Lower Yampa River – Elkhead Reservoir
Starting near Craig, Colorado and winding downstream to Echo Park at the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers, this important reach is home to four federally endangered fish species.
What is the problem?
The Yampa river is one of the last wild rivers in the west. It is know for it’s beauty and recreational opportunities. It is also home to several endangered species, which need enough flowing water to thrive.
Summer of 2020 brought dry conditions to Colorado, which stressed rivers, streams, and water users across the state. On the Yampa River, in northwestern Colorado, the second ever administrative “call” was placed on the river, meaning that there was not enough water to provide all legally entitled water users their share of water, and cutbacks from newer junior water rights holders were needed. This also meant that river struggled to provide enough water for the endangered fish habitat.
What is the solution?
Colorado Water Trust took action in response to rapidly degrading conditions on the lower river. We worked with several of our partners and on two separate efforts to support the needs of endangered fish populations and overall stream health in the lower portion of the Yampa River.
Our first solution was to provide funds to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) in order to support the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s additional lease of 250 acre-feet of water stored in Elkhead Reservoir. The Water Trust’s support of the Recovery Program was made possible by a 2018 Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) grant. The Recovery Program typically releases between 5000-7000 acre-feet of water annually to the lower Yampa River to support endangered species recovery efforts.
Our second solution was to directly contract for another 250 acre-feet from the Colorado River District to release to the Recovery Program’s Critical Habitat Reach. This effort was funded by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and water was released at a rate of 40 cfs over three days in September of 2020.
We hope to continue conversations with our partners in this area to provide water for this important reach when needed in the future.
What is the impact?
In 2020, our releases boosted Yampa River flows to healthier levels for the four federally endangered fish species that reside there. Alongside separate releases from the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Colorado River District, releases from Elkhead Reservoir also helped to reduce community impacts resulting from the second-ever call on the Yampa. The Elkhead Project has allowed the Water Trust and partners to build upon past collaborations to start working toward future flow restoration efforts on the lower Yampa River.
We are proud to be a small part of the Recovery Program’s incredible work to recover and protect endangered fish across the Colorado River Basin
Photo Credits: Travis Francis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Project Partners: Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Colorado Water Conservation Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Colorado River District