#ColoradoRiver: Why Denver pays farmers in Yampa Valley not to irrigate this summer — The Mountain Town News

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Irrigation season on the Carpenter Ranch normally begins in early May and continues until September. The ranch is located along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado, about 20 miles west of the ski town of Steamboat Springs. Water from the river is used to grow fields of waist-high timothy, clover, and other types of grasses that, after being cut, provide hay for cattle.

This year, the seasonal cycle was disrupted. Irrigation on four of the fields, totaling 197 acres, was suspended on July 1. Instead, the water has been allowed to flow down the Yampa River 100 miles to Dinosaur National Park. There, it joins the water of the Green River coming down from Wyoming, which in turn joins the Colorado River in Utah. The comingled waters then flow into Lake Powell.

Powell is one of two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River, the other being Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. Together, the two reservoirs can hold 16 times the annual flow of the Colorado River—on average. But the river and its many tributaries have been flowing below average most years since 1999. Even after torrential rains and heavy snows in the Colorado Rockies in May, the inflow into Lake Powell this year is just 88 percent of average. It’s part of a long-term trend of declining reservoir levels in a river basin that provides water for 25 to 34 million people. (Estimates vary).

These reservoir declines have instilled a sense of urgency in Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. His agency provides water to 1.3 people in metropolitan Denver, with half the water arriving in the city from the Fraser, Blue, and other tributaries of the Colorado River.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

“One of the things we have learned in this drought is that it just seems to keep going and going and going,” says Lochhead. “We are really in uncharted territory right now in terms of where the (reservoir) levels are. The levels are the lowest since these dams have been constructed.”

Lake Mead, formed in 1936 as a result of Hoover Dam, is now at 37 percent of capacity. Lake Powell began forming in 1963 as a result of construction of Glen Canyon Dam and is at 54 percent of capacity.

Lochhead and other architects of the Colorado River System Conservation Program want to be ready in case an even more severe drought revisits the Colorado River Basin. Fresh in mind is 2002, when the Colorado River carried only 25 percent of its normal flows, and 2003 wasn’t much better. Should drought of that severity return, Lake Powell could even shrink to something called a dead pool. That’s when there’s too little water to generate electricity. The electricity is distribu ted broadly across the West to towns, cities, and farms. Revenues from sales are used to fund programs designed to protect endangered fish on the Colorado River.

Lake Powell also has another vital function for Colorado and other headwaters states: It is used to me et commitments of water deliveries to the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California as specified by the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922. Denver’s water rights from the Western Slope of Colorado are mostly junior to the compact. If drought persisted, it’s conceivable that Denver and other water users with more junior rights—including many in the mountain resort community—would have to curtail their diversions in order to comply with the 1922 compact.

Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- via The Mountain Town News
Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — via The Mountain Town News

To forestall this apple cart from being upset, Denver and several major water providers that tap the Colorado River Basin last year joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to begin exploring how water can temporarily be shifted from traditional uses and allowed to flow downstream. The Carpenter Ranch along the Yampa River is the first pilot project announced in this Colorado River System Conservation Program.

The ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy, one of several partners from the environmental community working with Denver and other water providers. The non-profit in turn sublets the land to ranchers, says Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project coordinator for the organization. Taking water off the hay meadows reduces harvest and it will also reduce the number of cattle that can graze the meadows in autumn. About 90 percent of agriculture on Colorado’s Western Slope is, like the Carpenter Ranch, used to produce hay.

Joe Brummer, an associate professor of forage science at Colorado State University, has studied effects of water curtailment in small plots at the Carpenter Ranch as well as other farms. Hay production continues if irrigation ceases, but only in small quantities. The second year, after irrigation has resumed, production lags 50 percent, he says. Even in the third year, again after full resumption of irrigation, production at the Carpenter Ranch test site was 8 to 9 percent below average.

This year, the experiment is different: a split season.

