A first-ever ‘call’ on the #YampaRiver as the climate veers warmer & weirder — The Mountain Town News

Floating the tiger, Yampa River, 2014. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In late August, as reservoirs levels declined across the American Southwest, Erin Light issued something common in most river basins of Colorado but which had never been done on the Yampa River. She issued a “call.”

When a call is issued, those with newer or younger water rights must cease their diversions from the river and its tributaries until the older or more senior rights are satisfied. This system is called prior appropriation. Eighteen states in the West use aspects of prior appropriation to sort out who gets how much water and when.

Light, as the division engineer for Colorado Division of Water Resources, administers the labyrinth of water rights in the Yampa River Valley. Water goes to ranches, a power plant, and other purposes, each occupying a specific place in the pecking order as determined by volumes, locations and, above all, date of adjudication. That’s the way it works when a river is under administration. Some Colorado rivers have been under administration since the late 1800s.

Until this summer, the Yampa was different. Those with legally adjudicated water rights took what they thought was theirs. Calls had been placed on tributaries, but not the river itself.

Then in late August, Light announced that those with water rights on the rivers’ main stem awarded since 1951 would have to cease diversions until those older, or seniors, had been satisfied. By mid-September, as irrigators slowed their demands and cooler temperatures eased losses from evaporation and transpiration, Light edged the call back to those rights junior to 1960. Last week, she suspended the call altogether.

Droughts hit the Yampa and many other river basins in Colorado hard this year. But this drought may best be viewed as part of an extended 21st century drought caused more by temperature increases than precipitation declines. It’s part of a clear trend of a warming and more erratic climate.

Ted Kowalski says the water call on the Yampa should be understood within the context of these hotter, drier times in the American Southwest. A former Colorado water official who is now senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative, Kowalski calls the Yampa River the first domino to fall.

Lower streamflows in all the rivers of the Colorado River Basin that produce declining reservoir levels represent the additional dominoes.

This is starkly demonstrated, says Kowalski, by the fact that reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin has reached its lowest level since the late 1960s. That’s when the newly created Glen Canyon Dam was starting to create Lake Powell.

“All of this underscores the importance of developing and adopting and agreeing to drought contingency plans so that we can effectively manage if and when there is less water in the system,” says Kowalski. The work begins, he says, with conservation.

Conserving water in the 20th century

Far into the 20th century, conservation had a different connotation in the West. Managing water in the Colorado River Basin meant building dams and creating reservoirs, all with the intent of ensuring none of the water was “wasted” by flowing into the ocean.

Hoover Dam plugs the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border. Photo December 2012/Allen Best

Nearly all this major hydraulic engineering was done on the tab of the federal government. Downstream, first Powell and then Mead, the second largest and largest reservoirs in the nation, respectively, provide most of the storage. If separated by 300 miles and the Grand Canyon National Park, the two reservoirs fundamentally operate in tandem, as a Colorado River Research Group report in August noted. They are “essentially one giant reservoir (bisected by a glorious ditch),” the report said in a nod to the Grand Canyon.

Reservoir levels rise after big snow years, but in the 21st century the more common trend has been decline.

Evidence emerging in recent years suggests the Colorado River’s decline can best be explained by rising temperatures instead of reduced precipitation. In a 2017 paper, Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, and Jonathan Overpeck, the dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability, attributed two-thirds of water declines to temperature rather than precipitation. Not only is more water evaporating, they said, but plants have been transpiring more water.

“This is the kind of drought we will have to deal with in the future,” Overpeck said at a water conference in Santa Fe during April.

Doug Monger testifies to the warmer weather. A native of the Yampa Valley, he remembers 45-below temperatures, once in the 1980s for two days straight. Down the valley in Maybell, the temperature in that same cold spell hit 61 below. (It had also hit that same low in 1979.)

“I always prayed for climate change and global warming,” he jokes.

Now, he’s getting that warming. “We never had 90 degrees, and now it’s nothing to have 90-plus days for five or six days in a row.”

That heat has been taking a toll on the snow. About three-quarters of the precipitation in the Colorado River Basin originates as snow. Colorado itself provides 70 percent of the water in the river.

