#YampaRiver: @COWaterTrust bumping up releases to 25 CFS

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

The Colorado Water Trust began releasing 15 cubic feet per second of water into the river July 14. That’s about the equivalent of 15 soccer balls worth of water rolling by per second, said Zach Smith, an attorney at the Colorado Water Trust.

New funding sources have allowed the Water Trust to purchase more water and increase the releases to 25 cfs. The additional water brings the total acre-feet intended to be released into the river from 600 acre-feet to 1,800 acre-feet.

“That’s actually a huge help for the river,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs. “If we can get some additional flow to the river, that increases the available habitat for the aquatic life, in addition to helping to bring down the stream temperatures, so it’s really important given how dry and hot the summer has been.”

The boost could help the Yampa River meet criteria to re-open the river to recreation within city limits. The magic numbers to lift the voluntary closure are a flow consistently greater than 85 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge and a water temperature below 75 degrees. Managers also consider the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Conditions in the Yampa don’t meet these criteria right now.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also instituted a voluntary closure of the river from Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the western edge of Steamboat. The agency recently lifted a second, mandatory fishing closure of the tailwaters of Stagecoach Reservoir.

The closures are intended to protect fish, riparian plants and other life that depends on the river. Trout are cold-water fish that have evolved to function best in water temperatures around 50 to 60 degrees, according to a Parks and Wildlife news release. When temperatures exceed 70 degrees, they often stop feeding and become more susceptible to disease.

“We’ve worked closely with partners up there, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to determine that this is an appropriate increase in flows and will create some real benefits for aquatic life and recreational users up there,” said Mickey O’Hara, a water resources engineer at the Colorado Water Trust. “It sounds like that reach below Stagecoach Reservoir, since it opened back up, has seen some significant use, and these flows should help fish especially through that region all the way down through the city.”

@COParksWildlife considering Lake Avery releases for the White River fauna

From The Rio Blanco Herald Times (Reed Kelley):

Due to the low flows, dry conditions and extreme heat, higher water temperatures in the White River are nearing danger levels for cold-water fish. CPW officials have been encouraging anglers to fish in the early morning, when water temperatures are cooler and less stressful to fish. Last Friday, CPW, out of Grand Junction, asked for voluntary fishing closures on western Colorado rivers due to the high water temperatures and low flows.

CPW Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie said before the meeting, “It’s important that ranchers, landowners, ditch users, fishing guides and fishing ranch managers, anglers, and other members of the public work together to protect our fishery and our river.”

CPW and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) entered into a water lease agreement in 2012. The agreement allows the partial release of CPW’s water stored in Lake Avery to help meet minimum instream flow needs of 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the County Road 4 (Wakara) bridge. Users at Lake Avery would see declining water levels in the lake whenever any releases are initiated. deVergie said CPW would give at least 48 hours notice prior to any releases.

In 2012, the lake level at Avery dropped about six feet as 1300 acre-feet out of the 7600 acre-foot storage capacity reservoir was used. Water released comes from the bottom of the reservoir, is relatively cold, and able to be quickly oxygenated. Releases this year could use twice as many acre-feet from the reservoir and drop the lake level up to 14 feet.

“If we do make releases from Avery (a.k.a. Big Beaver Reservoir), we will ask water diverters to avoid taking the additional water and instead leave it in the river to give the fish and river habitat a chance,” said de Vergie. “We all know how important this river is to our economy, and we expect that people will comply to ensure the river continues to be a destination fishery.”

The meeting was attended by local water users including ditch operators and users Don Hilkey, Tad Edwards, Wayne Johnson, Jerry Belland, Tel Gates, Joe Conrado, Chris Collins, Rob Raley, Forrest Nelson and Ben Rogers. CPW employees at the meeting included water resource specialist David Graf of Grand Junction, instream flow coordinator Jay Skinner, Katie Birch from Denver, aquatic specialist Melynda May, wildlife managers Bailey Franklin and Ross McGee, fisheries specialist Tory Eyre and Lori Martin, senior Northwest Region aquatic biologist. Erin Light, the Division 6 water engineer with the Division of Water Resources in Steamboat Springs, was also in attendance…

River advocates attending included Shawn Welder, Bob Dorsett of Colorado River Watch, Roy Wedding and Bob Regulski. Upriver fishing ranch interests were noticeably absent from the meeting. One such individual told the Herald Times after the meeting that neither he nor his manager had heard anything about the meeting beforehand.

Graf told the meeting that his agency is evaluating how their water rights statewide might be better used to improve difficult situations like the White River now faces which might differ, to varying degrees, from the related water right decrees.

Dorsett cautioned the group not to think of this as an unusual circumstance, that current data trends are for these low flows to be more the norm. This concern evoked some discussion about needing more water storage in the valley, which could possibly include enlarging Lake Avery.