Nine other pilot sites have also been identified, five of them in Wyoming and four in Colorado. They are being funded at a total cost of $1 million. A larger program on the Colorado River involving lower-basins states has a cost of $11 million. Other water agencies providing money, in addition to Denver, include those serving metropolitan Las Vegas and Los Angeles, along with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy, says the overarching goal of the pilot program is to learn as much as possible about how water can be shared in time of crisis.

“It’s complicated to move water around,” she says. “These are property rights. Many farmers are unsure how it will impact their water rights if they participate in a project like this. So the point of these pilots is to learn as much as we can right now, so that if a crisis does hit, we will have good information so that we can design a program that allows us to share water in a drought.”

How close is crisis? Too close for comfort, she says. “If this were your savings account and it was continuing to drop, you would be concerned,” she says.

Hawes also sees another, even more dramatic analogy. “I think we were on the edge of the cliff, and depending upon whether it’s a good year or bad year, we take a step forward and backward. The California (drought) situation has highlighted impacts that we will have if we don’t have a plan in place.”

A fishing pier stood distant from the receding waters of Lake Mead in December 2010. Photo/Allen Best - See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2015/08/20/letting-water-flow-down-the-yampa-to-lake-powell/#sthash.7tRYDEZj.dpuf
A fishing pier stood distant from the receding waters of Lake Mead in December 2010. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2015/08/20/letting-water-flow-down-the-yampa-to-lake-powell/#sthash.7tRYDEZj.dpuf

Some say that the Colorado River actually is in worse shape over the long haul than California. New evidence finds that warming temperatures in the Southwest may be causing evaporation and [transpiration] that alone can explain declining reservoir levels.

“The fact that the Colorado River Basin drought is more a product of the heat than any drop in precipitation is a frightening prospect, because that heat is not going to go away,” says Doug Kenney, research associate at the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado. In fact, because of increased locked into the atmosphere because of accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, all climate models forecast brisk increases of heat in future decades in the basin.

Denver’s Lochhead says the 2002 drought forced the seven states in the Colorado River Basin to consider how to share impacts of drought. Upper Basin states can move water from smaller reservoirs near the headwaters, such as Flaming Gorge in Utah and Navajo in New Mexico, down into Powell. Water can also be allowed to flow downstream through projects such as are being tested at the Carpenter Ranch.

Water providers in the Colorado River program want to work out kinks so that, if crisis occurs, curtailments can be scaled. But many questions remain, such as how to protect water users through the process, to ensure their water rights remain valid. “It’s really the first step,” says Lochhead, and there will be many follow-up questions.

Lochhead is sensitive about how the program is perceived. It is not, he stressed, a grab by cities for agricultural water. The transfers are intended to be temporary and provide compensation to water-right holders. He also points out that it need not be just farms and ranches. One of the pilot programs involves a city on Colorado’s Front Range, he says, but declined to identify the city, because negotiations have not been completed.

“We’re trying to take the perception of winners and losers off the table,” he says. “In this program, everybody wins because the system wins.”

What’s also of note is the extent to which environmental groups have waded into this program. Hawes says The Nature Conservancy wants to work with farmers because, when the river system gets taxed, agriculture and the environment are usually the first to lose. “We need to work to find partnerships,” she says.

Water rights for the Carpenter Ranch date to 1881, the oldest on the Yampa River. Photo/ Mark Godfrey and The Nature Conservancy
Water rights for the Carpenter Ranch date to 1881, the oldest on the Yampa River.
Photo/ Mark Godfrey and The Nature Conservancy

Trout Unlimited has also been a major partner. It has property in the Pinedale-Green River area of Wyoming participating, and the organization has also enlisted a small farm along the Gunnison River near Delta, Colo. Cary Denison, project coordinator for Trout Unlimited in the Gunnison Basin, says the farmer will fallow the land for one year then, in the second year, plant a lower consumption crop. Corn, the current crop, takes two feet per acre. Winter wheat only requires a foot.