In the Yampa Basin, most of the snow collects in an elevation band of between 8,000 to 10,000 feet. The river originates on the flanks of the Flattops Wilderness Area as the Bear River, gurgles playfully along at the foot of the Gore Range and then, drawing more water from the usually snow-laden Park Range, hooks westward at Steamboat Springs for a 100-mile journey to Dinosaur National Monument.

Beyond Dinosaur, the Yampa’s water eventually flows into the Utah desert and Lake Powell.

The Park Range has a reputation as the snowiest place in Colorado. A gauge at 10,285-foot Buffalo Pass, located northeast of Steamboat Springs, reported 80 inches of water contained in the much deeper snowpack by early May on a recent, snow year.

When spring arrives in years such as that, the Yampa gushes through Steamboat Springs well into summer. Flows needed for commercial tubing during summer represent one measure of winter’s legacy. Tubers are not allowed to use the river until flows drop below 700 cubic feet per second. That commonly isn’t possible until after the Fourth of July.

This year, snowpack was better than in Southwest Colorado. Still, it came weeks early and was altogether modest in its surge. Tubing season in Steamboat began June 11. Commercial tubing season ended a month later, when it is usually starting. City and state wildlife officials asked all tubers and others river users to stay out. The river was dropping to 85 cfs, considered a critical threshold, and warming as it did, hitting 75 degrees, reported the Steamboat Pilot at the time.

“If the river’s getting above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the aquatic life is severely stressed, and this is the time of year when they’re feeding, and they’re getting ready for winter,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, the city water resources manager for Steamboat Springs.

No relief came with summer, hot and dry. Clouds produced just a few drops.

Water infrastructure in 21st century

Light, the water engineer on the Yampa since 2006, tells a complicated story of why the first call was made this year and not during prior years. Water rights always get complicated. The immediate repercussion will be that investments will necessarily be made in the devices that assure flows. In the Yampa River it was a point of pride that there was no call, unlike places like the South Platte Basin. But almost everybody agrees it was inevitable.

The Yampa River had almost no flows at Deerlodge Park, at the entrance to Dinosaur National Park, when this photo was taken in mid-August. Photo/Erin Light via The Mountain Town News

That inevitably stems in large part to trends in hydrology. In 20th century hydrologic records, three drought years stand out: 1935, 1955, and 1977. Now, in this still young century, there have been three more: 2002, 2012 and 2018.

“When you look at temperatures that were 5 to 10 degrees above average every day, that has to raise eyebrows about what the climate is saying,” she says.

Changes in the Yampa River Basin have not been well documented, but anecdotally at least comport with statewide trends reported in a 2015 report to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That report, “Climate Change in Colorado,” says statewide average temperatures had increased 2 degrees F during the previous 30 years, with daily minimum temperatures warming more than maximum temperatures. Timing of snowmelt and peak runoff had shifted earlier in spring by one to four weeks. Snowpack as measured by April readings had been mainly below-average since 2000.

Anecdotal evidence of this abounds around Steamboat. Local ranchers long measured a winter’s severity by how deep it accumulated on their barbed wire fences. The 20th century produced many three-wire winters, enough snow to hit the top strand. Three-wire winters seldom come anymore. Last winter snow failed to reach the bottom wire. In some places, the was no snow at all on the ground, says Ken Brenner, who grew up on a ranch south of Steamboat Springs and is now president of the Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District Board of Directors.

Light says the Snotel automated snowpack measuring sites fail to tell the full story. The stations maintained by the federal government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service record snow and water content at 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Some years, they report robust snow that cannot be seen in snow depths on the valley floor. This leaves locals wondering how this snowpack could be anywhere near normal. The rising levels for snowpack argue for a different monitoring system, says Light, one that captures dynamics of the low-elevation snowpack.

Water infrastructure for 21st century climate

Climate change models predict sharply increased temperatures in coming decades, Models also predict greater variability of precipitation, more extremes of both wet and dry. That could provide an argument for more reservoirs. The Yampa River has just 2 percent of Colorado’s reservoir capacity, but the river provides a much larger percentage of the state’s overall flows. The Gunnison River, with about the same runoff on average, has three giant federal dams, part of the same Congressional authorization in 1956 that created Lake Powell.