Local diverters are anxious to avoid any call on the river. Light reinforced concern that any flows cannot really be legally protected unless the whole river is under a call for administration by the Division of Water Resources. Cooperation between irrigators and other users in times of low water is critical and, in the past, has prevented a call. Several irrigators indicated how well retired water commissioner Bill Dunham had facilitated cooperation between water users. Light said she was confident that the current commissioner, Shanna Lewis, would work as well with diverters and that she had her blessings to do so…

Johnson, a Miller Ditch irrigator, wondered why we were trying to save fish and habitat in the White River when there is so little public access to the river for fishing, to which de Vergie responded that the duty of CPW was to provide a viable fishery and to serve all members of the public, including those that avail themselves of fishing on the private ranches.

Lake Avery releases of 10 to 15 cfs in 2012 didn’t occur until Aug. 30 and continued until Oct. 3. That year, de Vergie said, we experienced some good rain in July that postponed the need to release Avery water until late August.

The threshold factors CPW said are critical for the fish are a flow of less than 200 cfs at the Wakara bridge, water temperatures above 70 degree Fahrenheit there, and dissolved oxygen levels of less than 5 ppm. These are the factors that will trigger releases.

@COWaterTrust scores water for the Yampa River

Stagecoach Reservoir. Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

The Colorado Water Trust will release a total of 600 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir, initially at a rate of 15 cubic feet per second. The releases began on Saturday, said Zach Smith, an attorney for the organization.

“We’ve worked with them to deliver water to and through Steamboat Springs to improve both the fishery and the recreational opportunities that folks there have,” Smith said.

For the most part, the river has hovered between 80 and 90 cfs since July 7. Since the releases, about 90 to 100 cfs of water have been flowing under the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat.

Even with the boost, the river is flowing well below its average for the date. It was flowing at 90 cfs at 11 a.m. Tuesday, about 32 percent of its long-term average flow of 273 cfs for July 17…

Though the river is up, it’s unlikely the city would lift voluntary recreational closures on the river through Steamboat.

“At this point, it is not likely that the increased flows from the release are enough to lift the river closure with the current weather patterns that we are seeing,” Craig Robinson, interim director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, wrote in an email.

The river is still heating up with water temperatures above 75 degrees, he added. That high temperatures stress trout and other aquatic species that are adapted to live in the Yampa’s cold-water ecosystem. The high water temperatures also decreases the amount of oxygen available to organisms in the river.

“The flows are very helpful for river health as conditions would likely be worse without this additional flow,” Robinson wrote. “If the monsoon season started, and we had a pattern of daily moisture and cooler temps, these combined factors with the additional cfs from the release could reduce the stressors, and the closure could be lifted.”

A mandatory fishing closure is still in place in the tailwaters of Stagecoach Reservoir. The river is closed between the dam and the lowermost park boundary. Anglers who violate the Colorado Parks and Wildlife closure order could receive citations.

The agency also has instituted a voluntary closure of the river from Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the western edge of Steamboat. Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf said wildlife managers and biologists continue to discuss river conditions and evaluate the agency’s closures.

Once snowpack melts, increases in the Yampa’s flow come from the area’s sparse rainfall, reservoir releases and groundwater that returns to the river after it’s used to irrigate agriculture.

Since 2012, reservoir releases have boosted flows in the Yampa in every year except 2014, Smith said. Last year, the Yampa saw the last release allowed under an approval issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which allowed for three years of releases to benefit in-stream flows over the course of 10 years.

Current releases operate outside of the Water Conservation Board program and are designated to benefit municipal users.

“The fish don’t care by which legal mechanism that water is in there, as long as the flow is up,” Smith said.

The Water Trust purchased the water using funding from the Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Oskar Blues Brewery’s CAN’d Aid Foundation.

Should flows in the river remain low once the Colorado Water Trust’s initial 600 acre-feet of water is sent downstream, the trust could use other funding sources to purchase more water, Smith said. In the past, the city has cooperated to release city-owned water from the reservoir after the Colorado Water Trust has released its allocation of water, he added.

“We know that the community up there loves this river, and they love it enough to know when to get out of it when it’s stressed,” Smith said. “If we can improve it with additional flow for the community up there, that’s what the Water Trust is around for.”

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is lifting the mandatory fishing closure on the sixth-tenth mile section of the Yampa River below the dam at Stagecoach State Park, effective immediately…

Voluntary closures remain in effect on the river through Steamboat Springs between the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and the west end of town.

Parks and Wildlife officials caution some form of angling restrictions could be re-enacted should environmental conditions worsen…

“Fish early when it’s cooler, and take care when handling fish,” he said. “Land them quickly, handle them gently with wet hands, or use a net, then return them to the water as soon as possible.”