“Our role is very limited. I am looking at this is a way of participating in an interesting pilot project that looks at consumptive use of different crops.”

While some farmers already knew about the pilot program, he says, others needed to understand the motivation.

Some ratepayers in Denver also wanted to know why Denver Water would be paying farmers to let water flow downstream toward California. That question gets to the heart of the great complexity of water and the Colorado River Basin, points out Doug Kenney, research associate at the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado.

Denver itself is outside the basin, of course. Cheyenne, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City, plus Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Diego are similarly outside the basin—but also depend upon Colorado River water.

For such a relatively small river, it pulls a heavy load.

If you liked this story, please consider donating to Mountain Town News.

Colorado Water Trust (@COWaterTrust) comes to the aid of the Yampa River once again — Steamboat Today


From Steamboat Today:

Water Trust Staff Attorney Zach Smith said Upper Yampa began releasing 12 cubic feet per second from Stagecoach Reservoir on Monday, with the goal of boosting flows in the river up to the decreed instream flow amount of 72.5 cfs. The U.S. Geological Survey reflected that flows had quickly reached that level on Monday before declining slightly on Tuesday.

Smith reported Tuesday that the Lake Catamount Metropolitan District had agreed to pass flows below the Catamount Dam downstream from Stagecoach.

This summer’s water release comes later in the summer than it did in 2012 and 2013, when below average winter snowpack and early spring runoff left the river flowing below historic averages in early July. The hay harvest has been early in 2015 — months earlier, in some cases — than it was in 2014.

This summer’s purchase of 1,185 acre-feet of water is in contrast to 2012, when 4,000 acres was purchased from Stagecoach, translating into about 26 cfs for much of the summer.

The winter of 2014-15 was another low snow year, but above average rainfall has kept the upper Yampa Valley lush and the river at healthy flows through the end of July.

As recently as Aug. 4, the Yampa was flowing above median for the date at 180 cfs, but fell to 110 cfs on Aug. 9. It bumped slightly upward in downtown Steamboat on Tuesday.

The city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Tri-State Transmission and Generation and Catamount Development and the Catamount Metropolitan District also played a role in the latest conservation water release.

The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that facilitates voluntary, market-based water rights transactions to restore and protect streamflows in Colorado to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. It also works on physical solutions and provides technical assistance on other projects.

Demand on Wyoming water rises — the Wyoming News #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

From the Wyoming News (Trevor Brown):

…with a historic drought hitting California and much of the Southwest, parts of the river have reached their driest points in hundreds of years.

And this increased demand on the river is causing Wyoming, along with the other western states, to take notice.

“Anything that puts more pressure on the Colorado River should be a concern for all the states, including Wyoming,” said Douglas Kenney, who heads the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “There is only so much water to go around.”

Wyoming’s water managers say the Cowboy State hasn’t been directly affected by the water shortage in the downstream states.

This is because a nearly 100-year-old interstate compact ensures Wyoming can use a predetermined amount of the water that flows through its borders.

“Anytime a drought occurs in our country, it is worth watching,” said Harry LaBonde, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission. “But if you are asking if California is going to demand more water from Wyoming, the answer is no.”

LaBonde and other state officials say the western drought, and the threat that the situation could worsen, is still enough of a concern that Wyoming should see the situation as a warning and take steps to safeguard its own water supplies.

This is partly what prompted Gov. Matt Mead to include a plan in his recently announced statewide water strategy to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years.

Nephi Cole, a policy adviser to the governor, said it’s important for the state to begin planning these projects, which can take years and millions of dollars to complete, so Wyoming isn’t caught off guard in the future.

“The challenge is many times when you need a water project and you realize you are in a really dry year, it is already too late,” he said…

Wyoming and the “Law of the River”

Unlike much of southeast Wyoming, several western parts of the state don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on plentiful groundwater resources.

That means many municipal water systems, agricultural users and other industries largely depend on the Green River, which is the main tributary of the Colorado River, to meet their needs.