The Yampa, White, and Green Basin Roundtable, a decision-making body created by the Colorado Legislature, agree that instead of giant reservoirs, the basin could benefit from smaller reservoirs, discretely located, such as on tributaries, to serve specific needs, reports Light, the state’s liaison to the roundtable.

Monger does see the need for storage on the Yampa River. It could help Colorado manage its water so as to ensure it can meet its commitments to other states in the Colorado River Basin. “Let’s keep it in my backyard rather than sending it down to Lake Powell and have it be subject to the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Interior,” says Monger, a Routt County commissioner as well as a delegate to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Higher elevation storage, he says, will reduce evaporative losses from Lake Powell, about six and a half feet a year off the surface.

About 90 percent of the Yampa’s total annual flows go downstream out of Colorado, ultimately to Lake Powell. That reservoir provides Colorado and other upper-basin states in the Colorado River Basin the ability to meet requirements for delivery of 8.3 million acre-feet annually to Arizona, California, and Nevada at Lake Mead.

That obligation of 7.5 million acre-feet plus the upper basin’s share for Mexico was derived by negotiators who met at a resort near Santa Fe in 1922. Disregarding contrary evidence, they assumed at least 16.5 million acre-feet average annual flows in the river and probably more. That rarely has been the case. In the hotter, drier 21st century, flows have been just 12.4 million acre-feet, say Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

At a recent conference called “Risky Business on the Colorado River,” Kuhn warned against overdrawing Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and other reservoirs.

“When you build reservoirs, you have to have some water. You have to have a little bit of money in the bank. We can’t bankrupt the system. We have to find ways to cut back before we bankrupt the system.”

In Vail on Wednesday, Kuhn took his vision of difficulty for the Colorado River a step further. As long as greenhouse gas emissions go untamed, he said, “there is no bottom” to how hot and how dry the Colorado River Basin could become.

It’s not that the past hasn’t also been drier. Kuhn looks to the past to warn against even more difficult times on the Yampa River and in the Colorado River Basin altogether. The evidence comes from examinations of batches of trees at eight different sites in the Colorado River Basin above Lee Ferry, located just above the Grand Canyon and below Lake Powell.

Dendrochronologists can estimate precipitation by the growth of tree rings. Using that technique, they have charted wet and dry periods since 1434.

Tree-ring research indicates there have been much more severe 19-year droughts in the Colorado River Basin than the current one—and without the impact of human-induced higher temperatures. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

“A number of folks claim that the current 19-year period of 2000-2018 is the driest 19 year period on the Colorado River. That’s nonsense,” says Kuhn, pointing to the graph. In the past there have been droughts both longer and deeper. (Above, see estimated river flows at Lee Ferry, at the top end of the Grand Canyon, from 1434 to 2018. For underlying data, see http://treeflow.org).

Those droughts occurred without the rising temperatures of today. “If these past 19-year droughts were to happen with today’s temperatures,” he adds, “things could be much worse.”

This article was published in the Oct. 4 issue of Mountain Town News, a weekly e-magazine. To subscribe, see options in the red boxes in the top-right corner of the http://mountaintownnews.net webpage.

#Drought continues, hopes for wet winter from #ElNiño event — Rio Blanco Herald Times #ENSO

West Drought Monitor September 25, 2018.

From The Rio Blanco Herald Times (Jennifer Hill):

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor all of Rio Blanco County is still currently classified as D3, or Extreme Drought, as precipitation around the county continues to fall well under normal rates. However, there is some hope to be found in the winter forecast.

Drought Levels in Rangely
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has been tracking weather and climate related data in Rangely since 1894. The station currently sits near the Rangely Water Treatment Plant. According to NOAA data, by the end of August Rangely was 1.37 inches below normal precipitation, receiving only 6.22 inches from January through August.

In 2017 Rangely received total precipitation of 8.66 inches for the entire year while the historic average total annual precipitation sits at 10.03 inches.

