Yampa River Fund awards $200K in 1st round of grants
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa River Fund has awarded its first-ever round of grants to five projects aimed at protecting and improving its namesake river and tributaries in Routt and Moffat counties.
A total of $200,000 went to local organizations, using money that members of the endowment have been raising over the past year.
“After all the work that was put in by the coalition to build the Yampa River Fund, it’s really great to see the fruits of that labor,” said the fund’s manager, Andy Baur.
The project areas include Stagecoach Reservoir, Steamboat Springs, the town of Oak Creek, Elkhead Reservoir and Loudy Simpson Park in Craig.
A $45,000 grant went to the Colorado Water Trust to provide funding for water releases from Stagecoach Reservoir if flows fall below critical levels this summer and fall. As Baur explained, the money would be used only if necessary. If flows remain at healthy levels, the money can be earmarked for next year.
A $30,358 grant went to the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council to enhance its tree planting program, ReTree, which has put thousands of cottonwoods and willows along the banks of the river. This project will focus on irrigation infrastructure along a portion of the Yampa River in the Chuck Lewis Wildlife area south of Steamboat, according to Baur.
A $44,821 grant went to Oak Creek to make improvements on the town’s namesake waterway. Every year, portions of the channel degrade, Baur said. The funding will improve areas that have eroded.
A $35,000 went to the nonprofit Trout Unlimited, which for years has overseen projects at Elkhead Reservoir in Moffat County. The funding will go toward stream restoration and stabilization efforts below the dam, Baur said.
Lastly, a $44,821 grant went to Moffat County to improve boater access and reduce erosion at Loudy Simpson Park, which Baur said has become an increasingly popular place for river recreation.
“With a changing energy economy in that area, I think it’s important and great that there is a more diverse economic base growing there,” he said of the increased use of the Yampa River.
This first round of grants is particularly important considering the economic stress under the COVID-19 pandemic, Baur said. As he put it, the need to protect and enhance the health of local waterways does not shut down like the businesses and services affected by the crisis. If anything, the current situation emphasizes the importance of the Yampa River, Baur argued.
“More and more, people are relying on the river for solace, for recreation and fresh air among the pandemic,” he said. “It’s the lifeblood of this valley.”
The Yampa River Fund, launched in September 2019, has the purpose of funding projects to improve river health, protect the water supply and boost river flow in dry years, according to Baur. It is governed by a 21-member board with representatives from local government, nonprofits, businesses, water providers and irrigation districts.
Depending on funding availability, Baur hopes to award another round of grants in the fall, either in October or November. Announcements will be available ahead of time to give organizations an opportunity to apply.
Visit yampariverfund.org for more information about the Yampa River Fund.
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Flows in the Yampa River dropped to near 40 cubic feet per second on Sunday afternoon — just a quarter of the amount of water flowing the same day last year.