‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

December 2, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Water leased by the Colorado Water Trust is flowing in the Yampa River

July 24, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

This is the second consecutive year the Colorado Water Trust has leased 4,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir.

“Last year, we saw that adding water to the Yampa River was of tremendous value not only to the natural environment but also to Steamboat Springs and other communities along the river,” staff attorney for the Colorado Water Trust Zach Smith said in a news release. “We look forward to working with Upper Yampa to create similar benefits again this year.”

The Yampa River at the Fifth Street bridge was flowing at 120 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, below the median for the date of 181 cfs. Last year, the group’s release bolstered the river by about 26 cfs for most of the summer.

#According to the release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Bill Atkinson suggested that releases from Stagecoach Reservoir start at a range of 30 cfs to help with high water temperatures. As part of those water temperature concerns, Atkinson has asked anglers to avoid fishing after noon, when the water temperatures have been reaching the upper 70s.

More Yampa River coverage here and here.


Yampa River: ‘We wanted to keep the river rockin’ — Amy Beatie

July 19, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

The Yampa River will get another significant boost this summer when 4,000 acre-feet of water leased by the Colorado Water Trust once again starts to flow out of Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie said Thursday that her organization saw the benefits of the release it helped orchestrate for the first time last summer and is eager to repeat it.

“We wanted to keep the river rockin’, and we wanted to make sure all the different uses that benefited from our last release would make it through again this year,” Beatie said before she ticked off a list of beneficiaries that included fisheries, recreation and riparian vegetation. “When you do something like this, there’s not just one factor that benefits.”[...]

At noon Thursday, the Yampa was flowing at 130 cubic feet per second under the Fifth Street bridge. The measurement was nearly 70 cfs below the river’s historic flow for the date…

Kevin McBride, the general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District that is leasing the water to the Water Trust, said the extra flows can help to ensure that there are few or no river closures this year. “If we hadn’t had a record precipitation in April, we would be in a very bad situation,” McBride said. “But it still is a dry year.”[...]

Like it did the first time, the Water Trust’s lease this year will cost about $140,000.

Beatie said her organization learned a lot from the lease program’s inaugural year but said there still are challenges it has to overcome before the releases become reality. “We’re moving water in the West, and anytime you do that, it’s going to be a little bit complicated,” she said.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Yampa River: ‘A water lease to the rescue’ — Sandra Postel #CODrought

October 21, 2012

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From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

That summer of 2002, the river “smelled like rotting seaweed,” Van De Carr recalled. “It was a nightmare.”[...]

But 2012 would turn out differently. On Friday, June 29, as if by a miracle, the river started to rise. By 9:30 that night, it was flowing at 71 cfs.

Something had happened that had never happened before in Colorado: an intervention to spare a river – and its dependents – from decimation during a drought.

Back in the spring, when the skimpy mountain snowpack spelled disaster for so many of Colorado’s rivers and streams, the non-profit Colorado Water Trust (CWT) issued a statewide request for water. Anyone willing to sell or temporarily lease water was encouraged to contact the CWT. If the water could help a river weather the drought, the CWT would consider buying it.

One answer to the call came from Kevin McBride, director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Steamboat Springs. McBride had just had a contract with a customer fall through, leaving 4,000 acre-feet (1.3 billion gallons) of Yampa River water unclaimed in Stagecoach Reservoir. For the right price, McBride was willing to lease that water to the Colorado Water Trust.

“We rocketed that (project) to the top of our priorities,” said Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the water trust, based in Denver.

“It looked like a system that was ecologically going to crash,” Beatie said. “The river was starting to crater.”

So for a total of $140,000, or $35 per acre-foot, CWT leased the water district’s spare water. McBride had set the price, based on what he knew his board would approve. In that part of the West, the cost was very reasonable.

On June 28, the leased water began flowing out of Stagecoach Reservoir into the Yampa. The extra flow would directly benefit seven crucial miles downstream of the reservoir, as well as the river’s course through Steamboat and beyond. The idea was to keep the river as healthy as possible through the summer, by releasing about 26 cfs a day into September.

Along the way, the leased water provided multiple benefits. It generated extra hydropower at the Stagecoach Reservoir. It provided aesthetic and recreation benefits in Steamboat, helping businesses like Backdoor Sports avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. Further downstream of the reach targeted for the lease, some irrigators even got more water for their crops, a welcome boost during a drought and dire economic times.