NOAA predicts that the below normal precipitation will continue through the rest of September.

The fact that precipitation has been well below normal for multiple years has certainly exacerbated the drought conditions.

Dry conditions in Meeker
NOAA tracks Meeker’s climate and weather at a station located at the Bureau of Land Management Office. Meeker is currently below normal for precipitation by 0.81 of an inch, receiving 9.16 inches through the end of August.

In 2017, Meeker received a total of 15.73 inches of precipitation for the year and the historical data, which dates back to 1893 for the community, places an average annual precipitation of 16.54 inches. Jim Pringle with NOAA doesn’t anticipate much change in the standings through the month of September, saying, “Although we still have to wait just under two weeks from now to obtain the September 2018 precipitation for Meeker, it is doubtful based on the latest computer-generated atmospheric model guidance that Meeker will receive normal precipitation for September.”

Winter Forecast
The good news is that the National Weather Services’ Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is anticipating an El Niño episode for the upcoming 2018-2019 winter season, with odds favoring at least near normal precipitation in northwest Colorado during the late fall, winter and spring months.

An El Niño event is characterized as bringing unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean. This typically produces warmer-than-average temperatures over the western and northern United States. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the western U.S and Gulf Coast regions, while drier-than-average conditions are usually expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

#Drought news: #YampaRiver is closed again through Steamboat Springs

From Colorado Public Radio (Natalia V. Navarro):

The Yampa River in northwestern Colorado has closed again. Ongoing drought has drastically reduced water levels.

Colorado Park and Wildlife instituted restrictions on commercial and public activity on the Yampa River this week. An earlier closure ended just 10 days previously.

Commercial tubing companies have been instructed to suspend operations. Officials are requesting that public river users, including tubers, swimmers and anglers, adhere to the “voluntary closure” and stay out of the river.

West Drought Monitor August 28, 2018.

Is There Water Left To Be Developed In The Colorado River Basin? — KUNC

Green River Basin

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Aaron Million styles himself as a western maverick. At a Fort Collins, Colorado coffee shop he’s dressed in a cowboy hat, denim, plaid, pulled together by a shiny belt buckle. During our conversation he quotes both Chuck Norris and the 1995 movie Braveheart. More than twice he referenced a six-shooter.

Million’s name is synonymous with a water pipeline he’s been pushing for almost a decade. On a wire cafe table, he unfurls a map and points out the features of his latest proposal.

With his finger Million traces the route of his new iteration, billed as a renewable energy project. It would start in Utah on the Green River, then snake across Wyoming before dropping down into Colorado’s populated Front Range, generating electricity as the water moves from one side of the Continental Divide to the other. Million says it would cost about a billion dollars to build.

“It’s a bigger project, but they get done every day,” he says. “I mean we built the Transcontinental Railroad last I remember.”

In 2012 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission quashed a different water pipeline proposal from Million. He wanted to construct a 500-mile pipeline from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range. FERC regulators at the time said the proposal was incomplete.

“Keep in mind we’ve been in the saddle for a while,” Million says. “And you know we got knocked off pretty hard. I know people thought I was dragged to death, but I’m pretty tough, raised in the Utah desert.”

Both pipelines, old and new, take advantage of an historical fluke. The 1922 Colorado River Compact — which divvies up its water — was written when the river was flowing at a record high. But for the past 18 years, high temperatures, drought and overuse have sapped the river’s flow.

Aaron Million says that’s more of an Arizona, California and Nevada problem.

“People say there’s no water left in the system,” Million says. “Well, when California has drained, and Nevada and Arizona have drained the river and then cry foul because Lake Powell and Mead are low, again I’ll reiterate: Had they not their drained and over taken their share they’d be full by four or five times. Those are the facts. You can run the numbers.

Million says the river’s Upper Basin, which includes the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, haven’t fully developed their share, while those in the Lower Basin have gone above and beyond what they’re entitled to. His pipeline is just one more plan among many to fully develop the river’s water, he says.

