Community Agriculture Alliance: Fostering resiliency for Yampa River | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Fostering resiliency for Yampa River

Kelly Romero-Heaney/For Steamboat Today

Community Agriculture Alliance

We are fortunate to live in the Yampa River Valley, where, unlike the majority of river basins in Colorado, we face more opportunities than issues.

In Grand County's Fraser River, for example, more than 60 percent of the flow in this beloved trout stream is diverted via the Moffatt Tunnel to serve Front Range municipalities. The depleted flows conveyed through its wide channel offer shallow, warm conditions to trout species that need cold, deep pools and shade to thrive. The most recently proposed Moffat Tunnel expansion would have stressed this river beyond critical water quality and aquatic life thresholds. In response, the Fraser River community and project stakeholders collaborated on an adaptive management strategy that prescribed, among other mitigation measures, narrowing the river channel to accommodate its depleted flow. They literally have to shrink their river to keep it healthy.

The challenges faced by our neighboring headwater communities emphasize that, thanks to its relatively native flows, the health of the Yampa River is unmatched. They also remind us that the Yampa is worthy of our attention and protection. Drought, warming temperatures and loss of riparian habitat have emerged as recent threats to our valley's most treasured resource. And, while Yampa Basin water supply planners have long layered their municipal, agricultural and industrial water rights portfolios with drought contingency plans, a drought resiliency plan for the river is warranted.

Colorado's Water Plan recognized that healthy, flowing rivers are just as much a part of Colorado's water infrastructure as pipelines, treatment plants and distribution systems. It set a goal to develop Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of Colorado's prioritized streams by 2030 and, during its most recent session, the Colorado Legislature approved the Colorado Water Conservation Board's $5-million budget for stream management planning and watershed restoration. 

With funds and in-kind support from the CWCB, the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable, Routt County, the Yampa Valley Flyfishers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the city of Steamboat Springs is coordinating a Yampa River Health Assessment and Stream Flow Management Plan from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the city's wastewater treatment facility. This stream management plan will identify stream flows and riparian improvements within this reach that are protective of aquatic life, temperature and other water-quality parameters. It will then identify scenarios to meet these demands, including releases from storage, flexible water markets, retiming of flows through wetlands and riparian restoration.

The usefulness of this plan depends upon a robust stakeholder process that taps into local knowledge, while strengthening partnerships for long-term collaboration. Visit the project website at steamboatsprings.net/index.aspx?nid=587) for more information and opportunities to engage between now and the plan completion date of May, 2018.  

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As one of the first basins to develop a stream management plan since the Colorado Water Plan was accepted by the governor in 2015, the Yampa River community is pioneering the way for drought-resistant, resilient rivers to thrive in the Yampa Valley and beyond.

Kelly Romero-Heaney is water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs. She serves as the Routt County municipal representative for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of directors of the Community Agriculture Alliance.