Yampa Valley Sustainability Council: New legislation to boost river and stream restoration

Tim Sullivan
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

One of the clearest signs of a changing climate in the Yampa Valley is the impact on our rivers and streams.

Even with more snow this winter, we still face the possibility of low summer flows and increased water temperatures leading to recreational closures and stress on fish populations. When our water resources suffer, our communities and ways of life are threatened.

In the face of this challenge, we need every tool available to build resilience for our rivers and streams and to combat the uncertain risks of warmer and drier conditions in the future. In light of this fact, safeguarding our rivers and streams by restoring their function is more important than ever.

That’s why water interests of all kinds are calling on Colorado’s General Assembly to pass SB23-270, Projects to Restore Natural Stream Systems, sponsored by our local Sen. Dylan Roberts, as well as Sen. Cleave Simpson and Rep. Karen McCormick and provide legal clarity for critical resilience-boosting stream restoration projects to move forward while maintaining existing protections for water rights holders and users.

Past land uses and the impacts of drought have resulted in degradation of many of the Yampa Valley’s streams and wetlands, increasing the need for restoration of natural stream processes that can provide wildfire resilience, flood safety, wildlife habitat and numerous other environmental and economic benefits.

Our very own California Park in northwest Routt County experienced intense grazing many decades past, which has led to erosion of stream channels and disconnected them from the rich wet meadows they used to support. This increases sediment flowing downstream to Elkhead Reservoir and degrades both fish and upland wildlife habitat. Simple process-based interventions can help restore these streams and the important functions they support.

In the absence of a legislative solution clarifying the process for doing stream restoration, Colorado may also lose out on the billions of dollars dedicated to stream and watershed restoration in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act — money that could be invested right now for the benefit of our communities. This highlights the need for Colorado to act now to remove potential barriers to stream restoration.

Federal, state, and local agencies, water providers, conservation organizations and private entities have invested significant capital and energy into the restoration of natural stream systems to provide environmental and economic benefits.

In the Yampa Valley, we’re both seeing the efficacy of these projects and the need for further clarity on how to keep such projects moving forward. With SB23-270 currently making its way through the General Assembly, Colorado has an opportunity to build toward a more resilient future.

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council supports the passage of this legislation for the health of our streams, rivers and wetlands.

Tim Sullivan is Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s Resilient Land and Water Director.

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