Community Agricultural Alliance: 6 critical concepts all Coloradans should know about #water

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Here’s a guest column from Patrick Stanko that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

Do you know the critical water concepts? The Colorado State Water Education plan has identified six critical concepts that all Coloradans should understand about water.

The first concept is “The physical and chemical properties of water are unique and constant.” The physical properties of H2O are unique because its molecular structure gives rise to surface tension. The solid form of water, the white stuff so important to our community, is less dense than the liquid form allowing it to float.

The second concept states, “Water is essential for life, our economy and a key component of healthy ecosystems.” As we all know, there would be no life without water, and the ecosystems need clean water to survive. But the Routt County economy, both recreational and agricultural, depends upon water.

The Yampa Valley receives most of its water in the form of snow, the basin’s biggest reservoir, which is used by the recreational industry to ski and play on. When the spring melt happens, that water is used by agriculture to irrigate and produce the lush green hay fields we all have grown accustomed to, and of course, the river is used for fishing, boating and tubing.

The third and fourth concepts are “Water is a scarce resource, limited and variable” and “The quality and quantity of water, and the timing of its availability, are all directly impacted by human actions and natural events.” One only has to compare the last two years to see how variable and scarce water is in Colorado.

s the weather becomes drier and more variable and the population of Colorado continues to grow, water will become scarer. An update by the Colorado Water Plan predicts that the municipal and industrial gap in water supply will be in the range of 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet of water annually. As a reference, the Dillon Reservoir holds approximately 250,000-acre feet.

The fifth concept is “Water cycles naturally through Colorado’s watersheds, often intercepted and manipulated through an extensive infrastructure system built by people.” Again, the biggest reservoir and storage of water in the Yampa Valley is snow.

In the spring the snow melts, some of the water returns to the atmosphere via sublimation, evaporation or transpiration. If the soil is dry, then most of the water will seep back into the ground filling the aquifers. The water that makes it to the river is used by the agriculture community to irrigate meadows for grazing and crops. Water is also captured in reservoirs, like Fish Creek Reservoir, that supplies Steamboat Springs with drinking water.

The sixth concept states “Water is a public resource governed by water law.” Colorado has a long doctrine of water laws dating back to the 1860s. A water right allows one to put a public resource to beneficial use as well as a place in line, where the junior water right may be curtailed to meet the needs of the senior water right, “first in time, first in right.”

For more information about critical water facts please see the Water Education Colorado SWEAP website at https://www.cowateredplan.org/ or the Colorado Water Plan formed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at https://cowaterplan.colorado.gov/. And for information on the local water issues, visit Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable at https://yampawhitegreen.com.

Patrick Stanko wrote this column on behalf of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable public education participation and outreach coordinator.

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