Expanding Elkhead Reservoir | SteamboatToday.com

Expanding Elkhead Reservoir

Water Conservation Board awards grant to study project

Danie Harrelson

— A study on the expansion of the Elkhead Reservoir will move forward thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The funding will help finance a report that offers engineering information and a cost analysis of the proposed expansion of the reservoir.

The reservoir’s expansion falls under a plan to attain about 7,000 acre-feet of water from new and existing sources for four endangered fish species in the Yampa River Basin.

The bony tail chub, the pike minnow, the razorback sucker and humpback chub, all native to the Colorado River system, stand to benefit from the enlargement.

“The eventual construction of Elkhead Reservoir enlargement will be a significant step in the recovery of the endangered fish on the Colorado River System,” Water Conservation Board Director Rod Kuharich said. “It is important that the state play a positive role in this recovery program.”

The proposed expansion of the Elkhead Reservoir, which is northwest of Hayden, would serve two purposes, Kuharich said.

It would provide releases to the Yampa River and would help water users, he said.

Additional water acreage at the reservoir would ensure a certain amount of water placement for fish during critical times in their annual life cycle, Kuharich said, thereby aiding in their recovery.

Protecting the endangered fish is not only a matter of preserving the state’s resources, but of obeying the law, he added.

Future water projects cannot happen unless water users comply with legal requirements, he said.

“It’s the law,” Kuharich said. “You aren’t going to get a project or make changes in the water without ensuring a degree of protection for these fish.”

After working 15 years in the endangered recovery program, Kuharich said he has begun to see real progress. “We’re beginning to see the fruits of our labor,” he said.

Protecting the endangered fish presents a win-win situation for the fish and the people of Colorado, Kuharich said.

“Once the fish are recovered, then the municipalities and farmers are insulated from losing the ability to divert water,” he said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board may provide up to 90 percent of a project’s engineering and construction costs and give up to 50 percent of a feasibility study’s cost.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208 or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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