Steamboat Springs dips into Stagecoach Reservoir to boost Yampa River amid hot, dry conditions
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to clarify the city of Steamboat Springs purchased water from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to maintain the health of the Yampa River where the city’s wastewater treatment plant discharges. A change also clarifies what happens when the Yampa River goes under administration.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has started releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir to boost flows through Steamboat Springs.
The release of 350 acre-feet of water, which the city purchased from the district, also has the aim of maintaining water quality and keeping river temperatures cool, according to a news release. This comes as rivers across Colorado are experiencing varying degrees of drought.
“This release is a small way to give water back to the river and its wildlife when they need it most,” Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, said in the release.
The district also initiated its annual drawdown of Stagecoach Reservoir, during which managers will gradually release an additional 1,000 acre-feet of water through Sept. 30.
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All of this means higher flows on the local river. As of Tuesday, the Yampa River was flowing at about 95 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge, about 25 cfs higher than it would have been without the release.
Thanks in part to a grant from the Yampa River Fund, the Colorado Water Trust will lease an additional 500 acre-feet of water from the Conservation District, which is intended to improve river health and enhance flows during the hot, dry weeks ahead, according to the news release. The Water Trust can purchase additional water if necessary, up to 4,000 acre-feet for the rest of the year.
“The Yampa River Fund was created in part to help support flows in the Yampa during these increasingly dry years. We are pleased that the fund could be part of this important partnership in its first year of operation and will be here to help keep the Yampa healthy into the future,” the fund’s manager Andy Baur, said in the news release.
This marks the seventh year in the past decade that the Water Trust leased water from Stagecoach River to maintain healthy flows and water temperatures. The organization uses forecast models and historical data to gauge how much water to release during any given year.
Water experts expect greater administration of the state’s rivers to be the norm as Colorado grapples with a 20-year drought that has depleted water levels while demand increases. As a result, the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir could see more frequent administration in the coming years. It went on call for the first time in 2018, something that could be become the norm, according to the news release.
When this happens, certain water users must either lower their usage or stop it altogether to ensure senior water rights holders get their allotted share.
Lower water levels also can lead to recreation closures, such as fishing and tubing. At 85 cfs, a voluntary closure through city limits takes effect that prohibits commercial outfitters from operating on the river through Steamboat. The closure also urges swimmers, boaters and anglers to avoid entering the river within city limits.
Two other factors — if the river temperature stays above 75 degrees for two consecutive days or if the amount of oxygen in the water stays below an average of less than six milligrams per liter for two consecutive days — would prompt a voluntary closure. For the last week, river temperatures have oscillated between about 58 degrees and just above 72 degrees.
Elsewhere in the region, hot and dry conditions are putting stress on trout species, making them more susceptible to predation and disease and leading to recreation restrictions outside of Routt County. Voluntary fishing closures are in effect from 2 p.m. until midnight on the White River in Rio Blanco County and on the Colorado River in Garfield County.
The Water Trust and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District are partnering on longer-term solutions to local water conservation. Andy Rossi, the new general manager of the local conservation district, said the partnership benefits river users and the river itself.
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