Water rights on City Council's table

The City Council will be asked to solidify its request in filing for recreational water rights at Tuesday night's meeting.

City staff wants direction on when they should file for a water right, how much water they should ask for, which bodies of water they should file on and whether the request should be for a recreational in-channel diversion or a minimum in-stream flow.

At a Sept. 23 meeting, the council expressed an increased sense of urgency to file for recreational water rights that would preserve existing flows in the Yampa River. Council members wanted to stake a claim before 2004 and also worried about the impacts of a yes vote on Referendum A, the state water issue on November's ballot.

At that meeting, city staff requested more time to come up with data on what the city should request and if those needs could be met by using only the flows of nearby tributaries.

In a memo to the City Council, Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director Chris Wilson noted that the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Citizens Advisory Committee working on the Yampa River Management Plan and the draft of the community plan update all recommend acquiring water rights to protect flows in the Yampa River.

Wilson advised the water right application should include the tributaries of Walton Creek, Burgess Creek, Fish Creek, Spring Creek, Butcheknife Creek and Soda Creek. If flows from those streams do not meet the needs of the city, then the memo recommended filing for a reasonable amount of water on the Yampa River.

City staff met with members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and they were encouraged to proceed with the application. The board also offered hydrological expertise and invited the city to attend a workshop in November on how to better define the amount of water needed to support a "reasonable recreational experience," a key term in the legal battle for recreational water rights.

The city most likely would have a more difficult time defending its request for a recreational in-channel diversion than a minimum in-stream flow. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has said if the city applied for only a minimum in-stream flow, the board would bear all the costs of filing and defending the water rights application.

Depending on what water right is filed, the city estimates that staff time alone could cost the city between $100,000 and $200,000. At the Oct. 2 budget hearing, the staff did not set aside any money in 2004 for the filing of recreational water rights.

At an Aug. 19 council meeting, attorney Tom Sharp, who sits on the Upper Yampa Conversancy District, said the district would not support the city filing water rights on the main body of the Yampa. The district did vote to support and even split the cost with the city if it would file water rights on just the tributaries.

In other business:

n The City Council will meet with the City Planning Commission to review the draft of the community plan.

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