The Routt County Commissioner’s pony up $5,000 for Yampa River study

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The last time the community funded a Yampa River management plan, in 2004, it was all about balancing the health of the town stretch of the Yampa with recreation. More than a decade later, plans are underway for a new river management plan, and this time, there is more emphasis on protecting the health of the river to help ensure ample water for the community in times of drought.

“In part, this is an update of the 2004 plan. But it’s more of a streamflow management plan, where we’ll be looking for target flows that support aquatic life and water quality,” city of Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Heaney said Tuesday after meeting with Routt County officials. “It’s almost like a drought resiliency plan for the river.”

And the new study will take in a longer stretch of the river — from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area downstream to the city’s wastewater treatment plant west of town.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to earmark $5,000 in its 2017 budget for a contribution toward a 50 percent local match of a $51,875 grant to fund the new management plan. The grant is part of $1 million allocated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in accordance with one of the measurable objectives in Colorado’s landmark 2015 state water plan…

The [Colorado Water Plan] set the goal of covering 80 percent of a list of locally prioritized rivers with new stream management plans by 2030.

Heaney told the BOC that, with this grant, the Yampa will be among the first in the state to be the subject of such a study.

There is a plan underway on the Crystal River (upstream from Carbondale), Aspen and Pitkin County have begun work on a plan for the Roaring Fork and plans are in the works for the Colorado River and the San Miguel on the western side of the San Juan Mountains, Heaney reported.

“We’re kind of like pioneers, along with them,” she said.

Heaney said the Colorado Water Trust, which has, in the past, facilitated efforts to secure supplemental summer flows for the Yampa in drought years such as 2002 and 2012, will participate in the study. In 2002 and 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed a voluntary ban on fishing on the town stretch of the Yampa, because the shallow flows were too warm to hold desirable levels of dissolved oxygen for trout.

Water temperature and dissolved oxygen will be a part of the new river study, which will include a streamflow management plan meant to manage for target flows that support both aquatic life and water quality, Heaney said.

“We’re working with the Colorado Water Trust to get us to a place where we have a sustainable plan,” Heaney said.

The Water Trust will undertake a legal analysis of the city’s water rights and advise on different strategies to make the best use of them, she said. For example, strategies could include securing storage contracts, stream improvement projects and re-timing flows through wetlands.

Carpenter Ranch as a laboratory for conserving water — Steamboat Today #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Here’s an in-depth look at a fallowing experiment on the Carpenter Ranch in the Yampa Valley from Tom Ross writing in Steamboat Today. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Beginning in 2015, the Nature Conservancy committed four hay fields comprising 197 acres at the Carpenter Ranch to a multi-state pilot project conceived to determine how irrigated hay fields in the region would respond to being temporarily left fallow in order to leave more water flowing in the Yampa River. The stronger summer flows would support habitat and help to replenish the vast reservoirs of the Southwest that supply water to cities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

The ranch is among five pilot sites in Colorado and five in Wyoming to make up the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

The Conservancy’s Yampa River Project Director Geoff Blakeslee told Steamboat Today in August 2015 that the water project essentially involves a water transfer plan that could someday allow ag water users to be compensated for temporarily taking water off their land to be used elsewhere.

“It’s very much an exploratory project,” Blakeslee said last year. “We’re doing what we call a split-season fallowing of four fields on Carpenter Ranch just to help with information gathering — what are the impacts to the ranch? What are the impacts to the river?”

It’s understood that the short-term consequences may be a smaller hay harvest that could support fewer cattle. But there are also benefits in the program that flow to the ranchers.

The $11 million program to conserve water is funded by water providers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

Introduction to the Yampa/White roundtable

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From Steamboat Today (Mary Brown):

As the new chair of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table, I’m writing today to give an update on some of the water issues being addressed both in Northwest Colorado and throughout the state…

Members are elected and/or appointed to their positions per the requirements of the statute, and the roster is filled with people who have a passion for preserving the water in our region. Officers are elected annually and must represent the Yampa and White river basins.

Jackie Brown and Alden Vanden Brink, from Routt and Moffat counties respectively, now serve as the vice-chairs. Jon Hill from Rio Blanco is the immediate past-chair. We have met consistently since our formation to identify, quantify and address challenges of water quantity and quality for the Yampa, White and Green rivers.

The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table one of nine basin round tables in Colorado. During 2014 and 2015 our Round Table was engaged fully with the development of our basin implementation plan. We have authorized studies that help us understand the agricultural, industrial and municipal, environmental and recreation needs of Northwest Colorado.

Many of our members serve on state and regional committees, task forces and modeling crews. All have attended countless meetings and volunteered incalculable hours to produce the basin implementation plan, which was used in the development of the Colorado Water Plan.

