Ken Brenner: We owe thanks

The Yampa River Valley owes a huge thank you to the Colorado Water Trust for supplementing the in-stream flow with its purchase of water from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Thank you to all the others who supported the effort.

The Water Trust announced in April that it was looking for water users willing to provide additional water for in-stream flow protection. In May, after seven months of some of the driest conditions on record, the Yampa River was looking like it would rival the summer of ’34. The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District discussed and supported the possibility of working with Water Trust and asked staff to look into the opportunity.

The water would be released to supplement flows of a reach of a river with a minimum in-stream flow decree, held by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. With remarkable dexterity, the Water Trust, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineers office were able to work out the details. Water was being released starting June 28th, within a few weeks of starting the negotiations. The Water Trust spent $140,000 to lease 4,000 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir. The water was released steadily, at a rate of more than 26 cubic feet per second, until the middle of September.

After the 2002 drought, our Legislature recognized the statutory limitations on loans of water and the need to quickly respond to water shortages on critical streams. The Legislature amended a certain law (C.R.S. 37-83-105) to create an administrative process allowing water right owners to loan their water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for in-stream flows. Normally, a water user would need to obtain a decree from the Water Court allowing the water right to be alternately used for in-stream flows. That process is very time- and money-consuming. So in 2003, the Legislature passed HB03-1320, which allowed water to be loaned for in-stream flow use during drought subject only to state engineer approval. The statute was further amended in 2005 (HB05-1320) to eliminate the drought requirement and allow leases for 120 days per calendar year, for three years in a 10-year time period. Both direct flow and storage rights can be leased for in-stream flow use. These loans now provide a legal mechanism to add water to a stream on an expedited basis.

There were many other supporters who played a role in the summer release program on the Yampa River. The city of Steamboat Springs donated $10,000 and worked for better timing of releases. Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District supplemented flows out of Fish Creek. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association also used some of the water for its Craig facility, benefiting the Yampa River all the way down to Craig.

While the Yampa Valley did experience a wetter-than-normal monsoon season in July, we still would have likely lost the entire summer recreation season. Conservationists, fishermen, wildlife, floaters and down-stream agriculture operations all benefited greatly from the investment that the Colorado Water Trust made in the Yampa Valley. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the Colorado Water Trust and its skilled and dedicated staff, which accomplished so much in a short period of time.