Steamboat Springs — The Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, bolstered by a conservation lease of 4,000 acre-feet of water stored upstream in Stagecoach Reservoir, was flowing at healthier levels Tuesday than it did during the drought of 2012 when a similar lease was in place.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported Friday morning that the Yampa below the Fifth Street Bridge was flowing at 126 cubic feet per second compared with about 95 cfs on Aug. 6, 2012. Tuesday’s flows still were below the median level for the date of 159 cfs. The record Aug. 6 high flow was recorded at 488 cfs in 1983. The record low was 22 cfs in 1934.
The conservation lease between the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, owner and operator of Stagecoach Reservoir, and the Colorado Water Trust was expected to add about 26 cfs to the flows in the Yampa. This summer marks the second straight year the lease has been in place, and it has drawn national attention.
Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy project and a freshwater fellow of the National Geographic Society wrote in July in a post at www.nationalgeographic.com that the success of the lease on the Yampa in 2012 led to a similar lease this summer intended to boost flows on the Fraser River. The Fraser is a tributary of the Colorado River in nearby Grand County. Significant amounts of water are diverted annually from the Fraser to Colorado’s Front Range.
Postel added that National Geographic and its partner, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, helped fund the 2012 lease.
The Geological Survey also reported Stagecoach was releasing 72 cfs Tuesday morning, and a few miles downstream, Lake Catamount was releasing 25.4 cfs from its spillway and another 76.8 cfs from its outlet.
The river was picking up another 10.5 cfs from Walton Creek where it enters the Yampa near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road. And Fish Creek was recharging the Yampa with another 5 cfs where it enters the river not far from the intersection of U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road.
The conservation releases began July 23 this summer, significantly later than in 2012 when the supplemental flows began June 28. This summer’s release came at a time when much of the hay irrigation season was done.