White River Alliance hears from water engineer Erin Light on drought preparedness and other issues

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RBC | The White River Alliance, a local stakeholders group for the White River, met Dec. 4. Erin Light, the Division 6 Water Engineer, who is in charge of all administration of water rights on the White River (and Yampa and Green), was the guest speaker. She announced that Governor Polis had raised the level of drought preparedness from level 2 to level 3 based on the extent of the above average temperatures and below average precipitation. We are currently at 64% of snowpack for the average this year.

She indicated that the White River is making progress on installing head gates with 80 installed this year, and 505 to go in the White. As this is the statutory year for developing a list of water rights that have been abandoned in whole or in part (every 10 years) she is expecting and seeing some objections, and encourages anyone to contact her office (970-879-0272). There are slightly less than 70 water rights on the 2020 abandonment list in the White River basin. She noted that she is a supporter of adding to water storage, as long as they are strategically located, where they can help the maximum number of people. When asked what we could learn from other basins, she noted that all of Division 6 including the White is a bit behind other basins who generally have all their measuring devices installed. The existing conditional water rights combined exceed 600,000 AF in the White River basin. The average annual flow past the White River near Watson, Utah gage station is 492,900 AF. [This is associated with existing absolute and very senior irrigation rights rather than the conditional water rights.]

Light was appointed by State Engineer, Kevin Rein, to sit on a new anti-speculation task force that has been convened.

White River Alliance member Dr. Bob Dorsett reported on the “State of the White,” using the 100 year record of U.S. Geological Service (USGS) flow data. He noted that the river has been running below the 25th percentile for the past six months, which is similar to losing three months of water volume.

Spring runoff continues to peak earlier and that trend is likely to continue based on climate data. He noted that according to reports from group members, there was less algae this year in the White, possibly due to the education process in best practices supported by the membership, such as avoiding spraying permethrin in proximity to the river and tributaries.

The group was also updated on the White River Partnership by John Leary, which is a collaboration to restore the White River riparian by identifying and removing exotic invasives like tamarisk and Russian olive and providing growth opportunities for native species such as cottonwood and willow. Jenn Wellman from the Nature Conservancy was introduced as well. The group approved a future showing of a new movie called “Kiss the Ground” about the importance of livestock grazing to help repair soil health and improve its water resiliency and store and transform carbon into oxygen. They also approved a speaker from Mesa University to talk about population trends in Rio Blanco and possible future economic opportunities.

The White River Alliance invites the public to all meetings. To learn more, contact WRA president Shawn Welder at packtrip@cmn.net

By NIKI TURNER – editor@ht1885.com