Letter to the Editor: Feasibility study begins

Dear Editor:
The Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy district announces the initiation of the Yellow Jacket Water Storage Feasibility Study. The Yellow Jacket study is funded by a grant issued from the area Yampa-White-Green Roundtable. The Yampa-White-Green Roundtable receives funds from the state of Colorado to distribute to local water-related studies and projects.
The Yellow Jacket study was originally scheduled to commence during the summer of 2010; however, due to issues related to state funding timelines, the study began in April 2011. The district expects the study will take approximately 18 months to complete.
The consulting firms hired to implement the Yellow Jacket study are the Glenwood offices of the Applegate Group Inc., and HDR Inc. Beginning this month, the Yellow Jacket board will meet in workshop-type sessions with the consultants who will report on their initial Phase 1 analysis. Initial and draft Phase 1 data will be available for public comment in June and July 2011, and after the Yellow Jacket board has accepted public comments on the initial Phase 1 analysis it will direct the consultants to narrow the focus of the study to approximately three sites. These sites will proceed to a more complex Phase 2 and Phase 3 review with final work product recommendations for the district’s implementation of a specific water storage project within the district.
Since its inception, the Yellow Jacket district has maintained conditional water storage rights. These rights were originally filed 30-60 years ago and include agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and wildlife uses appropriated for the benefit of the district. The Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District was established on Sept. 29, 1959, by the Rio Blanco County District Court. Yellow Jacket is funded through property tax collections from within the district boundary. The Yellow Jacket board of directors (local landowners appointed by the district court) believe that completing the conditional water storage projects contemplated under the district’s conditional appropriations is critical to the long-term preservation of area agricultural interests as well as providing a water supply to support economic stability and diversity for this area, including facilitating water resource management for industrial purposes. The board believes that the Yellow Jacket study’s contemporary evaluation of the feasibility of developing its conditional water rights will support reasonable and responsible water storage management within its district.
Colorado law requires conditional water rights owners such as the district to obtain a “diligence decree” from the Water Court every six years. A diligence decree reflects the court’s determination that the conditional water right holder — in this case the district — has complied with state law in diligently pursuing the development of conditional water rights. In 2008 and 2009, the Yellow Jacket district filed diligence applications with the Water Court. Several landowners located in the upper White River valley oppose the Yellow Jacket diligence cases. The district understands landowner and water user concern and interest in these diligence cases. The district has attempted to resolve these cases through settlement discussions, but to date the opposition has aggressively pushed for trial. The trial is scheduled for March 2012. Although the district remains hopeful that the cases will eventually settle, the district has the obligation to pursue the preservation of these water rights for the benefit of the district, even though the landowners opposing the diligence cases are engaging in (and requiring the board to engage in) expensive litigation. The district’s mission has always been to develop and maintain water rights for the benefit of district landowners, municipalities, business and industry and recreational interests. The district is committed to that mission and believes that its efforts to obtain diligence decrees together with the development direction dictated by the final Yellow Jacket study report are critical to its continued success.
The Yellow Jacket district looks forward to meeting with interested water users, landowners and community members in the Yellow Jacket study Phase 1 public meetings in June and July 2011.
Trina Zagar-Brown
Yellow Jacket Water
Conservancy district