The mandatory closure was implemented June 14 to protect the fishery after minimal snowpack resulted in low stream flows during the hottest time of the year. Since then, Parks and Wildlife has been continuously monitoring conditions on this stretch of river.

Anglers are encouraged to call their local Parks and Wildlife office for the latest information about fishing closures, fishing conditions and alternative places to fish.

For more information, contact Stagecoach State Park at 970-736-2436, or Parks and Wildlife’s Steamboat Springs office at 970-870-2197.

#Drought news: Yampa River Commercial & Voluntary Closures

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Here’s the release from the City of Steamboat Springs:

Due to high water temperatures and low flow in the Yampa River, the City of Steamboat Springs is implementing closures for all commercial activities on the Yampa River and asking the public to abide by a voluntary closure for all recreational river use. The river closure, which began today, Monday, July 9, 2018, will remain in effect until rescinded.

The Yampa River experienced water temperatures greater than 75 degrees for two consecutive days, July 7 & 8, which exceeds the threshold for a mandatory river closure as outlined in the Yampa River Management Plan. Low water flows, high water temperatures, and low levels of dissolved oxygen are all unfavorable conditions to aquatic life and any one of these factors can trigger a closure.

Stream flows are currently hovering around 90 cubic feet per second (cfs); however, it is anticipated based on current trends to continue dropping and fall below the 85 cfs level. Average flow for this day in July is 445 cfs, which the river is well below at the current time.

“A mandatory closure of the Yampa River isn’t something the city takes lightly and goes directly to the long-term health of the community’s number one natural resource,” said Craig Robinson, interim Parks & Recreation Director. “We would like to thank the community, especially our commercial operators, for their cooperation and support during this time.”

Commercial tubing companies have suspended operations until river conditions return to acceptable levels. Commercial river recreation companies must also adhere to regulations adopted in the Yampa River Management Plan.

River users – tubers, SUP-ers, swimmers, anglers – are requested to adhere to the voluntary closure and avoid river recreation. Please be mindful of the impacts your actions may have on the Yampa River and its wildlife.

In addition to the mandatory closure of commercial activities on the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is initiating a voluntary fishing closure between the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and the western edge of Steamboat Springs.

Although anglers are not prohibited from fishing in this stretch, CPW and Steamboat Springs is asking anglers to find alternative places to fish to protect the popular fishery.

“Great fishing can be found at several area lakes and ponds, as well as the high-country,” said Bill Atkinson, area aquatic biologist for CPW. “Anglers still have great opportunities to fish while helping us protect this local resource.”

Trout are cold water fish that have evolved to function best in 50-60 degree waters. When temperatures exceed 70 degrees, they often stop feeding and become more susceptible to disease.

A wide range of temperature tolerances for trout have been reported, but upper lethal limits range from 74 to 79 degrees. According to local officials, water temperatures in the Yampa River are now exceeding 75 degrees in the afternoons.

“When water flows are minimal, fish become concentrated in residual pool habitat and become stressed due to increased competition for food resources,” said Kris Middledorf, CPW’s area wildlife manager in Steamboat Springs. “Because the fish are already stressed by poor water quality conditions, any additional stress from being hooked could make them even more vulnerable to disease and death.”

Middledorf reminds the public that the mandatory fishing closure on a six-tenth mile section of the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir remains in effect, enforced by law.

City staff will continue to monitor flows and river temperatures at the 5th Street Bridge. Water temperature monitoring was incorporated in November 2017 through a partnership with Mt. Werner Water, the Colorado River District and the USGS.

Notices will be posted at popular river access points and requests everyone’s cooperation in protecting the Yampa River by staying out of the river until conditions improve. The health and protection of the Yampa River rates high with residents. Thank you for Respecting the Yampa and helping to protect the health of the river.

#Drought news: Temperatures in the White River nearing danger level for cold water fish

Lake Avery. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Rio Blanco Herald Times:

Due to low flows, dry conditions and extreme heat, water temperatures in the White River are nearing dangerous levels for cold-water fish. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are encouraging anglers to fish in the early morning, when water temperatures are cooler and less stressful to fish.
To help mitigate current conditions, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is considering releasing water from Lake Avery to increase flow in the White River, and potentially lower river water temperature.

To answer questions and address concerns about the possible release, CPW invites the public to a roundtable session, 7 p.m., July 9 at Kilowatt Korner (White River Electric Association—WREA), 233 Sixth St., in Meeker, Colo.

