Cristina Harmon: West’s water situation is worsening
The low water year here on the Yampa River has been getting some attention of late in Steamboat Pilot & Today article “Warm, dry year breaks records in the Yampa River Basin” on Oct. 21 and Councilwoman Heather Sloop’s column answering citizen questions regarding tubing on the Yampa, “Top 10 council questions” on Oct. 16.
I am among those who recreate on the Yampa, and many businesses benefit from the river recreation in the spring and summer. It’s not the first low water year, but this is the first year we have both voluntary closures on the Yampa and a historic call on the river by Dinosaur National Monument. I applaud all river users and irrigators for honoring the closures and call.
The city’s Yampa River streamflow management plan and the Colorado Water Trust and Stagecoach Reservoir managers have made it possible to keep enough water in the Yampa for the aquatic community during low flow periods. The long-term trends do not inspire confidence that a few big winters will solve the water problems in the west.
The Yampa, as part of the Colorado River system, contributes to the water promised to downstream users under the Colorado Compact. As of Sept. 30, the combined water stored in 10 reservoirs in the Colorado River system measured only 47 percent full; the lowest amount since tracking began in 1980. Water levels have been trending lower and lower since 1980.
The compact promises water to 40 million people and for 5.5 million acres of farmland downstream. The amount promised far outstrips water available, and the Colorado runs dry before reaching the Sea of Cortez.
And juxtapose this dilemma with a recent study — Science Advances on Oct. 15 — showing an increased amount of water used in oil and gas development. As the industry has matured, the amount of water used for fracking increased nine-fold between 2011 and 2016.
More water is now used in production than actual oil produced. In some instances, fracking water use is more than municipal use. Here in the West it said that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, but in these times of uncertainty about water, we must make conservation and wise use a priority, guard our Western Slope water from diversion proposals and pray for precipitation.
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