Steamboat Springs — 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.”
When it appeared in December as though the snowpack across Colorado wouldn’t be enough to keep rivers healthy again this summer, Beatie said the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District was one of the first groups the Water Trust called.
Late snowfall and early summer rain improved the dire river projections that were floating around in December, but Beatie said flows in some rivers across the state, including the Yampa, still are weak enough to warrant an extra boost.
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.
An ample number of fly-fishers and tubers could be seen enjoying the river near Steamboat Springs on Thursday.
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.”
The Water Trust’s lease of 4,000 acre-feet of water last year increased flows in the Yampa by about 26 cfs for much of the summer.
The river was so low, the city of Steamboat Springs and Colorado Parks and Wildlife enacted voluntary closures of the river.
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.
McBride said he still was working with the Water Trust to determine when water from Stagecoach will be released this summer.
He said the first purpose of the release is to meet a decreed instream flow that runs from the confluence of Morrison Creek to Lake Catamount.
“After that, I think it’s everybody’s benefit,” he said.
Beatie said she was impressed last year that river users here were able to alter their behavior to benefit the Yampa.
“Some folks decided not to take a second cutting, while others let more of their water go back to the river,” she said. “The best way to keep things like this (release) happening is to keep the river a heartfelt asset in the community. Teach a friend to fly-fish. Teach a friend to stand-up paddleboard. You guys have an incredible asset in your backyard, and everyone should take advantage of it.”