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Conservationists raft trip part of the Yampa Awareness Project

Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Eugene Buchanan):

For the fourth time, local nonprofit Friends of the Yampa (FOY) hosted a group of more than 20 national conservationists, water policy stakeholders and other river advocates for a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of its Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

After taking a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon the day before to see the waterway from the air, attendees packed dry bags and river gear to float the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park west of Maybell to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

Included on the trip were representatives from such conservation organizations as American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, scientists from the Nature Conservancy and stakeholders from Conservation Colorado, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, the Yampa River System Legacy Project and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Local participants included former Routt County commissioner Ben Beall and former City Council president Ken Brenner.

Hosted by river outfitter O.A.R.S, the think-tank trip included campfire panel discussions on everything from preserving the Yampa’s flows and integrity of its bio-diversity to the river’s PBO (Programmatic Biological Opinion), flow management plans and much more. Pow-wow sessions were held each morning and evening at camp, as well as at key ecological sites along the river.

“One of Friends of the Yampa’s goals is to protect the free-flowing nature of the Yampa,” said FOY Board President Soren Jespersen. “You can’t protect something if you don’t have engaged constituents. This year our focus was bringing people who work in river advocacy and water policy programs. There’s an increasing threat that Front Range water interests are looking to the Yampa to solve their perceived water gaps.”

Included on the trip was 14-year Dinosaur National Monument botanist Tamara Naumann, who estimates she’s been down the river nearly 100 times. For her, the biggest threat isn’t protecting the river’s flows or trans-basin diversions, but “people not caring.”

“We need to figure out how to manage it into the next half-century,” she said. “There are many obligations that need to be met, and Colorado has an obligation to send water downstream. But while people’s objectives can be different, the end result can benefit everyone.”

Two other participants, former Adrift Adventures owner Pat Tierney and renowned photographer John Fielder, attended as part of their plans to produce a coffee table book entitled “The Yampa River: Wild and Free Flowing,” to be released in 2015. As part of their efforts before the trip through Dinosaur, they floated and photographed the river from Steamboat to Maybell.

“It’s a great story, and we’re excited to tell it,” said Tierney, adding that this year marked his 37th straight year running the canyon. “It will have great photographs and bring many of the river’s issues to light.”[…]

“We need to build more relationships with farmers and ranchers in the region and show them that our interests are aligned,” said Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. “We’re not going to solve the problem in a week, but this is a great start.”

Take-homes included the need to get recreational and agricultural interests better aligned at both the local and Water Basin Roundtable level; creating an informal management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on its unique bio-diversity.

“The science aspect of the endangered species that thrive in a free-flowing river environment is important,” said FOY board member and recreational representative for the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable Kent Vertrees, touting such endangered fish in the river as the Colorado pikeminnow. “You need it to back up water policy.”

In the end, after crashing through the dinosaur-sized waves of Split Mountain Canyon at a whopping 20,000 cfs, every participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve such a treasure. And many participants stayed on — and were joined by nearly 50 other out-of-town river advocates — to attend the ensuing three-day seminar in Steamboat and tour the upper Yampa Basin as part of a program put together by Nicole Seltzer of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.

Montezuma County stipulates out of BLM Yellow Jacket Creek diligence case

Yellow Jacket Canyon via Four Corners Hikes
Yellow Jacket Canyon via Four Corners Hikes

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Montezuma County has bowed out of a complex water dispute on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, but negotiated stipulations on water use for Yellow Jacket Creek.

In 2009, the monument purchased an inholding – the 4,500-acre Wallace Ranch – for $3.3 million. The property came with a conditional water right of 5.25 cubic feet per second from the intermittent desert stream.

The county, along with Southwest Colorado Landowners Association and Water Rights Montezuma, opposed a routine water-court procedure by the BLM regarding the due diligence on eventual use of the water rights…

The county has been critical of the monument buying private inholdings, fearing it will diminish historic ranching opportunities in that area.

Commissioner Keenan Ertel argued that Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution requires the state legislature to approve federal purchase of private property. Permission was not granted by the state, and BLM officials do not believe it is necessary.

The BLM filed a request for summary judgment on the case May 30, which asks the Durango water court judge Greg Lyman to rule in favor of the BLM because the objectors’ legal dispute is presented in the wrong court venue. The decision is pending, and if denied would trigger a trial.

The BLM argues due-diligence procedures have narrow parameters in water court and that those specific facts are not disputed in the case. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Guerriero states claims of objectors are irrelevant in water court.

“Specifically, opposers assert Constitutional claims alleging that the United States does not have authority to purchase property own water rights in any state,” writes Kristen Guerrieo, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. “These are not claims that challenge the validity of BLM’s diligence activities, but rather reflect Opposers’ desire to utilize the Water Court proceeding to advance other objectives.”[…]

Montezuma County attorney John Baxter told the commissioners the stipulation agreement drops them as official objectors in the BLM request for the six year diligence period on the Yellow Jacket water rights. But they will still have a say on how the water should be used when the BLM seeks absolute status of those water rights.