A look at a draft water banking bill proposed in #Wyoming

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

From Wyofile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr) via the The Gillette News-Record:

The draft bill discussed by the committee would limit water banking to the Green River and Little Snake River drainages, Wyoming’s Colorado River tributaries, a restriction many legislators opposed. It states that water may be banked “for any beneficial use including use for drought contingency planning and use for water compact security.”

One goal is to help ensure that the state can meet water-supply obligations under the Colorado River Compact that says Wyoming and other upper-Colorado basin states must let certain volumes flow downstream. Delivering the owed water could, without banking, require reducing irrigation or other uses in the upper basin — a prospect that’s increasingly worrisome given a 16-year drought period between 2000 and 2015.

Under the bill, water could be placed in a bank or reservoir for up to 10 years by a person with a valid water right. But “no person shall acquire any new or enlarged water right through the use of the water banking program,” the draft states (see below).

In addition to making storage for drought and compact compliance, the bill should include another provision not yet articulated, Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. That would be to allow banked water to be used for endangered species conservation.

Hicks told committee members a water banking bill would also allow Wyoming, among other things, to account for water it conserves. Today, for example, the state gets no credit toward its compact obligations for water that Wyoming ranchers leave in the stream via a pilot program to increase late-season river flows by paying ranchers not to irrigate after haying season.

Once that conserved water leaves Wyoming, it becomes “system water” available to other states and users, he said. Consequently, it can’t be “shepherded” to Lake Powell with Wyoming’s brand — for release past the Lees Ferry gauge with credit to the state…

“The reason [the conserved Wyoming water] is system water [is] we haven’t shown a beneficial use … we can’t claim it,” Hicks told members of the Select Water Committee and Water Development Commission in Gillette on Friday. “Once we establish a water bank and establish a beneficial use to that water, it’s no longer system water. That water now belongs to the State of Wyoming.”

Hicks didn’t immediately convince all members of the committee and commission the bill is necessary. Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen, whose family owns a ranch near Big Piney in the Green River drainage, appears to be among the commissions skeptics. Her family participated in the pilot conservation program that’s now in its fourth year.

In 2018, the pilot program is anticipated to conserve 14,617 acre feet in Wyoming and generate $2.2 million to users who temporarily forego a portion of their annual diversions, according to information from the Wyoming State Engineer’s office — all without water banking legislation.

Budd-Falen said she understands some ranchers don’t like the program, funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and municipal water providers. But it made sense for her ranch, she said.

“The money was good and we’re cutting hay anyway [and not irrigating], so why not get paid,” she said. “I don’t know why we need a water banking system to do what we’re doing this year. We don’t have any storage to put the water anywhere.”

Hicks said a water banking bill would allow Wyoming “to “track the trickle” that irrigators conserve through such programs. “Then you get into shepherding,” he said, whereby Wyoming can get credit for its contribution to flows at Lees Ferry.

For Wyoming, the biggest benefit could be the claiming of unappropriated water, Hicks said. “This gets to the whole ability of the State of Wyoming to exercise our full rights under the Colorado [River Compact] or any other compact,” he said…

Such uncredited outflow happens at a rate of at least 400,000 acre feet a year, he suggested.

“What it potentially allows us to do,” Hicks said of a water bank, “is take that 400,000 acre-feet that currently leaves Wyoming. We’re now going to color that,” or give it Wyoming’s brand, he said. “We’re going to put it in Fontenelle Reservoir or any other basin down the road that we want to.

“It would allow us to claim that water in the water bank and claim that use,” Hicks said. The water in the bank would be held by the State of Wyoming. Anybody in the Colorado River drainage could come to Wyoming and say they need to acquire so many acre feet, Hicks said.

“If we had 50,000 acre feet … and we had an agreement with Bureau of Reclamation to deliver it to Lake Powell, that would be $10 million to the state of Wyoming,” Hicks said. He used a value of $200 an acre foot to calculate the value, saying he’s heard that price is “very close” to what ranchers in the pilot conservation program are receiving.

But Budd-Falen questioned whether new state government claims like those Hicks described could leave others short-changed.

“That makes me nervous,” she said of the state claiming a beneficial use for previously unappropriated water. “If the State of Wyoming goes out and starts tagging the unappropriated water … if I need a new water, where do I get my new water?

