17 file against Yampa water rights | SteamboatToday.com

17 file against Yampa water rights

— Opposition from 17 entities or individuals has been filed for a $5 million sale of Yampa River water use rights to Eagle County water suppliers.

The water, which could serve up to 10,000 people in the Vail Valley and Eagle County, would come from leftovers of irrigation water from the Yampa River used by Toponas rancher Kirk Shiner of Flattops Water Company.

The opposers include three individuals, three cities and towns, two energy companies, as well as several water organizations, such as the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The reasons for filing opposition vary, with some statements filed not to oppose the project but to track its progress and learn what is happening.

Opposition was filed on behalf of the Town of Yampa and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District by Steamboat Springs lawyer Robert Weiss.

Both entities want to be sure their water rights are protected, Weiss said.

“We want to make sure the historical condition is maintained and there isn’t more water going out of the Yampa basin,” Weiss said.

The project proposed by Shiner and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority would make use of water leftover from Shiner’s irrigation of Yampa River water.

Shiner’s ranches straddle the dividing line between the Colorado River basin and the Yampa River basin. Much of his water that isn’t soaked up by hay fields naturally seeps into Egeria Creek, which then eventually flows into the Colorado River.

The water cannot get back to the Yampa River basin, and because it would not exist in the Colorado River basin if it weren’t for Shiner’s irrigation practices, Colorado law says that Shiner has the right to use and reuse that water to extinction.

The project could supplement Eagle County with up to 1,250 acre-feet, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who is representing Shiner and the Eagle County entities. One acre-foot is enough to supply one or two families of four for a year.

One common reason for filing opposition was that the project application didn’t contain enough information.

Statements of opposition were filed by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the State and Division Engineers, which monitor water distribution, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The opposition could be friendly at this point, Deputy Attorney General Ken Lane said.

“Looking at the petition for water rights, there was not enough information to determine if there was injury to other water users,” Lane said. “So we’ll seek more information.”

Lack of information also motivated Andrea Schaffner to file. She is a Yampa resident with water rights that could be affected by the project.

“The application doesn’t contain sufficient information to state more specific grounds for opposition,” according to Schaffner’s statement.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District filed a statement of opposition, which is unusual in cases involving their own constituents, said the district’s spokesperson Chris Treese.

But, because this project is unique, Treese said the district wanted to monitor the case.

One reason he said the case is unique is that it relies on calculating return flows, or the leftovers from Shiner’s irrigation, that enter the Colorado River basin. Treese said the district wants to be sure that Yampa River basin users aren’t hurt by those calculations.

“There is always concern when you have water leaving a basin because there’s no return flow (within the original basin),” Treese said. “And water leaving up high means there’s no opportunity to use that water.”

Shiner diverts his water for irrigation from Stillwater ditch, or Five Pine Mesas ditch, at the headwaters of the Yampa River.

Treese said that another reason the case is interesting is because the water changes from one basin to another, with uses changing from irrigation to municipal.

The change of use is a point of objection in an application filed by Yampa resident John Redmond.

“Water conveyed through the Stillwater ditch has historically been used for irrigation and stock-watering purposes,” Redmond’s application reads. “A change in use … should not be allowed as it may result in permit changes or additional charges for operation of the ditch on the United States Forest Service permitted portion of the ditch.”

Redmond’s application also said that calculations on water losses within the 11-mile-long Stillwater ditch should be re-examined to be sure losses in the first part of the ditch, which would enter the Yampa River basin, were correct.

The case is now closed to statements of opposition and is expected to take more than a year to make it through water court. The case is being heard in the Division 5 water court, which covers the Colorado River basin.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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