“Whether we win or not, they still have to go through us when they perfect the rights,” he said. “The BLM wants to kick the can down the road,” on deciding how to use the water.

The stipulation agreement states that when Yellow Jacket water rights are converted from conditional to absolute they can only be used for public recreation, BLM housing facilities, fire suppression, irrigation use, and livestock use. It further stipulates the water cannot be used to grow crops, that what is not used be available for downstream users, and that the BLM does not file applications to convert the water to instream flow uses or for uses on other properties.

Remaining objectors in the case, Southwest Colorado Landowners Association and Water Rights Montezuma, have until June 24 to respond to the request for summary judgement filed by the BLM.

More water law coverage here.

Monte Vista is implementing a source water protection plan

Monte Vista historic district via Wikipedia
Monte Vista historic district via Wikipedia

From The Monte Vista Journal (John McEvoy):

Dylan Eiler, a specialist from Colorado Rural Water Association (CRWA) wowed the Monte Vista City Council with his June 5 presentation on the free Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) program available to the city of Monte Vista.

CRWA is a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance and training to Colorado’s public water and wastewater treatment systems, according to their brochure.

Not only is the program free, Eiler’s services in helping submit the $5,000 grant proposal that will pay for the program, as well as his expertise in the development and implementation of a source water protection plan is free also.

The grant is a one-to-one matching grant, which means the city would have to match every dollar with either money or in-kind time. The city may meet the in-kind funds by tabulating time spent at stakeholder meetings by professional and non-professional people present, as well as any time lawyers or engineers contribute to the local program.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) created Colorado’s SWAP program and source water assessment reports to help with the development and implementation of individual source water protection plans in 2004.

“If area stakeholders know the source of their water, they will get involved,” said Eiler. “Identifying customers and involving citizens is the most effective way of creating advocates for protecting water sources.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Latest USFS permit does not compel ski areas to convey water rights to the US government

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A U.S. Forest Service rule aimed at assuring that ski areas don’t sell off their water rights was welcomed by Colorado’s two senators and panned by the office for the representative whose district includes several resorts.

The Forest Service on Friday is to unveil a rule to replace one that was rejected by a federal judge who ordered the agency to start the proposal anew.

Under the proposed new rule, ski areas operating on Forest Service land would have to assure the Forest Service that the ski area would have sufficient water rights to provide for snowmaking and other essential operations even if the ski resort is sold.

The rule would not require ski areas to transfer water rights to the Forest Service. That provision in the previous rule caused the National Ski Areas Association to take the Forest Service to court, where it won a ruling that sent the agency back to the drawing board.

“This proposal balances the interests of the public, the ski areas and our natural resources by ensuring the necessary water is provided for winter recreation through our special-use permit process,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement about the rule, which is to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. “This proposed change will provide assurances to the public that they will continue to enjoy winter recreation at ski areas on national forests.”

The Friday notice will start a 60-day public-comment period on the proposed rule.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, said in separate state
ments that they welcomed the proposed new rule and looked forward to reviewing it.

Udall called it “another step toward protecting our national forests and recreational opportunities on public lands.” while Bennet called for a consensus bill “based on today’s proposal that provides certainty and clarity on this issue for Colorado’s water community.”

The House already has passed a bill by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., aimed at preventing the Forest Service and other federal agencies from demanding water rights in exchange for permits on federal lands.

Tipton’s office had yet to see the proposed new rule, a spokesman said, noting that if it affects only the Forest Service, it falls short of protecting all users, including ranchers and municipalities that use federal lands and watersheds.

The previous rule was first used in 2012 when the new owners of Powderhorn Ski Resort, now Powderhorn Mountain Resort, were required to turn over water rights in order to obtain a permit to operate on the Grand Mesa National Forest, prompting the suit by the National Ski Areas Association.

From the Examiner (Charles Pekow):

The 1982 Forest Manuel requires that USFS obtain water rights for making snow and operating facilities. Concessionaires can request rights on behalf of USFS. In 2004, the policy was amended to allow concessionaires and USFS to obtain the rights jointly. But the 2004 policy has let to considerable confusion, as water was obtained from different sources from in and out of federal property and transported in different ways, USFS found. So it amended the clause in 2011 to address different types of water rights.

The 2011 directive distinguished between rights for water diverted from and used on local forest service land in the ski permit area, rights for water coming from USFS property outside the permit area, and water from outside sources. USFS amended the clause further in 2012. But the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) sued in federal court. NSAA charged that USFS did not allow for public comment before changing the procedures, in violation of several federal statutes. U.S. District Court in Colorado agreed and vacated the 2011 and 2012 changes.

So USFS is proposing new procedures and taking public comments. It conducted four open houses and sought comments last year too. It is reproposing the ideas based on what it learned.

More water law coverage here.