Partnership garners funding to expand Yampa Valley soil moisture monitor network, fill data gaps amid climate change |

Partnership garners funding to expand Yampa Valley soil moisture monitor network, fill data gaps amid climate change

This 20-foot tower contains a variety of instruments used to measure things like soil moisture, which can be important when trying to assess how much water will make it into river systems. Eight more stations will be installed throughout the Yampa Valley by the end of next year.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After installing a soil moisture monitoring station near Stagecoach Reservoir last year, the groups behind that effort have secured money to build eight more stations in the Yampa Valley over the next two years.

The stations could help fill a gap in the data available that water managers, forecasters and water users need to make decisions that are getting increasingly harder because of climate change.

“Our snow-to-flow patterns have been changing considerably in recent years and monitoring soil moisture data is an important step toward a better understanding of how water in our basin is changing due to changing climate,” said Michelle Stewart, executive director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, in a statement.

In addition to the sustainability council, project partners include the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and Colorado Mountain College.

Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, said the soil is the “fourth reservoir” for water that has often been left out of data collection, with the other three being snow, rivers and reservoirs. This project fills that data gap, he said.

“It is envisioned as a pathfinder for the future,” Ralph said.

The data from the stations will inform scientists and water managers as they make decisions amid a 22-year drought that some top climate scientists are now referring to as aridification, or the gradual change from a wetter to drier climate.

Madison Muxworthy with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council inspects a newly installed climate monitoring station on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The data will be invaluable,” said Andy Rossi, general manager of the Upper Yampa District. “This network will help close a data gap in the Yampa River Basin and serve as a useful tool for water managers in our basin and beyond.”

Madison Muxworthy with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council said they intend to start installing at least two of the stations this summer in areas they have identified as high priorities.

“Starting this summer, we will install two to four of them. By the end of next year, we will have all eight of them,” Muxworthy said. “We have a rough idea on some locations that we want to prioritize first in the basin.”

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The station installed near Stagecoach includes a soil moisture monitor that takes measurements at six different depths down to 40 inches. The station also detects wind speed and direction, precipitation, snow depth, temperature, relative humidity, air pressure and solar radiation.

The next eight stations will be part of a network of 25 stations throughout the Yampa Valley.

“We’re filling data gaps,” Muxworthy said. “As part of our two-year process leading up to this, we did a basin analysis where we had talked to some key local stakeholders in the basin to identify their needs for water management and where they saw gaps.”

The $860,000 in funding secured comes largely from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through its Water Plan Grant funding program. The partners also got about $140,000 from the Colorado River District and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is pitching in $100,000.

Colorado Mountain College will partner to provide training for students interested in a career in climate monitoring and instrument maintenance, and college officials are viewing the network’s expansion as an important part of developing pathways for students to find careers in water.

“Student engagement with this network is essential to the recruitment and development of our future western water workforce,” said Nathan Stewart, a professor of ecosystem science and sustainability at the college. 

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