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Water officials say appropriation of Yampa River is not as scary as it looks, largely affects new wells

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The Little Snake River is very low for most of the summer, seen here in September near its entrance to the Yampa River, where the proposed over-appropriation on the Yampa River would begin.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Nadine Arroyo has her work cut out for her. The Mariposa Ranch in South Routt County where his family has lived since 1902 sits on Cow Creek, a creek that is fed by runoff but dries up in the summer.

She has a number of livestock watering tanks, but they all ran dry this summer. Arroyo has plans for several wells on the 240-acre ranch to better provide water throughout the year – wells she was not sure would be approved as the Yampa River is in the process of being officially designated as over-appropriate.

This led Arroyo to a dimly lit showroom at the Routt County Fairgrounds last week, where Division 6 engineer Erin Light of the Colorado Water Resources Division told him, as well. than to other landowners, what the designation – a designation that should be approved by state Engineer Kevin Rein – means to them.



“Water is such an important thing right now,” said Arroyo, 79. “It’s essential, especially in the kind of dry years we’ve had.”

In March, Light proposed to consider the Yampa River between its confluence with the Little Snake River in Moffat County and Steamboat Springs as too suitable, meaning that the available water can no longer meet demand. Rein could have formalized the designation already, but he didn’t.



“I wasn’t convinced that you as water users got all the information you needed,” Rein said at a water users meeting in Craig last week.

The area in yellow is what is considered over-appropriation in Water Division 6.
Water Resources Division / Courtesy

Both meetings were held in the heart of where the river would be considered over-appropriated and aimed to explain what over-appropriation means for water users. In short, water officials said it’s not as scary as it looks.

“One of the things that we try to help people understand is that while it might sound scary, it really is reality for the rest of the state, and everyone is fine,” said Sonja Macys, engineering technician for Division 6.

The Yampa River Basin is one of the few in the state that is not already too suitable, although parts of it have already been. The river has had a call in three of the past four years, coming from where it meets the Little Serpent and meaning that holders of higher water rights are not getting the water they are entitled to.

Light said that looking at data from the gauging station on the Yampa in Maybell, flows fell from about 1.35 million acre-feet to 1.1 million acre-feet over the past 100 last years. The demands are also increasing, with around 70 new water rights applications each year and over 600 new wells in the past decade.

But while it may seem like the designation will turn off the tap, it actually has limited effects, and for most people with existing water rights, wells and well licenses, it may have almost no effect. no effect.

The designated over-appropriate basin does not prevent people from obtaining new rights to surface water, although junior rights holders should understand that their water may not be available at all times of the year.

If someone has new junior water rights drawing from the river and a senior downstream rights holder does not get the proper flow, water officials will shut off the water to the junior holder.

But all groundwater is also considered a tributary of the river, which means that wells, in fact, draw water directly from a river. The difference is that water officials can’t just shut down a well because it has a delayed effect on the river, where closing a bypass will immediately increase a river’s flow.

“Our water stewards can go out and close a front door, or they can pull a pump out of the river,” Light said. “This is not the case with wells. … It is the depletions of the last month or even two months ago that are affecting the primary holder of water rights today.

The designation does not affect existing well licenses, although when too appropriate, amending these licenses can be more difficult.

Where this would have the most effect is on new well permits. Currently, without the designation, someone could apply for a residential well on any size plot that would serve up to three dwellings, a one-acre lawn and garden, or a livestock watering hole.

Even with the designation, if the parcel is more than 35 acres, there is no change. When the land is less than 35 acres, water use is limited to the house, unless there is a plan to increase water use. New general-purpose well licenses would also require an augmentation plan, which would release water from a reservoir like Stagecoach to replace water drawn into a well.

“We want to make sure that our primary water rights holders, or any water rights holders, are protected from continued well depletion,” Light said.

“The idea of ​​a augmentation plan is to replace these burnouts to make sure the system stays whole.”

After the meeting in Hayden, Arroyo said she was relieved to find out that her ranch’s location was not counted for over-appropriation, and that she likely wouldn’t have much trouble finding it. get the well permits she needed. Even if she goes into the wells, she prays for the snow, even if she is not very fond of it.

“I’ve been dealing with snow my whole life, but this year is the first year that I say we need it,” Arroyo said. “We really do.”


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