The 730-mile waterway begins in the Wind River Range of Sublette County and travels south into Utah before it connects with the Colorado River.

In total, a drop of water that starts in Wyoming could travel through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California.

So, who owns that droplet of water?

That hotly contentious question was largely answered by a 1922 interstate deal known formally as the Colorado River Compact. This, combined with a complex series of other compacts, federal laws, court decisions and decrees, make up what is colloquially referred to as “The Law of the River.”[…]

It goes on to say that Wyoming is allowed to use 14 percent of the 7.5 million acre-feet of the upper-basin states’ allocation. That amount is equal to more than 342 billion gallons – or the equivalent of 517,844 Olympic-sized swimming pools – of water…

Cooperation and tension

David Modeer is the president of the Colorado River Water Users Association, a nonprofit group made up of the states and other groups that rely on the waterway.

He said all seven of the states have been working together through the years on a number of projects to preserve the water supply.

For example, many of the lower-basin states have provided some funding for cloud-seeding projects, which are designed to bring more precipitation, in the Rocky Mountain states.

More Green River Basin coverage here.

Tomorrow: Source to Sea — Down the Colorado River with Zak Podmore #ColoradoRiver

Zak Podmore and Will Stauffer-Norris
Zak Podmore and Will Stauffer-Norris

From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:

Tomorrow, Thursday the 15th
Source to Sea:
Down the Colorado River
with Zak Podmore

Donovan Pavilion
5:30 pm reception & 6 pm presentation
tickets free, $10 suggested donation, cash bar

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

Water Lines: Colorado Water Plan delivered, key dilemmas remain — Hannah Holm

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Colorado lurched one more step towards resolving how to satisfy growing demands for water with stable-to-diminishing supplies when Governor Hickenlooper received the first complete draft of a statewide water plan on Dec. 10.

In compiling the plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provided the latest information on current and projected water supplies and defined some “no regrets” actions that would help no matter what the future holds. These include achieving at least low-to-medium levels of conservation, completing already planned projects, implementing water re-use projects, and preserving the option of taking more water out of the Colorado River and its tributaries to meet both West and East Slope needs.

The CWCB stopped short of endorsing (or vetoing) any particular projects to meet future needs or taking a hard stand on the role conservation and land-use restrictions should play in meeting future needs. The draft plan maps the landscape, but doesn’t define the route.

The identification of specific projects was left to roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins. As anticipated, those basin plans conflict on the issue of whether East Slope basins can continue to rely on additional West Slope water to meet their growing needs. Approximately 500,000 acre-feet per year already flows east across the Continental Divide through ditches and tunnels that siphon off a majority of the natural flows from many headwaters streams. One acre-foot can meet the needs of two to three households for a year under current usage rates.

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

While the draft plan doesn’t say “yes” or “no” to additional transmountain diversions, it does incorporate a seven-point “draft conceptual agreement” on how to negotiate on future transmountain diversions. The draft discussion framework (there’s been a lot of push back on calling it an agreement) contains several new features in the many-decades-long debate between East and West Slope actors over transmountain diversions. It states that the East Slope is not looking for stable water deliveries each year from any such project, recognizing that it may only be able to divert in wet years and would have to use transmountain water in conjunction with non-West Slope sources, such as the Denver Basin aquifer and temporary transfers from agriculture.

The draft framework also notes the need for an “insurance policy” to protect against Colorado water users getting cut off in the event that we fail to let enough water flow beyond the state line to meet downstream obligations. Colorado and the other Upper Colorado River Basin states have never failed to meet their obligation to downstream states under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, but the margin by which we’ve exceeded it keeps diminishing. Additional use in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, plus continued drought, could push us over that threshold.

While the draft framework is a tiny part of the draft Colorado Water Plan, it’s likely to be at the center of debate between water leaders from each of the state’s major river basins as the draft Colorado Water Plan becomes “final” over the coming year. In a meeting Dec. 18, members of the four West Slope basin roundtables met in Grand Junction to work towards a common negotiating position in those discussions.

