Colorado Water Trust has 10-year deal for environmental releases into Yampa River

Steamboat Pilot – November 26, 2021

Since 2012, the trust and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has partnered to release 14,500 acre-feet from Stagecoach Reservoir

The Colorado Water Trust secured a 10-year contract to release water from Stagecoach Reservoir into the Yampa River earlier this month, one of the first such agreements in the state.

The Water Trust has worked with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to release 14,500 acre-feet of water since 2012, aimed at maintaining stronger streamflows and cooler water temperatures in the summer heat.

In July, the two partnered to increase the exit flow from Stagecoach when the Yampa’s flows through Steamboat Springs had dropped to 40 cubic feet per second and the temperature had eclipsed 80 degrees.

The river was already closed to recreation, and the increased flows were not enough to open it, but the releases are meant to protect the aquatic life and the overall health of the river.

For previous releases to happen, the two needed to reach a new deal each year. But new legislation passed in 2020 changed rules allowing for long-term agreements. The two entities have been working on an extended deal for the past year, according to a news release from the district from Nov. 18.

“As drought conditions and water scarcity continue to challenge our basin, having this 10-year contract in place will help minimize some of the recurring challenges we typically face each year when we revisit temporary contracts without constraining (the district’s) water supplies or the Water Trusts funds,” said Andy Rossi, general manager of the Upper Yampa district.

The deal ensures 100 acre-feet of water is available from Stagecoach’s general supply pool each year, with options to purchase more water from other pools in the reservoir. Water is only paid for if it is actually released.

Previous regulations required these contracts to be renegotiated each year, and restricted environmental releases to just three of every 10 years. The new law, which went into effect in March changed this to five of every 10 years, and allowed contracts to be renewed for up to three 10-year periods.

This means flows in the Yampa could be bolstered in up to 15 of the next 30 years.

“Developing longer-term solutions frees up time and money for all our partners to be even more innovative in their collaboration to keep the river flowing,” Rossi said.

When the contract is presented to Colorado’s Water Conservation Board in January, the two agencies will become one of the first in the state to utilize the new statute and regulations allowing these longer-term solutions. When the application is completed, the first contract will extend through 2032.

“(Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District) and the Water Trust have forged something new here. It’s a big step forward for the Yampa River Project and collaborative water management in general,” said Alyson Meyer Gould, staff attorney for the Water Trust.

“We can now focus our efforts on the new instream flow application, and if we are successful, to expand the project’s benefits downstream of the instream flow reach where it can benefit even more of the river and all those who rely on it,” Meyer Gould added.

The Yampa River Project includes myriad partners in the valley and across the state: the Yampa River Fund, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, city of Steamboat Springs, Catamount Development, Inc., the Upper Yampa water district, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources.


Steamboat Pilot

Dylan Anderson

Original Article