Commissioners are on board with matching grant for new Yampa River Study | SteamboatToday.com

Commissioners are on board with matching grant for new Yampa River Study

The Yampa River

— The last time the community funded a Yampa River management plan, in 2004, it was all about balancing the health of the town stretch of the Yampa with recreation. More than a decade later, plans are underway for a new river management plan, and this time there is more emphasis on protecting the health of the river to help ensure ample water for the community in times of drought.

"In part, this is an update of the 2004 plan. But it's more of a streamflow management plan where we'll be looking for target flows that support aquatic life and water quality," city of Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Heaney said Tuesday after meeting with Routt County officials. "It's almost like a drought resiliency plan for the river."

And the new study will take in a longer stretch of the river – from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area downstream to the city's wastewater treatment plant west of town.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners (BOC) agreed Tuesday to earmark $5,000 in its 2017 budget for a contribution toward a 50 percent local match of a $51,875 grant to fund the new management plan. The grant is part of $1 million allocated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in accordance with one of the measurable objectives in Colorado's landmark 2015 state water plan.

"I think it's probably a small price for Routt County to pay for something as important as guarding the health of the Yampa River," Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.

He was joined by commissioners Doug Monger and Cari Hermacinski in affirming the county's support for the $5,000 share of the grant match.

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The 2015 Water Plan set the goal of covering 80 percent of a list of locally prioritized rivers with new Stream Management Plans (SMP) by 2030.

Heaney told the BOC that with this grant, the Yampa will be among the first in the state to be the subject of such a study.

There is a plan underway on the Crystal River (upstream from Carbondale), Aspen and Pitkin County have begun work on a plan for the Roaring Fork, and plans are in the works for the Colorado river and the San Miguel on the western side of the San Juan Mountains, Heaney reported.

"We're kind of like pioneers along with them," she said.

Heaney said the Colorado Water Trust, which has in the past facilitated efforts to secure supplemental summer flows for the Yampa in drought years like 2002 and 2012, will participate in the study. 2002 and 2012 Colorado Parks and Wildlife put a voluntary ban on fishing in the town stretch of the Yampa in place because the shallow flows were too warm to hold desirable levels of dissolved oxygen for trout.

Water temperature and dissolved oxygen will be a part of the new new river study, which will include a streamflow management plan meant to manage for target flows that support both aquatic life and water quality, Heaney said.

"We're working with the Colorado Water Trust to get us to a place where we have a sustainable plan," Heaney said.

The Water Trust will undertake a legal analysis of the city's water rights and advise on different strategies to make the best use of them, she said. For example, strategies could include securing storage contracts, stream improvement projects and re-timing flows through wetlands.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1