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Trans-basin diversions are plot behind whitewater bill

Staff Reports

Water is the most important way that we, as a culture, living here in Colorado, will prosper in the future. Our economy, lifestyle and growth are determined by how much water is available for us to use for consumptive and non-consumptive needs. Today our tourist-based economy is now driving Colorado’s future and as the debate over recreational water rights continues to escalate, we must realize how important these rights are for our local economies and the future of Colorado.River-based recreation is a cornerstone to tourism success. We must make sure we have reasonable flows left in our rivers for kayaking, rafting, tubing and fishing to provide for future generations. Senate Bill 62’s inability to recognize this with its “one size fits all” flow regime of 350 cubic feet per second is doing us no favors. Every river, stream and creek where Recreational In-Channel Diversions (RICD) flows are needed should be viewed independently from one another. These flows should be a percentage of historic flow and provide for a reasonable recreation experience that is realistic and can support a viable recreation and tourist-based economy. For example, the City of Steamboat Springs is applying for 1,700 cfs at peak flow on the Yampa River; this is approximately 40 percent of the historic hydrographic flow and is certainly not greedy. It is realistic that 1,700 cfs will help sustain a healthy river which our local economy depends on through river related recreation and our local tourism opportunities.Senator Taylor fears that future upstream growth and water storage will be affected by these RICD flows. Here in the Yampa Valley, and other river basins in the state, upstream municipalities, existing agricultural and industrial interests have more than adequate water rights and potential for water exchanges. So the issue in trying to limit an RICD to 350 cfs at a maximum must be one of storage, but storage for whom?Could the actual intent of SB-62 be the protection of unlimited trans-basin diversions for Front Range development?Those interests consistently challenge RICD applications in Colorado District and Supreme Court, and it’s those interests who will benefit the most by putting a one-size-fits-all cap on RICD flows.It’s hard for me not to, so I will question the allegiance here. The goal in limiting RICD flows seem to provide evidence that Senator Taylor is not looking after our West Slope or tourism related interests. It would seem to me that he’s bowing down to pressure from his Water Buffalo friends and Front Range developers.Over the next 25 years, Colorado’s population is projected to grow by at least 2.8 million people. The majority of these folks will be living in the Front Range where current water supplies will not adequately satisfy such thirst. So, where will the water come from? The Yampa River, Colorado River, Gunnison River and other Western Slope rivers, streams and creeks are going to supply this water. Let’s face it, additional storage is necessary and water will be needed to fill these reservoirs and provide for trans-basin diversions. Certain West Slope rivers will be depleted, and your home river, including mine, the Yampa River, may cease to be the rivers we know and love. But, let’s first and foremost allow for water to remain in our rivers to support the tourism and river-based recreation necessary for our future.Let’s embrace river-based recreation as a key to the success of our local economies and provide for this with realistic RICD flows. SB 62 is not planning for this and must be defeated.Kent VertreesSteamboat Springs


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