“The purpose of the lease is to maximize the beneficial use of water in Colorado,” Beatie explained. “These incidental benefits make this a win-win-win-win. “

Besides rescuing a river and its dependents, the Yampa drought-lease set a precedent in Colorado. It was the first use of a 2003 state law, passed in part in response to the devastating 2002 drought, that allows farmers, ranchers, water districts or other entities to temporarily loan water to rivers and streams in times of need.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Tri-State starts release of 400-500 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to help keep a senior call off the Yampa River

August 18, 2012

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From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

The release started at about 1 p.m. Friday and should boost the Yampa River’s flows by about 50 cubic feet per second, McBride said. Low steamflows at the Craig plant triggered the release of water, which is used in the power plant’s cooling operations.

Division 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light said the Stagecoach release is the result of an agreement reached with Tri-State that stipulates a flow that must be met to satisfy senior rights holders downstream of the Craig power plant. She said her agency gathered data on what diversions are occurring and what ones are senior to Tri-State to reach a number of 50 cfs natural flow that would avoid a call on the river.

Tri-State “can pump the river dry, but that would force a call downstream,” Light said. “Rather than force a call on the river and its tributaries, we’d rather make this decision.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Water Lease Could Wet the Yampa River

June 26, 2012

Water Lease Could Wet the Yampa River.


Yampa River: Deal brokered by the Colorado Water Trust to bolster flows #CODrought

June 26, 2012

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The dim outlook for the Yampa River in this summer of drought just got a little brighter, thanks to a water deal announced this week by the Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

Under a law passed back in 2003 in response to the last serious statewide drought, the water trust will lease 4,000 acre feet of water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir to try and sustain some flows in the Yampa, in the worst-case scenario potentially preventing the river from going dry.

The water will be released strategically to meet hydropower demands and for streamflow benefits below the reservoir. The water trust has been working on the short-term water leasing pilot program, Request for Water 2012, for about three months…

The water trust will lease the Yampa River water for about $35 per acre foot, for a total of $140,000…

“When we saw the CWT Request for Water 2012, we thought it would be a great opportunity for collaboration in meeting multiple needs during this drought year, and the Upper Yampa Board is fully supportive of meeting multiple needs,” said district manager Kevin McBride.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Two water agencies and a conservation organization have engineered a lease allowing 4,000-acre feet of cold water from Stagecoach Reservoir to be gradually released in an effort to revive the river.

The Colorado Water Trust announced Monday it had reached an agreement with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns the reservoir, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to lease the water and send it downstream.

“We’ll start making releases when we can ensure it will supply the benefit we hope it will,” Colorado Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said.

His organization will spend $35 per acre-foot to lease the water from Stagecoach, or about $140,000, Smith confirmed. The agreement marks the first-ever implementation of a 2003 statute designed to protect Colorado’s rivers in times of drought.

If the Trust were to release the water steadily, it is estimated it would generate a flow of about 26.5 cubic feet per second from July 1 through the middle of September — perhaps not enough to restore recreation in the form of tubing on the town stretch of the river, but enough to protect the resource. The Yampa was flowing at 69 cfs late Monday afternoon compared to a median flow for the date of 1,000 cfs.

More Yampa River coverage here.


Precipitation news

August 24, 2010

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

The [Yampa] river was flowing at 190 cubic feet per second Monday morning at the Fifth Street Bridge, according to a monitoring station operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. The historic mean for the river on Aug. 23 is 116 cfs. “The rain that we have been having and the moisture from the monsoon weather has really kicked in,” said Kent Vertrees, a recreational representative on the Yampa-White River Basin Roundtable. “There isn’t a fear of a closure of the river to tubers because it’s been so full.”[...]

Steamboat has received 2.03 inches of precipitation so far this month, compared to a historic average of 1.54 inches. Local weather spotter Art Judson attributes the increase in rainfall to monsoonal moisture, slow-moving thunderstorms and chance. “It’s as much chance as anything,” he said. “What makes this warm season different is that we have had three separate events where we received more than 1 inch of rain in less than 24 hours. That’s unusual for here.”

While the increase in rainfall is one of the factors keeping tubes from scraping the bottom of the river, water being released from Stagecoach Reservoir continues to keep the Yampa flowing faster than usual. The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is releasing an average of 140 cfs of water into the river from the reservoir because of a construction project that will increase water storage there by nearly 10 percent. Conservancy District General Manager Kevin McBride said the discharge is expected to continue until mid-September.


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