Letter to the Editor: Water district needs input from taxpayers

Dear Editor:
The Yellow Jacket Water Conservation District needs input from taxpayers and community leaders within our district. Water districts in our state can greatly benefit the people within their district and ours can too.
Water districts can serve the taxpayers within their district by acquiring water rights that can be used for beneficial uses including industrial, agriculture, recreation and protecting down stream flows. They also help ensure the stability and growth of the communities that lie within the districts.
Recently I spoke with Duane Scholl, chairman of the Middle Park Water Conservation District, to find out how they had acquired water rights for the folks in their district. Duane said that the Middle Park district has indeed succeeded in acquiring water rights over the years and with many legal battles. Most of them with Front Range water interests. Through legal processes they have acquired water rights that has greatly benefited the communities within their district and they have accomplished this without the district building a reservoir themselves. Of the water that the Middle Park district has acquired, Duane estimated that somewhere between 80-90 percent has been sold from the district to the municipalities within the district. Duane used the term “Basin of Origin” to describe their districts’ intentions for water from the Colorado, Muddy, Blue and Williams Fork rivers, to stay within the basin of origin. Otherwise this water can be exported and used outside of their district.
Recently the Yellow Jacket Water Conservation District was granted nearly a quarter-million dollars for a feasibility study to consider a number of water storage projects supplied by the White River. When this was put out in public notice as a real possibility, it became a great concern for many folks in the valley. I believe these concerns surround potential adverse consequences that could result from some of the proposed water storage projects.
The Saw Mill reservoir project is one of those purposed projects. If this project were to move forward, it would remove huge amounts of water from the North fork of the White River and send that water to a reservoir behind Lake Avery and then send this water to the Yampa River via Milk Creek. Where would it go from there? I believe a project like this would never benefit the taxpayers and communities within our district.
However, the Yellow Jacket board did not create these water rights. Their job has been to keep alive the conditional water rights that were handed down to them so that some day they may serve a beneficial use.
My understanding is that the YJWCD board is not in a position to say which of the proposed water storage projects are good or bad. That’s up to information contributed from sources like the engineering firms pending feasibility study.
The Yellow Jacket board is in a very difficult position because they can not move forward with the feasibility study at this time. Currently there is a legal road block holding back the feasibility study and they have no money to move forward.
The issue lies with concerns of what possible negative consequences some of these potential water storage projects would have and the due diligence it takes to get it through the water courts.
The problem: if the Yellow Jacket Water Conservation District cannot acquire water rights on a river that so far is underused, then that extra water will, some day, be filed on and taken by other water interests and that could be very bad for all of us in this district.
The solution, in my view, is for the folks in this district and those so far opposed to the feasibility study to find a way to support the YJWCD, while working hard to make sure any projects harmful to the people of this district never happen. If that could be done, the Yellow Jacket Water Conservation District could greatly benefit the folks in this district and move forward in acquiring water rights in whatever form possible. They need our support.
If we don’t have a strong water district to protect our water interest in the White River, other water interest will get that water and we will have no say about where the White River water flows.
My father, Frank Welder, who began hydrogeological research in the Piceance Basin in 1964, has inspired me to be involved. He served the U.S. Geological Survey for 25 years and he has watched our consumption of water resources continue to increase at a rate far beyond what future supply will be able to provide. The health of the White River is our best asset.
Shawn Welder