Colorado Water Trust praises local agencies for leadership, buys water to boost Yampa River | SteamboatToday.com

Colorado Water Trust praises local agencies for leadership, buys water to boost Yampa River

Water Trust acquires water to keep Yampa healthy into October

The steady rain that fell Sept. 23 elevated flows in the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, and a new water purchase from Stagecoach Reservoir by the Colorado Water Trust will help keep the Yampa healthy into October.

— The vigorous but brief rain shower that swept through Steamboat Springs just after dawn Sept. 23 deposited .15 inches of precipitation in a rain gauge between downtown and the ski area, adding a little streamflow to tributaries of the Yampa River. But even when added to the steady rainfall that fell later in the day, it wasn't enough to reverse the pattern in the Yampa after a summer of sub-par moisture.

Now, the Colorado Water Trust has joined the city of Steamboat Springs, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Catamount Metropolitan District in ongoing efforts to boost the Yampa's flows deeper into autumn.

"A healthy Yampa River is important to our community on so many levels," city of Steamboat Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said. "The city was fortunate to be able to release its Stagecoach Reservoir water this year to improve water quality in the river."

The river was flowing at 60 percent of its median flow for Sept. 23 Friday morning, but it would have been lower this week if not for the fact the city and Upper Yampa Water have been adding flows of 10 cubic feet per second from water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir since August. The city, for the first time ever, began releasing water from its 552-acre-foot pool in the Yampa Aug. 19, and when that ran out Sept. 14, Upper Yampa continued the 10 cfs release by accelerating its seasonal timetable for drawing down the reservoir to accommodate 2017 spring runoff.

Upper Yampa District Engineer Andy Rossi observed at the time: "We are flirting with historically low flows into Stagecoach Reservoir."

The Yampa was flowing at 22 cubic feet per second just above the reservoir Friday. Based on 27 years of record, that compares to the lowest flow on record for Sept. 23 — 22 cfs in 2002.

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However, water district general manager Kevin McBride said the reservoir his agency manages filled to capacity after a very wet spring, allowing the water district to advance its autumn timetable.

The Water Trust announced Sept. 22 that, together with its partners, it will spend $10,000 to purchase another 264-acre feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir, enough to increase the flows in the Yampa by 10 cubic feet per second for 13 more days. The Water Trust's purchase will continue adding water to the Yampa until sometime in October, when the Catamount Metro District lowers levels in Lake Catamount to prepare for winter.

Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said that the level of cooperation among water managers in the upper Yampa Basin is gratifying for his organization.

"Watching the local community now lead the streamflow restoration effort on the upper Yampa River is the best outcome for the work the Water Trust has accomplished in the Yampa Valley since 2012," Smith said in a news release.

Smith pointed out that, when the Water Trust previously acquired water to bolster the Yampa in 2012, 2013 and 2015, it was based on low snowpack levels leading to forecasts of low summer streamflows.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1