Despite potential over-appropriation, there is still water available in the Yampa River basin.



All the water from the Yamcolo Reservoir near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area is used in Routt County. Seen here on May 28, the reservoir is now significantly lower and has no water left for agricultural users. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

In Colorado, much of the water is already spoken, and has been so for years. In these over-appropriate basins, water is put under administration to ensure that water rights holders get the water they are owed.

In the Yampa River Basin, water management has generally been easier than in other parts of the state, said Andy Rossi, executive director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, in a presentation to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday.

While the Yampa River from the town of Yampa to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, known as the Bear River System, has been under administration for decades, and the Elk River is also regularly under appeal, Rossi said. that there was still water available for people to use.



“Usage is not that high that traditional water users… traditionally run out of water – until the last two years,” Rossi said.

The Yamcolo reservoir, which is used for farming purposes throughout the county, is running out of water, Rossi said. The district has not been able to fill the reservoir this year, and on average, it has not been able to fill it every three years.



In March, Colorado Water Resources Division divisional engineer Erin Light called on the state to designate the lower Yampa River as over-suitable, meaning there is no has not enough water in the system to satisfy all water rights holders.

If approved by the state engineer, the designation would mean the entire basin up to Lilly Park in Moffat County would be over-appropriate, Rossi said. He expects Light’s request to be approved by the state.

“It won’t mean anything new to someone who has an absolute right to water and who diverts water,” Rossi said. “When you start to envision a new water development, that’s where it comes in, especially with groundwater. “

Rossi said people would still be able to apply for diverted junior water rights from the river, although legal hoops are more prominent under that designation.

Where the designation will have the most effect, said Rossi, is in the permits to drill a well. Typically, for plots larger than 35 acres, a new well can be licensed for up to three single family dwellings and can be used to water a one acre lawn and for pets.

For those under 35 acres, the well could only be used in a house, meaning the water could not be used for tasks like watering a lawn or washing a car.

In Routt County, the implications of this are less drastic as the county typically does not allow homes on less than 35 acres. This will have a bigger impact in Moffat County, where there are thousands of 5-acre plots.

To use the water outside the house on these small plots, the homeowner should provide an additional supply of water to increase their use in the river. Rossi said residents could work with the district to provide the increase.

While it all depends on how residents use the water, Rossi felt that there is sufficient surge capacity for the county’s short-term use. In Moffat County, where much of the river is said to be newly over-appropriated, Rossi said they are still considering what caused the increase.

“Luckily in Routt County in the ’60s voters decided to tax themselves to do things like build reservoirs,” Rossi said. “The hard work is done. The costly work is done. The water is in reserve.

The county would likely need to use augmented water when meeting Phippsburg’s wastewater needs. The increase may also come into play in the search for construction of more housing in the county, even if a future development is close to a municipality and could be annexed to it.

In an effort to bolster the water supply, Rossi said the district is considering a project that would divert Coal Creek into the Yamcolo Reservoir, which would mean they would be able to fill the reservoir in 90 percent of years. It happens in just 66% of years now.

Rossi asked the commissioners for a letter of support for the project, which has been talked about for decades. Now, there is a clear need for this diversion, said Rossi, which could also help regulate downstream runoff and facilitate the administration of water rights.

“It’s not going to get us to 100%. The full spectrum of hydrology just doesn’t allow that on the Western Slope, ”said Rossi. “There will still be dry years when there will not be enough water for agricultural users. “


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