RBC I Water is a precious commodity. It is the scarcest and most fought-over resource in Rio Blanco County.
Without water, nothing grows, nothing is produced and development cannot occur.
Fighting over ditches, springs, creeks, rivers and who may be First In Time, First In Right used to be a contact sport between two ranchers. Now, the Front Range wants more West Slope water. Attempts continue to be made to allow public control of streams on private lands.
The U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife want to control part of it. The Wild Earth Guardians, et al, want control of our water just to look at it. The river runners want it running free.
The downstream, out of state, users want it all. Individuals, organizations, some cities, and the federal government are working as hard as they can to change Colorado water law. There are unfortunately also some county commissioners in the state who think it would be OK for the federal government to control our water.
They do not understand that controlling the water controls the land.
The Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable is working hard to protect our interests, both the present and the future, through the State Water Plan. There are 33 roundtable members representing all three rivers; seven represent the White River. They are: myself, representing Rio Blanco County; and Roundtable Chairman Alden Vandenbrink, the second vice chair; Jeff Devere, Interbasin Compact Committee representative; Dan Eddy, representing the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District; Forrest Nelson, the Rio Blanco Municipal representative; Kelly Sheridan the Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District representative, and Vince Wilczek at-large.
We are now approximately half way through the state water plan. The Yampa White Green Basin Implementation Plan was submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on July 31. The Basin Roundtable has until April 2015 to present a final document to the CWCB.
The State Water Plan draft is scheduled to be presented Dec. 31, 2014, with the final due by Dec. 31, 2015.
The public still has opportunity to have input into the process. This will be an ongoing effort for the next 16 months, and the state considers the plan to be a living document, not static, and will change as needs or availability dictate
The state website www.coloradowaterplan.com has all the basin plans listed under the community tab.
The next Roundtable meeting will be 6 p.m. on Oct. 15 at the Shadow Mountain Legion Hall in Craig.
The Colorado State Legislature’s Interim Water Committee will hold a hearing on the Yampa White Green Basin Plan Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Steamboat Springs Library.
Here on the Western Slope, we have great natural resources which, when used responsibly, will allow our children and grandchildren a secure future in Rio Blanco County.
In order to continue to prosper, we must reserve enough water for expansion and new economic opportunities. If we decided to go strictly to a recreation economy, we would still have to grow in population to fit labor needs.
Recreation has its place in a well-rounded economy and is one of the most important occupations in the county’s economy. Most of the businesses owners who have relocated to Colorado since the year 2000 first came as tourists. That being said, manufacturing and natural resources have the direct benefit of bringing new money into the county on a constant basis.
One way to increase the recreation dollars coming in would be to encourage an increase in agricultural production in order to preserve our lifestyle, create game habitat and the aesthetic values necessary for outdoor tourism.
The Roundtable estimates that a minimum of 14,000 acres of new land is available within the Yampa White Green Basin for irrigation.
Any increase in manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, population or oil shale production will require more water. Therefore, we need dams, a minimum of three new ones on the White River. While we are only looking at one at this time, we need a new one up high or expand Lake Avery. Its purpose would be to ensure a minimum streamflow to the Utah line and security for Meeker and Eastern Rio Blanco County agriculture.
We need one at Wolf Creek. It’s job would be to provide reliable water for Rangely, agriculture, mining and industrial use.
The third would be at Rangely or below and supply water for irrigation and compliance with the Colorado River Compact. Dams are an economic driver. They boost tourism, agriculture, mining, industry and supply hydro power, the most reliable renewable energy.
Finally, our water is our best natural resource. It is our tool to maintains our lifestyle, increase existing business and is a major drawing card for attracting new business.
By Jon Hill
Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners