major fires in northwest Colorado. The pessimist is on endless repeat, “back to back bad years, can you imagine…” And that is a good question; can you imagine a drought that hits the Yampa and White Valleys with back-to-back years of low snowpack and skimpy monsoons?

Sir Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, and so in times of strenuous drought, we are reminded that this is a desert, after all. The drought is hitting the west at every level— individually, locally, state, and basin wide. So, I will do the same here—touching on the positives, as Colorado River expert John Fleck (www.inkstain.net) likes to say, there are opportunities everywhere.

Individually, we conserve our municipal and domestic use. Irrigators in the Yampa and White Valleys are known to share in the shortage, and working together rather than depend on strict administration. The Yampa-White-Green Basin (Water) Roundtable can assist with grant funding for projects that fall under the Basin’s goals, and that meet the criteria for funding. The Basin Roundtable has an improved grant process to make it easier and more streamlined for applicants. The new process is online at www.yampawhitegreen.com, or call Patrick Stanko at the Community Agricultural Alliance in Steamboat at 970-879-4370.

Colorado has remained ahead of the curve by daylighting some difficult questions and dialogue to the public for input—issues like how a Colorado River Compact call might be administered, and whether and how Demand Management (all users using less water in Colorado) might work. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staff has been directed by the board to present around the state, to anyone that would like to listen, learn and dialogue about the current situation on the Colorado River, and the possible policies being investigated. The CWCB will be in Steamboat Springs on Sept. 19-20 for one of their regular board meetings, open to the public (http://cwcb.state.co.us). Jay Gallagher of Steamboat is Northwest Colorado’s representative on that board.

I would be remiss not to highlight the Colorado River Water Conservancy District headquartered in Glenwood Springs. Their support for Western Slope water users in the aforementioned discussions is crucial in advocating for parity and collaboration across the Continental Divide, and is as important as ever (www.coloradoriverdistrict.org). The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is another resource that is tax-payer funded to “protect critical water rights” (www.upperyampawater.com). The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (https://www.colorado.gov/rbwcd) above Rangely is similarly situated.

I will wrap up with a modern western. After Arizona ran away with one of the rail cars filled with “extra water,” the other Colorado River Basin states have helped them back onto the Drought Contingency Plan rails, and the slow, steady train rides again. The Upper and Lower Basin states are now freshly committed to working out short and long term solutions to the supply and demand obstacles further down the tracks. As we ride into the fire-saturated sunset, try to have faith in the opportunities.

Jackie Brown is the Chair of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable and is a member of the Colorado Water Congress Board. She is a Routt County native and is the Water Policy Advisor for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

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