Letter to the Editor: Update on area river systems

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Dear Editor:
Please find attached a draft version of the Yampa/White basin overview that was included in the SWSI 2010 report, including some revisions suggested by the CWCB Board in November 2013. As you may know, CWCB staff will present a first draft version of Colorado’s Water Plan Chapter 2. Overview of each basin at the CWCB Board meeting in March, 2014.
The objective of this chapter is to demonstrate the diversity of needs and interests throughout Colorado and to highlight each basin’s importance in relation to Colorado’s water values.
The Yampa River, White River and Green River basins cover roughly 10,500 square miles in northwest Colorado and south-central Wyoming. The basins are defined, in part, by the Continental Divide on the east.
The elevation in the basins ranges from 12,200 feet (Mount Zirkel) in the Park Range to about 5,100 feet at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers at Echo Park within Dinosaur National Monument. The basin contains diverse landforms including steep mountain slopes, high plateaus, rolling hills, incised sandstone canyons and broad alluvial valleys and flood plains.
Large portions of the basins are federally owned lands. Livestock, grazing and recreation are the predominant land uses.
Near the towns of Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Yampa and Meeker, much of the land is dedicated to agricultural use. The mountains are densely covered by forest. The valleys and plateaus are mostly covered by shrub land with some forested areas.
The Steamboat Springs area, featuring a destination ski resort, is likely to experience continued and rapid population growth. For the Yampa River, White River, and Green River basins, key water management issues for the next 40 years include:
The emerging development of gas and oil shale resources which impacts water needs both for direct production needs and the associated increase in municipal use; agriculture, tourism and recreation are vital components of this basin’s economy. as the needs of communities and industry grow, competition between sectors could increase; industrial uses, especially power production, are a major water use. Future energy development is less certain.
While rapidly growing in some areas (Yampa River/Steamboat Springs area), the basin as a whole is not developing as rapidly as other portions of the state. This has led to concern that the basin will not get a “fair share” of water use afforded to Colorado under the Colorado River Compact in the event of a compact call.
Implementation of a successful Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is vital to ensuring protection of existing and future water uses.
Agricultural producers in the basin would like to increase the amount of irrigated land by 14,000 to 18,000 acres, but the lack of financial resources is an impediment.
Kate McIntire
Outreach, Education
and Public Engagement
Water Supply Planning Section
Colorado Water
Conservation Board
Department of Natural Resources