Water program to return to keep Yampa River flowing

Steamboat Springs — With drought conditions forecast to continue, the Colorado Water Trust is stepping up to help ensure the Yampa River flows at a healthy rate this summer.

Last year, the nonprofit organization aimed at keeping waterways flowing leased 4,000 acre feet of water for the Yampa River. That translated into increasing flows by about 26 cubic feet per second for a large part of the summer.

The program was praised by those who recreate on and protect rivers.

Although voluntary fishing bans remained in place throughout summer for the town stretch of the Yampa, wildlife officials said the increased flows helped protect the Yampa’s fish population. When flows increased above 85 cfs, outfitters were able to rent tubes to guests who were trying to escape the heat.

“It was huge,” Backdoor Sports owner Pete Van De Carr said.

Colorado Water Trust attorney Zach Smith said the spring weather and snowpack amounts will dictate how much water can be leased for the Yampa this year. The bigger the snowpack, the less the group can lease. On Monday, the snowpack in the Yampa/ White River basin was 81 percent of average.

Last year, 4,000 acre feet of water was leased from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns Stagecoach Reservoir. The Colorado Water Trust paid about $140,000, or $35 per acre foot of water.

“I’m thrilled and honestly honored that they have seen the Yampa River Basin as worthy of that time and money and resources,” Van De Carr said. “I’m excited and pleased. I wish I could hug them right now.”

The Colorado Water Trust raises funds for temporary leases and permanent acquisitions to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s in-stream flow program. The city of Steamboat Springs also put $10,000 toward leasing the water last year.

Last year was the first time the Colorado Water Trust took advantage of a 2003 state law that allows temporary leases of water to protect rivers threatened by low water years. Smith said they put the program together in about a month.

With the program already established, the group is starting earlier this year to roll it out.

“We thought the leasing program had a real impact on educating folks in the state on what tools exist for improving streamflows in Colorado,” Smith said.

The Colorado Water Trust is reaching out to water right owners who might be interested in leasing their water this year.

Smith will be in Steamboat from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library to explain how the Request for Water 2013 water leasing program works. He will discuss the legal authority and technical underpinnings of the program. He also will talk about how the various forms work, what a water user can expect if he or she offers water for lease, how the water valuation process works and approximate timelines.

Steamboat Today
Matt Stensland
Original article