Steamboat Pilot, November 10, 2022
After almost four years of studies, meetings and laborious consensus-building, the Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan committee released its public report in September that included 20 recommendations to provide a road map to protect the long-term health of the Yampa River.
“The feat itself is amazing, people from across Moffat and Routt counties working together for four years to come up with a vision for the river,” said Nicole Seltzer, project manager. “I feel really excited that we were able to get to a place of consensus on the recommendations. This was not easy. We ended up in a place where everybody felt good about the final product.”
The 27-member committee, a subcommittee of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, is one of 26 committees across Colorado working to develop river management plans, Seltzer said. The management plans were recommended by the Colorado Water Plan from 2015 that aims to bridge the gap between available water supply and projected water demand for Colorado.
Ken Brenner, IWMP committee chair, said all 20 recommendations are moving forward, at varying speeds, because each measure has an assigned project proponent.
For example, the city of Steamboat Springs coordinated a project to install a basin-wide stream temperature monitoring program to expand the locations and accessibility of temperature data available for management decisions, said Julie Baxter, city water resources manager.
The Upper Yampa Water Conservation District along with the Colorado Water Trust and Friends of the Yampa are working to establish an online Yampa River Dashboard by late 2023. The dashboard would serve as a one-stop location for water management information such as snowpack, climate conditions, soil moisture, gauge data and water quality.
“The dashboard will be public-facing to allow groups like ours to easily do our jobs and present to the public,” said Lindsey Marlow, executive director of nonprofit Friends of the Yampa.
Friends of the Yampa also is working on the recommendation to create a Yampa River Scorecard to centralize collection and reporting of river ecosystem data in an easily understandable scorecard format to set a baseline and then monitor river health long term, Marlow said.
Aside from providing a roadmap of recommendations for river health, the consensus provides a foundation for organizations to use to support grant funding requests.
“When you go for big funding, you need to show consensus-based input, and the IWMP is that,” Marlow said.
The process combined community input with science and engineering assessments to identify actions to protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty, Seltzer explained.
The project manager highlighted three findings that hit home for her, including the importance of maintaining agricultural land ownership along the river to provide wildlife habitat and protect the river ecosystem from development, the “scary nature” of the long-term trends of decreasing river flows in the Yampa River basin, and the continuing downward trajectory for lower river flows that create warmer water and negative impacts on fisheries and recreation.
“We are looking at ag water shortages from zero to 34% by 2050 for irrigation water at the headgates throughout the basin,” Seltzer said. “We are going to see agricultural irrigation water shortages in the future that we have never seen before especially on the tributaries, which are already water short, and in Moffat County.”
Citizens can get involved by reading the Yampa Basin Integrated Water Management Plan online at YampaWhiteGreen.com/iwmp and engage with organizations working on community outreach including the Community Agriculture Alliance and Friends of the Yampa.
Bringing together the various water stakeholders in the Yampa Valley to agree on 20 key recommendations was a big job. Brenner has served on boards and councils locally for 25 years helping to develop master and strategic plans, but he said the IWMP work was some of the most challenging due to the broad scope and diverse perspectives.
“I’m really proud of this very broad and diverse group of basin roundtable members and water experts who came together to refine and agree on recommendations that serve as a guide for efforts to take good care of this very special Yampa River Valley,” Brenner said.
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