“I hate having it designated as a beneficial use because that means somebody else that comes in … that needs that water … can never get it,” Budd-Falen said. She supports Wyoming keeping control of its unappropriated water, she said, but, “I’m not convinced for the need for water banking for a beneficial use.”

Others questioned whether the draft bill contradicted one of its intended purposes. It states that the legislation would allow no person to claim a new or expanded water right, yet Hicks said he sees it as allowing Wyoming itself to claim a new beneficial use.

Budd-Falen also said the maximum 10-year transfer of water rights into a bank would make such rights unusable for endangered species preservation, contrary to Hick’s goal. “You cannot cut off an endangered fish’s water after 10 years,” she said.

The committee and commission also debated whether the bill should apply only to the Colorado River drainage — meaning the Green River and Little Snake Rivers in Wyoming — or statewide. A consultant to the Legislative Service Office that drafted the bill recommended it apply only to the Colorado River drainage. Lawmakers appeared to favor a statewide application.

Hicks brought the bill to the Select Water Committee as a courtesy, he said, because its members had attended a meeting on the topic with the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee in Pinedale in June. That committee is sponsoring the draft bill and will formally consider it in September.

Meantime, lawmakers suggested complexities in the potential legislation be hammered out by a subcommittee, “We could cause quite a little bit of harm if it wasn’t put together and discussed thoroughly, ” Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) said.

Hicks agreed. “Everybody in the Colorado River basin is talking about this,” he said, “so we’ve got to get it right the first time.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

“If you can imagine, literally, the #YampaRiver getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened” — Erin Light #drought

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer Erin Light delayed a call on the river, which would curtail users according to the doctrine of prior appropriation. The delay comes as water managers wait to see if increased flows in the upper Yampa reach Dinosaur.

The Yampa River has never been placed on call.

“The last pumps on the river were sweeping the river,” Light said of her Tuesday visit to the lower Yampa. “If you can imagine, literally, the Yampa River getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened.”

The Colorado Division of Water Resources places a call on a river when water rights owners do not receive the amount of water they have a legal right to. When a call is in place, some water users are forced to reduce or stop their use in order to send enough water downstream to fulfill the older water right.

Though reservoir releases have boosted flows in the upper Yampa near Steamboat Springs and Craig, it’s not clear if or when that water reaches the state line. Water managers aren’t positive that the gauge measuring flows at Deerlodge Park in Dinosaur National Monument has been providing an accurate reading.

On Tuesday, flows at Deerlodge Park fell to about 35 cubic feet per second. On Wednesday, it was up to about 70 cfs. Historically, the river flows at 351 cfs on the same date.

“It’s very extremely dynamic what we’ve got going on here,” Light said. “Obviously the rains affect everything. As much as we love the rain, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on in the system and what effects it’s going to have, but the reservoir water that was in the river before is now being reduced.”

The Colorado Water Trust has been releasing reservoir water to increase flows for aquatic habitat and recreational use. Tri-State Generation and Transmission added a significant boost in flows with released reservoir water to maintain power generation at Craig Station. As weekend rain has increased flows, the organizations have slowed their releases.

“They only have so much contract water, and they have to manage and budget that contract water for times when it’s critical for their purpose,” Light said.

Last week, total releases from Stagecoach Reservoir jumped from 65 cfs to 125 cfs, Light said. This fell back to 70 cfs Wednesday. Releases from Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig were also reduced, from 75 cfs to 25 cfs.

“The reservoir water and the rainwater has hit Craig, and it has hit Maybell, but it’s just not getting to Deerlodge,” Light said. “I’m hoping it will.”

The first to be curtailed are those that do not have a water right or do not have a measuring device on their water intake. Then, users with the newest water rights are curtailed, followed by those with older rights…

Light said the fact that, if it occurs, this would be the first call on the Yampa, and that has made her and the water users on the river “very cautious.”

“We’re very hesitant about this scenario,” Light said. “Who wants to be the one that’s been tagged as being the first one to actually request administration by our office?”

Green River Basin

#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.”