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Colorado: Groundbreaking water deal to boost Yampa flows

The Yampa River. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Short-term leasing program program authorized under 2003 law

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The dim outlook for the Yampa River in this summer of drought just got a little brighter, thanks to a water deal announced this week by the Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Under a law passed back in 2003 in response to the last serious statewide drought, the water trust will lease 4,000 acre feet of water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir to try and sustain some flows in the Yampa, in the worst-case scenario potentially preventing the river from going dry.

The water will be released strategically to meet hydropower demands and for streamflow benefits below the reservoir. The water trust has been working on the short-term water leasing pilot program, Request for Water 2012, for about three months.

“We are testing totally new waters here,” trust director Amy Beatie said in an earlier interview when the program was announced. “We have our own cash we’re willing to put into the program and our goal is to raise $500,000,” she said, explaining that funding comes exclusively from private sources, with no state money going toward the program.

The water trust will lease the Yampa River water for about $35 per acre foot, for a total of $140,000.

“The Colorado Water Trust is grateful for intrepid, innovative partners, Upper Yampa and the CWCB in particular, who have been enterprising, thoughtful, and responsive over the past weeks as we have worked to utilize this never-before-used 2003 water leasing statute,” Beatie said.

In Colorado’s ironclad water appropriation system, the innovative short-term leasing program is new ground, and showing how the program works on an iconic stream like the Yampa could help the group work additional deals.

The Upper Yampa District has four thousand acre feet of water available because a contract for the water was not renewed this year.

“When we saw the CWT Request for Water 2012, we thought it would be a great opportunity for collaboration in meeting multiple needs during this drought year, and the Upper Yampa Board is fully supportive of meeting multiple needs,” said district manager Kevin McBride.

The Upper Yampa District is committed to utilize the available water to meet multiple needs, while the water trust is working to remarket the leased water to a downstream water user. If they find a customer, the water could sustain flows in longer reach of the Yampa River.

Although these groups are working together to provide some water for the Yampa River, streamflows will still be well below average. Through the 2003 state statute, water can only be released to fulfill a decreed instream flow water right.

Below Stagecoach Reservoir, the instream flow from Morrison Creek to Lake Catamount is for 72.5 cfs from April 1 – August 14 and 47.5 cfs from August 15 – March 30.

With the amount of water available under the deal, releases could amount to a  rate of 26 cfs for 75 days.  With flows at these levels, the Yampa River may still be too low for tubers and other recreationists. But boosting flows might prevent the river from going dry and should alleviate some stress on the natural environment.

The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and protecting streamflows in Colorado through voluntary, market-based efforts. These efforts include permanent water acquisitions, water leases, physical solutions, technical assistance and support, and other creative solutions that improve streamflows.  More information about the Colorado Water Trust is available at www.coloradowatertrust.org

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District was formed in 1966 to provide legal authority to plan and construct water conservation projects in the Yampa Valley.  More information about the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is available at www.upperyampawater.com.

 

 

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