The four roundtables share extreme skepticism about the wisdom of any transmountain diversion, no matter the caveats; they also share a concern that any “insurance policy” to protect existing uses from curtailment under the 1922 Colorado River Compact would ultimately result in water being transferred out of West Slope agriculture, even if the transfer is voluntary and lower-impact than the wholesale “buying and drying” of agricultural water rights that has already devastated some East Slope farming communities.

Where the West Slope roundtables begin to diverge is over how additional Colorado River Basin development on the West Slope figures into the picture. Given that any new uses raise the risk of failing to meet downstream obligations, should new West Slope water projects be looked on any more favorably than new projects to send water across the Continental Divide? Where is the right line in the trade-off between protecting existing Colorado River water users and making the fullest use possible of the resource? And what place should “nonconsumptive” uses of water for the health of the environment and recreation play into these decisions?

This already complicated dilemma is made more complicated by the fact that the Yampa and White river basins have fewer dams and diversions on their streams than the other West Slope river basins, and therefore have a greater interest in new projects to provide greater security for existing users, as well potentially irrigate even more land and/or meet the needs of increasing energy development. Is the Yampa Basin bearing an unfair share of the burden of meeting downstream obligations, or would it be even more unfair for existing users in other basins to have to cut back in order to subsidize Yampa Basin growth?

In the quest to find common ground on this issue, participants in the Dec. 18 meeting called for better hydrologic data in order to better understand how much additional risk is created by different levels of additional use.

I don’t know if that’s possible, given the current state of scientific understanding of our region’s climate and hydrology, particularly when it comes to forecasting. What may bear fruit is the search for the right “triggers,” in terms of reservoir and/or streamflow levels, to indicate when more development, on either side of the Continental Divide, can proceed without posing unacceptable risks to the whole system. Don’t expect this dilemma to be resolved any time soon, no matter what deadlines exist on paper.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

“Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit” — J. Paul Brown

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Protecting Western Slope agriculture appears to be one area of agreement as the region looks for ways of speaking with one voice on Colorado water issues. That was one takeaway from what was effectively a Western Slope water summit held [December 18] in Grand Junction with the goal of presenting some consolidated messages on the state’s newly drafted water plan.

Members of four roundtable groups — representing the Gunnison and Colorado river basins, southwest Colorado and the Yampa, White and Green river basins — already have developed their own plans that were incorporated into the newly completed draft plan. Representatives from all those roundtables gathered Thursday to talk about common themes that have emerged that they can be jointly voicing to the rest of the state as a final plan is developed.

In the case of agriculture, Colorado roundtable basin chair Jim Pokrandt said it’s important that the state not engage in poor water planning that forces farmers and ranchers out of business.

Said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who works in agriculture himself, “Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easy water to buy and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

He talked about a need for more Front Range storage of its own water and alternatives like bringing in water from the Missouri River “so you’re not buying that agricultural water.”

Jim Spehar, a former Mesa County commissioner and Grand Junction mayor, agreed about the importance of considering agriculture in state water planning.

“If this discussion isn’t done by and for agriculture I think it will be done to agriculture,” he said.

Thursday’s discussion also turned to other areas including municipal and agriculture conservation. Gunnison County rancher Ken Spann said one thing those in agriculture need to know is where any water they might free up from conservation would go. He’d like to see it help fill Lake Powell to help states in the Upper Colorado River basin meet interstate compact water obligations.

But he worries that instead it could just end up supplying another new subdivision, or perhaps simply being offset by new water use being sought in the Yampa basin, which would mean no net increase in Colorado River water reaching Powell.

“The trade-offs (from conservation efforts) have to be identified and we are now at the point where we have to do that or people won’t play,” he said.

Western Slope water interests plan to continue talking about seeking a unified voice on water, including by addressing issues such as a somewhat controversial proposed framework for discussing any possible new diversions of western Colorado water to the Front Range.

