Community Agriculture Alliance: Shoring up

Holly Kirkpatrick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Team Rubicon embarked on a two day deployment to clear a 150 foot buffer around the communication tower at Emerald Mountain.

After a long winter of near-record-breaking snowfall, it appears as though spring has finally sprung! Snow has left the valley floor, and lush, green meadows are starting to emerge. You can hear the cheers of boaters making town runs in Steamboat Springs. It is a welcome sight for everyone, even for those who took full advantage of seemingly endless powder days these last few months.

The snowpack above 9,500 feet is still holding strong and we’ve already had multiple flood warnings and mudslides in Northwest Colorado. With so much snow and so much runoff already, the days of unprecedented drought must be in the rearview mirror, right? When you are in the water conservation business or your livelihood depends on the availability of water, a heavy snowpack is welcome, but it is not a cure-all.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, who owns and operates Stagecoach and Yamcolo Reservoirs near the headwaters of the Yampa River, expects to fill both reservoirs to maximum capacity for the first time in several years. The water supplies in Stagecoach could be used to prop up flows in the Yampa River if they fall to critical levels or reach dangerously warm temperatures later in the summer, while supplies in Yamcolo help irrigate hay meadows and fill ditches in South Routt County. 

When we see plenty of water and snowpack around us here, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture of a Colorado River in crisis further downstream. It’s hard to connect Stagecoach Reservoir to the two largest reservoirs in the country, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The truth is, the Yampa River makes up about 10% of the flows in the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, the dividing line between the upper Colorado River Basin states and the lower ones. Despite over 16,000 cubic feet per second flowing past the U.S. Geological Survey gauge on the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park on May 15, we aren’t likely to see a significant increase in the historically low levels of water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. It would take several years of snowpack like we’ve seen over the last few months to get a river basin that supplies seven states and more than 40 million people with water out of a 20-plus year mega-drought and reverse aridification.

A year like this may not be the cure-all, but it is a perfect time for us to shore up the systems we do have in place. In March, the Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded more than $1 million in funding to projects in the Yampa River Basin. With plenty of water in our corner of the state and more funding than we’ve ever seen available for water infrastructure and improvements, we can take advantage of a prime opportunity to protect our water rights and improve our diversions for use long into the future. 

If you need to install a measuring device or head gate to help provide record of the use of your water rights, now is the time. If you have been putting off a costly water project that could improve your agriculture operations or the health of the river, now is the time. It is time to shore up our systems to avoid failure when the next dry year comes along.

Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, along with several other local, regional, state and federal organizations, has grant funds available to help get your projects on the ground. If you have a potential project in mind, please contact Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District at 970-871-1035 or email Holly Kirkpatrick at

Holly Kirkpatrick is the Public Information & External Affairs Manager for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District 

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