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Tri-State agreement includes provision for water rights valued by Moffat County at $2-3 million

 

by Allen Best

The settlement agreement supported by 16 intervening parties that was submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has a major provision about water rights.

This is apart from the Colorado legislation passed in the 2023 session that allows Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission the ability to retain the water rights they are now using to produce steam at their coal plants near Hayden and Craig to generate electricity. The utilities will be able to retain their direct-flow rights until 2050 while they figure out whether those water rights will be needed in the future.

The settlement agreement is for augmentation water that Tri-State owns. It is held in Elkhead Reservoir near Hayden. The Colorado River Water Conservation District also holds augmentation water in that reservoir.

Why does augmentation water matter? Because, beginning in 2002, the Yampa River became a river that didn’t always have enough water for everybody than wanted it. In 2018, a drought year, a “call” was put on the river for the first time. And in 2022, the Yampa formally became an administrated river.

That means that if somebody wanted to drill a well in the Yampa River drainage for a new home on a plot of land of 35 acres or less, they needed to come to the table with water that could replenish the river, i.e. augmentation water. This is for all wells after the state designation of March 1, 2022.

To meet the need for augmentation water, Moffat County has been leasing water from the River District. The amount is determined by the amount needed on a per-acre-foot basis.

Jeff Comstock, who directs Moffat County’s Department of Natural Resources, said the precise amount of water that Moffat County will be getting from Tri-State will depend upon a determination in water court. The water given to Moffat County by Tri-State can be used into perpetuity.

Moffat County estimates the value of the augmentation water right that is to be transferred at $1 million to $3 million.

Allen Best
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