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Watershed draft clarifies regulations for ranchers

— A controversial watershed ordinance has been revised and once again is scheduled for action by the Steamboat Springs City Council.

At a joint meeting Monday in the Routt County Courthouse Annex in downtown Steamboat Springs, the Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners discussed a new draft of the ordinance that drew strong public opposition from rural landowners when first proposed in December.

Steamboat city attorney Tony Lettunich and Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak have said the ordinance is intended to keep pollutants out of Steamboat’s municipal water supply by regulating future agricultural activities in rural areas outside of city limits but within five miles of city water sources. Ranchers and rural landowners, however, have argued the regulations are excessive and often overlap with existing environmental regulations set by state and federal agencies.



The City Council appointed a committee to improve the ordinance. Porzak said Monday the new version contains “five key changes,” first of which is an increased “grandfather clause” that allows all current ranching activities to continue. In addition to current activities, 11 additional activities are exempted in the new ordinance and would not require fees or a permit from the city.

Some of those activities are road maintenance by governmental entities; noxious weed or insect control; normal farming and ranching activities; normal maintenance of water areas such as ponds and irrigation ditches; removal of dead or infected trees; construction of farm or ranch roads; riparian habitat restoration; and emergency firefighting activities.



The new ordinance also clarifies which activities would require city approval.

The new ordinance would regulate oil and gas activities; construction or installation of new surface or subsurface tanks that store chemicals, petroleum products or industrial waste; feedlots; and construction of things such as large parking lots that would direct pollutants toward a water source, Porzak said.

The new ordinance also revises a “catch-all” clause that previously used vague language. Rather than regulating “any other activity that may cause injury : to the city’s waterworks,” the new ordinance regulates activities that “will cause material injury : based upon the written recommendation of a licensed engineer or qualified professional.”

Areas potentially impacted by the ordinance extend five miles from the city’s Fish Creek Municipal Water Intake east of city limits, and from Steamboat’s Municipal Well A, south of city limits along portions of Colorado Highway 131.

The new version of the ordinance no longer includes an area surrounding potential future water diversions on the Elk River, northwest of city limits. The area initially was included in the ordinance.

City Manager Alan Lanning said a detailed map of potentially impacted areas soon will be available to the public at Centennial Hall on 10th Street in downtown Steamboat, and on the city’s Web site at: http://www.steamboatsprings.net.

The City Council is scheduled to conduct a first reading of the new ordinance May 15.

“We really appreciate the City Council taking a step back on this,” Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Monday. “I think it has resulted in an ordinance that addresses issues that would have come up anyway (without revisions). Addressing them ahead of time is a very positive step.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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