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RBC | Passed by the Legislature in 2005, the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act established the concept of developing interbasin water compacts for the equitable division of the state’s water through the planning and negotiations of nine river basin roundtables composed of specific representatives of various citizen and government water interests. These nine roundtables are overseen and coordinated by an Interbasin Compact Committee.
Rio Blanco County’s White River is part of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable (RT) which has 30 possible voting members, a handful of non-voting members, and various state and federal government agency liaisons. Together this group, often with consulting engineers and planners in the wings, equates to meetings of 50 people or more. The YWGRT meets every other month in Craig. Our Yampa/White/Green River Basin covers roughly 10,500 square miles of northwest Colorado and a small portion of south-central Wyoming.
The nine roundtables in the state have been meeting for over ten years and produced the Colorado Water Plan, which was adopted and published by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and approved by Governor John Hickenlooper in 2015. Colorado’s Water Plan focuses on collaboration. The basin roundtables not only provide grassroots insight into each river basin’s challenges and solutions, but are a mechanism to resolve conflicts between basins.
The current chair of the YWGRT is Jackie Brown, natural resource policy advisor for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Mike Camblin, an agricultural producer from Maybell, is the Yampa River vice-chair and Alden Vanden Brink, manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely, is the White River vice-chair. Rio Blanco County YWGRT members who participated in last week’s meeting and their affiliation include at-large members Chuck Whiteman, Jeff Devere, and Vince Wilczek. RBC county commissioner Si Woodruff also attended.
A primary tenet of the basin roundtable concept in the first place is to promote agreement rather than discord in Colorado water decisions and thereby strengthen Colorado’s position in interstate and international arenas, and avoid unnecessary federal intervention in Colorado water affairs. The Plan states that “it’s undeniable: our water challenges necessitate that we pull together as one, innovate, and become more agile.”
The Yampa-White-Green Roundtable has established priorities which can be summarized as “ensuring adequate water for the future needs of municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental and recreational uses.”
For agriculture specifically, the following three goals are set by the state Water Plan: maintain agricultural viability; facilitate alternative transfer methods for water use; and support agricultural conservation and efficiency. Toward the latter, the roundtables are to provide grants, loans, and technical support to update and improve Colorado’s aging agricultural infrastructure, especially where improvements provide multiple benefits.
Within the YWGRT Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), two of eight defined goals are to protect and encourage agriculture uses of water in the YWG Basin within the context of private property rights; and to improve agricultural water supplies that increase irrigated land and reduce shortages.
Last week, in concert with these goals, White River rancher and former county commissioner Forrest Nelson approached the RT with a request to help fund a pivot irrigation system on almost 90 acres of his currently flood-irrigated property just upstream from Meeker with associated wetlands improvements. Nelson’s property is adjacent to the Meeker Pasture State Wildlife Area. His projected costs are $160,000 and he has been approved for a significant cost-share from the federal Natural Resources and Conservation Service and is hoping for some assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as well. He has received letters of support, based on conceptual plans, from both USFWS and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The YWGRT process on such grant requests is for a proposal to go first to the group’s grants committee for approval and comment, and then to a first reading of the full Roundtable. Last week, after some discussion and various suggestions for improvements in the project details, Nelson was approved to come back to the next Roundtable meeting. If approved there, Nelson will then have to go on to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for final acceptance.
The primary funding source for the roundtables came with the creation of the Water Supply Reserve Fund in 2006 for which the Legislature began appropriating $10 million annually, if available, which is divided 64 percent to the statewide account for projects of statewide significance and 36 percent to the nine roundtables. Both are to help fund grants, loans, and projects.
Other RBC members of the YWGRT who were not able to attend last week include Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District representative Kai Turner and at-large member Travis Day.