#Snowpack news: Yampa headwaters doing just fine so far

Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat skiers and snowboarders prefer their champagne dry, but the relatively wet snow that buried the slopes over the weekend put a big boost into the snowpack on nearby Rabbit Ears Pass, where the amount of water stored in the standing snow jumped from a healthy 126 percent of median Jan. 30 to 135 percent Monday morning with the snow continuing to fall.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears now contains 18.9 inches inches of water — and counting — compared to the median 14 inches for the first day of February. After measuring 69 inches Sunday, the snow depth at 9,400 feet on the pass had settled to 67 inches Monday morning.

But it’s a different story north of Steamboat Springs beginning at Buffalo Pass and continuing north to snow pack measuring sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the edges of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

The Tower site on Buff Pass has significantly more snow than Rabbit Ears, as it always does. However, on a percentage basis, the snowpack measurement of 23 inches is just 84 percent of median at 27.5 inches, according to the NRCS.

The pattern repeats further north at the Lost Dog and Mount Zirkel sites at roughly the same latitude on opposite sides of the Continental Divide. Lost Dog is on the western flanks of the Park Range in Routt County where the snow that melts into the streams ultimately finds its way into the Colorado River.

At the Zirkel site on the eastern, or North Park side of the Divide, the water is bound for the North Platte River and finally the Mississippi River.

The snowpack at Lost Dog is 90 percent of median, and at Zirkel, it is 87 percent of median. The combined Yampa/White river drainages stand at 106 percent median snowpack based on 20 measuring sites. That ranks the basin last among the eight major basins in the state with the San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan Basin leading the way at 123 percent of median. Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride stands at 162 percent of median snowpack.

On the east side of Rabbit Ears in Buffalo Park at an elevation of 9,240 feet, the snowpack contains 10.5 inches of water — 144 percent of median. But the nearby Columbine measuring site at 9,160 feet is at just 101 percent of median with 14.9 inches of water.

Turning to South Routt, the Crosho measuring site at 9,100 feet at the foot of the Flat Tops southeast of Phippsburg has 9.9 inches of water — 146 percent of median.

#ColoradoRiver: The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch is participating in a pilot project aimed at finding better ways to share water resources in the thirsty West

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

From The Nature Conservancy:

The Carpenter Ranch, located near Steamboat Springs, is a great site for a pilot project. The ranch is owned by the Conservancy but leased to a rancher who grows hay and raises cattle. The four fields participating in the pilot, totaling 197 acres, were irrigated for only the first half of the irrigation season last summer.

Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director, says that the Conservancy has a long history of combining ranching and conservation and finding creative solutions. “This pilot is an exploratory project to understand the impacts of temporary fallowing on the ranch, the Yampa River and the overall Colorado River system,” he says. “There’s a lot of common interest to find solutions that work for our communities, farms and rivers.”

“Colorado’s Front Range receives about 50% of its water from the Colorado River,” adds Taylor Hawes, the Conservancy’s Colorado River program director. “If a crisis does hit—an even more severe or prolonged drought—the information from projects like this one can be used to design a fair way of sharing the water. It benefits all of us to figure out an equitable path forward.”

Although the short-term consequence of reducing irrigation may be a smaller hay yield and fewer cattle on the Carpenter Ranch this fall, finding ways to share water will ultimately help all who depend on the Colorado River for survival.

Water testing on Yampa River could lead to more regulations after reclassification — Steamboat Today

From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

City officials in Steamboat Springs say some high water temperature readings taken in the Yampa River just west of Hayden in recent years could soon lead to a big change in how a 57-mile stretch of the river is regulated by the state.

The stretch of the Yampa that runs from the confluence of Oak Creek south of Steamboat to the Moffat County border is poised to be listed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as an impaired waterbody.

City officials are concerned that the listing could eventually lead to some costly, multi-million upgrades to such things as the wastewater treatment plants that discharge water into the river.

They are questioning the methodology used to arrive at the listing and are hoping a proposal to monitor the health of the river in more areas will help municipalities along the river avoid costly new regulations.

“Given the variability of altitude, temperature, and aquatic life throughout the 57-mile segment, the City questions whether the standard applied to such a long reach is appropriate,” city officials recently wrote in a memo to the Steamboat Springs City Council.

Kelly Heany, the city’s water resources manager, said the Water Quality Control Commission will consider whether to list the Yampa as an impaired waterbody at its Dec. 14 meeting.

“It could potentially have a costly impact n the wastewater treatment plants in Hayden, Milner and ours,” Heaney said.

She said the added regulations could call for such things as the installation of expensive cooling towers at these wastewater treatment facilities.

The classification could also add more regulations to construction de-watering permits, industrial discharge permits and stormwater permits.

Heaney will attend the Dec. 14 hearing to outline the city’s plans and the extensive efforts it has undertaken already to protect the water quality of the Yampa.

Heaney said the city does not have enough temperature data from the entire stretch of the Yampa to oppose the listing on the impaired waterbody list.

So city officials are proposing to invest more in monitoring the quality of the Yampa at more locations to better understand what impacts the temperature changes.

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey