In May, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District responded to our Request for Water and offered to lease 4,000 acre-feet of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir to CWT and the CWCB to increase flows in the Yampa River. The three parties signed a one-year lease agreeing to release 26.7 cfs for 75 days. The lease allowed for flexible management if conditions on the Yampa improved or deteriorated. The water was priced at $35 per acre-foot for a total cost of $140,000.
During the negotiation period, the parties reached out to the Division Engineer, Erin Light, and the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) to work through technical details. The City of Steamboat officials and biologists at Colorado Parks and Wildlife also provided input to determine how to maximally benefit the Yampa River. On June 21st, CWT requested, through the administrative approval process, that the SEO approve the temporary loan of water. River conditions were deteriorating quickly, and at CWT’s request, Upper Yampa began releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir on June 28 for hydropower, hoping also to benefit the Yampa as much as it could before receiving the SEO’s formal approval to protect the releases for instream flow use.
On July 11, the parties received that approval from the SEO, thereby making the lease the first of its kind in Colorado and legally protecting the released water for instream flow use. To maximize the benefits provided by this lease, CWT signed a separate agreement with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Inc., for their use of the released water. By remarketing the water to Tri-State, for a downstream, consumptive use, the water would eventually be delivered 66 miles downstream of the instream flow reach to Craig Station. The two agreements together allowed strategic releases to benefit streamflows, aquatic habitat, hydropower and power generation, and recreation on the Yampa River and in the city of Steamboat Springs. The existing instream flow water right on the Yampa River to which the water was leased spans just 5.4 miles of river, but creative agreements allowed benefits to accrue to over 70 total miles of the Yampa River.