The Colorado Water Trust brought a new solution to add water to the Yampa River in 2015. This is not the first time that we have helped maintain healthy streamflows on the river; however, we wanted to test possible long-term solutions because the short-term lease tool that we pioneered in 2012 and used again in 2013 can only be used once more over the next seven years. With undoubtedly more dry years to come, in 2015 the Water Trust and City of Steamboat Springs pursued a potential long-term legal solution through a short-term, market-based agreement with Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (Upper Yampa) to provide water only for hydropower purposes without a formal instream flow (ISF) protection. The partners were comfortable with this arrangement this year because the gaging showed that the water was still benefitting the river down to Steamboat Springs.
The Water Trust leased 1,185 acre feet (AF) of water from Upper Yampa, thanks to generous funding support from Southwestern Energy, CAN’d Aid Foundation and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. As with the previous two leases, the project partners diligently watched streamflows throughout the summer to determine whether the river would need the extra water once again. It did. So, Upper Yampa made releases of water from Stagecoach Reservoir from August 10-October 12 at rates up to 28 cubic feet per second (cfs) to improve aquatic habitat – keeping the fish wet and pools cold. At times, this store-and-release project kept the Yampa River flowing at rates of 100 cfs or higher through downtown Steamboat Springs, which met the City’s goals, too. In addition to the formal agreements, another crucial partnership was the Catamount Development, Inc. and Catamount Metropolitan District, who supported the river-friendly project by voluntarily helping the water pass through the dam on Lake Catamount and continue down the Yampa River towards Steamboat Springs.