Colorado Water Trust boosting flows in the Upper Yampa River

July 25, 2022

For more information, contact:

Alyson Meyer Gould
Colorado Water Trust
Phone: 720-570-2897

Colorado Water Trust boosting flows in the Upper Yampa River

Steamboat Springs, CO, (July 25, 2022) – On July 19th, Colorado Water Trust (the Water Trust) completed a request for 1,000 acre-feet of water (of the max total 5100 acre-feet of water the Water Trust has contracted for in 2022). This project, in partnership with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD), began releases last Thursday, July 21st and aims to support the Yampa River, the fish and wildlife that depend on it, as well as the recreational uses on the river.

During the summer and fall of 2022, the Water Trust aims to purchase and release up to 5,100 (or 1.7 billion gallons) of water from Stagecoach Reservoir. The Water Trust’s releases will be made when the Yampa River falls below healthy levels for fish and riparian habitat and it is the most water the Water Trust has ever had available to add to the river in a single year. When water temperatures in the Yampa River exceed healthy levels, water purchased from Stagecoach Reservoir passes through an 18-mile stretch, past the downtown area of Steamboat Springs. When temperatures are in a healthier range, water will still be released to benefit the critical fishery below Stagecoach Reservoir. In addition, the Water Trust may also purchase and release up to 650 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir, downstream of Steamboat Springs, to protect a critical reach of the Yampa River that is home to endangered, native fish and possibly also for use by agriculture depending upon conditions.


“In Colorado, snowpack and rainfall is a roll of the dice. The reservoir release strategy the Water Trust is using in the Yampa helps protect the River – and everything and everyone who relies upon it – from a bad roll. We hope it will be a good year, but if it’s not, we’re ready to step in and add water to the Yampa River to help whirling disease resistant rainbow trout, rare mountain white fish, and four species of endangered fish, as well as recreational, municipal, industrial, and agricultural users.” Alyson Meyer Gould, Colorado Water Trust


Since 2012, the Water Trust has led local efforts to restore the Yampa River. Throughout the past decade, the Water Trust has purchased and released over 13,850 acre-feet (4.5 billion gallons) of water to boost flows in dry years. The impacts have been significant. At times, the Water Trust’s boosted flows contributed to over half of the flow of the Yampa River as it passed through the city of Steamboat Springs. The Water Trust has also had success in prior years, thanks to its partnerships in the Yampa Valley, at maintaining enough flow in the Yampa River to prevent recreational closures along the river. Keeping the Yampa River flowing strong throughout the dry summer and fall months supports not just the environment, and the fish and wildlife that depend on the river, it is also important for the community. The Water Trust project helps keep local fishing and tubing businesses thriving, supports a bustling tourism industry comprised of many people who come to enjoy the beauty of the Yampa River, and provides more water for ranchers downstream. The Water Trust is grateful for the hard work and collaboration of the community of Steamboat Springs, which has made this project possible through the years. It has taken a decade to build the relationships and process that make this project so successful. With rapidly changing climatic conditions and a 20-year megadrought, the Water Trust hopes other communities across the state will very soon follow in the footsteps of the Yampa basin.


The Water Trust’s increased impact on the Yampa River in 2022 is in large part thanks to a newly signed 10-year agreement with UYWCD. In 2021, Colorado House Bill 20-1157 passed, which amended the statute governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program. The bill created additional tools for the temporary loan of water rights for instream flow use, including the ability to further support the natural environment via loan renewals for up to three 10-year periods. Renewable loans through this program can allow environmental releases to bolster flows in the Yampa River for up to 15 out of 30 years if needed. The statute previously only allowed for loaned water to be used for instream flow in 3 out of 10 years, were not renewable, and did not include the potential for increased flow rates. The Water Trust and UYWCD are the first nongovernmental collaborators in the State of Colorado to take advantage of this new tool and the first to successfully seek increased flow rates to improve the health of a river.


The Water Trust, a statewide nonprofit organization with a staff of eight, continues to raise funds for the Yampa River project this year. In total, the Water Trust expects the project to cost roughly $280,000. So far, the Water Trust has raised 87% of that sum thanks to our generous donors: Yampa River Fund, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Kent and Katrina Fredrickson, and other individual and corporate donors. The Water Trust still has $36,381 to raise for purchasing water. To all the businesses and individuals who care about their local river, consider giving back and directly adding flows to the Yampa River in 2022. A gift of $1,000 can buy 20 acre-feet of water for the river (or 6.5 million gallons). A gift of $10,000 can buy 208 acre-feet of water for the river (or 67.7 million gallons). Contact Dana at the Water Trust to make your contribution to the Yampa River today to support the river during these historically dry conditions: (720-570-2897 or


Essential to the project’s success in 2022 are the Water Trust’s key project partners: Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; The City of Steamboat Springs; Colorado River Water Conservation District; Catamount Development, Inc.; Catamount Metropolitan District; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Colorado Water Conservation Board; and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Without the generous donations from donors and the collaborative work of numerous local and statewide entities, strategic reservoir releases to support the health of the Yampa River would not be possible.