“We’ve been here before, and we know what we need to do, “ said Bill de Vergie, Area Wildlife Manager from Meeker. “It’s important that ranchers, landowners, ditch users, fishing guides, anglers, and other members of the public attend our meeting so that we can work together to protect this important fishery.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and the Colorado Water Conservation Board entered into a water lease agreement in 2012. The agreement allows the release of CPW’s water stored in Lake Avery to help meet the minimum instream flow on the White River of 200 cubic feet per second.

Anglers at Lake Avery will see declining water levels in the lake beginning when the release is initiated.

“When the flow from Lake Avery begins, we will ask users to avoid taking the additional water and instead leave it in the river to give fish a chance of surviving,” said de Vergie. “Everyone around here knows how important this river is to our economy, and we expect that people will comply to ensure the river continues to be a destination fishery.”

@H2OTracker: Gaming Gravity: How Farmers and Ranchers Are Using the Flow of Water to Power Operations on Their Land

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Click here to listen to the podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Agriculture uses a lot of water. But what if that water were used for more than growing food? What if it could generate energy—renewable energy? It can, and a program in Colorado is helping farmers harness hydropower to lower costs, save time—and conserve the water itself.

[…]

Tyler Snyder ranches just outside Yampa, Colorado, in the northwest part of the state, and he has several hundred acres that were part of several old homesteads. Back in the early 1900s, farmers grew potatoes, head lettuce, and strawberries on his fields by flooding meadows with diverted water.

Snyder is pretty impressed that those early settlers dug ditches in these rocky conditions using only picks and mules pulling plows—partly because he recently spent months digging miles of trench himself. It was slow going and time-consuming because he had to screen out rocks to make sure nothing would sit against pipe he was laying.

More than a century later, Snyder has installed pipelines that move water differently on his property than those historic ditches—a move that is saving him time, labor, and money—plus conserving the water itself.

A whooshing sound pierces the air as water starts to flow through the pipe. It’s going to a “center pivot” in the meadow where we’re standing. A center pivot is a way of irrigating that makes those bright green circles you see from airplanes. Water comes up in the middle of a field and motorized wheels move a long arm with sprinklers around in a circle.

But Snyder’s center pivot is different that ones you might see in other parts of the country. It’s a “hydro-mechanical” center pivot for irrigation. It’s called hydro-mechanical because it’s powered by moving water—no diesel or electricity are required to make it work—just gravity. The pressure that builds as the water is piped down the hillside is great enough to spin a turbine, which provides energy for its hydraulic motors.

After the pivot pressurizes, water starts to spray out of nozzles strung along the long arm that stretches over a quarter of a mile out into Snyder’s field, putting the droplets exactly where they need to go.

Snyder says that flood irrigation uses only about 30-40 percent of the water in order to grow the same quality crop as you do with an efficiency project that uses all the water that you put on because it doesn’t run off. He says when he was flood irrigating the water would collect at the bottom of his fields, often leaving the top land burnt and dry.

Due to low water flow, @COParksWildlife enacts emergency fishing closure on heavily fished portion of Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):

Due to critically low water flow caused by dry conditions and minimal snowpack levels, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will close a 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River between the dam at Stagecoach State Park down to the lowermost park boundary.

The closure begins June 14 and will continue until further notice.

“Should the flow rate increase substantially for a continuous period of time, CPW will re-evaluate the emergency fishing closure,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “But for now, we need to take this course of action because of the current conditions at this popular fishery.”

When water flows are minimal, fish become concentrated in residual pool habitat and become stressed due to increased competition for food resources. The fish become much easier targets for anglers, an added stressor that can result in increased hooking mortality.

“We are trying to be as proactive as possible to protect the outstanding catch and release trout fishery we have downstream of Stagecoach Reservoir,” said Area Aquatic Biologist Bill Atkinson. “This stretch of the river receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, especially in the spring when other resources might not be as accessible. This emergency closure is an effort to protect the resource by giving the fish a bit of a reprieve when they are stressed like they are right now.”

CPW advises anglers to find alternative areas to fish until the order is rescinded. Many other local areas are now fishable, with tributaries contributing water to maintain various fisheries. Several area lakes are also open and fishing well.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks for cooperation from anglers; however, the closure will be enforced by law with citations issued for anyone violating the order.

Wildlife officials warn when a fish population is significantly affected by low flows or other unfavorable environmental conditions, it could take several years for it to fully recover if not protected.

Like many rivers and streams in western Colorado, the Yampa River offers world-class fishing and attracts thousands of anglers each year, providing a source of income to local businesses that depend on outdoor recreation.

“We ask for the public’s patience and cooperation,” said Atkinson. “It is very important that we do what we can to protect this unique fishery, not only for anglers, but for the communities that depend on the tourism revenue this area provides for local businesses.”

For more information, contact Stagecoach State Park at 970-736-2436, or CPW’s Steamboat Springs office at 970-870-2197.