“This is just the start of the West Slope conversation,” said Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson, who also sits on Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide forum for discussing water issues.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

“The #YampaRiver is a unique, irreplaceable resource” — Kristin Green #COWaterPlan

From the Craig Daily Press (Kristin Green):

Recently, over burritos and margaritas at Vallarta’s Restaurant, I was asked what the number one thing is that I should know about rivers in Colorado. Like a deer in the headlights, I sat in silence. His brusque follow up was, “the Yampa is the last wild river in Colorado, and it had better stay that way.” I quickly nodded in agreement.

The man is certainly not alone in his opinion. The Yampa has a dedicated following of boaters, anglers, sportsmen and conservationists who don’t want to see the heart of Northwest Colorado dammed and diverted. As Soren Jespersen, of the local group Friends of the Yampa, recently stated in a Steamboat Today article on the Colorado Water Plan, “The Yampa is one of the last major untamed waterways in the entire Colorado River system. If we were to start diverting its waters to the Front Range, we wouldn’t just be diminishing its flows; we’d be killing the very thing that makes the Yampa River unique.”

Unfortunately, there is good reason to be concerned about the future of the Yampa. In an era viewed by some as the last “water grab” in Colorado, attention is shifting towards the Yampa under the presumption of having water to spare. That opens up a debate about what qualifies as excess water. Anyone who has enjoyed a day on the Yampa will attest water left in the river is still water being put to good use, albeit a non-consumptive one.

It isn’t just about the quantity of water that places a target on the Yampa Basin. Colorado is a prior appropriation state, which means the seniority of a water right is everything. The older the date on a water right, the further towards the front of the line you get to stand. Some municipalities, such as Steamboat Springs, have junior water rights putting their ability to meet demand during drought conditions at jeopardy. Luckily the issue of a “call” from senior water rights holders on the Yampa is fairly rare occurrence, but in a warmer, drier future, things could get more complicated if we don’t have a plan in place.

So, to head off those problems here and to alleviate existing issues elsewhere, Colorado is in the process of crafting its first ever state water plan. This plan will shape how we manage water well into the future. Every interest group, from municipalities, agricultural producers, industries, outdoor recreation professionals and conservationists, is fighting for their interests to be protected within the plan.

Few would dispute that we need a Colorado Water Plan that protects agricultural, municipal and recreational needs — and the $9 billion economy river related recreation supports. However, when it comes down to how the water is managed, tensions rise quickly. The hot-button issues of cities buying agricultural water rights leaving an alfalfa field to wither and transmountain diversions creating huge reservoirs and pipeline systems to send water across the continental divide get most of the attention. The risks and consequences of both those ideas are just too great for rivers like the Yampa, so we need to look elsewhere.

The most obvious answer is to maximize the water we currently have available before looking to develop additional new supply. The idea of living within our means isn’t new, especially in a blue-collar town like Craig. Conservation is effective and costs significantly less than new, large pipelines and other projects. The bright new shiny thing might look good on paper, but the environmental damage and huge costs to taxpayers makes them a dream to developers and a nightmare for everyone else.

The Yampa is a unique, irreplaceable resource not just for the residents of northwest Colorado, but the nation. The last major free-flowing river on the Colorado Plateau deserves every bit of deference, because it’s the last of its kind. Many other parts of west slope and the west in general have their own “Yampa.” We’ve seen the Dolores turned into a trickle and the majority of the Fraser’s water sent over the divide, not to mention everything that has happened to the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork, etc.

With a draft of the Colorado Water Plan already in motion, it’s time to step up and protect local resources across our state. As Rep. Don Coram quipped at the closing of a CLUB 20 debate, “Empty your bladder before you go. No water leaves the Western Slope.” It drew a good chuckle from the crowd, but if we really want to protect our west slope rivers, we need to step up and make sure the plan prioritizes them too.

You can submit comments on the Colorado Water Plan at http://coloradowaterplan.com/.