Mighty Yampa trickles

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What was once the mighty Yampa is now just a dwindling remnant of its former self as it makes its way through northwest Colorado. It could cause some real problems for those who depend on its waters.

As of Monday, the water gauge at the Craig location read 92 cubic feet per second. The mean for the last ten years on Aug. 7 is 360 cubic feet per second, according to the Division of Water Resources.

Bob Plaska, division engineer for the Division of Water Resources, said that people that have been in the area for a long time are used to dealing with the varying levels of water in the river, and they haven't received many calls from concerned water users.

The further west you follow the Yampa, the worse things look. In the Vermilion Basin and the Browns Park area residents have started to build structures out of sand bags to get the precious remaining water to their irrigation equipment. The river looks more like a slow running creek surrounded by gravel and rock bars more than the version on steroids that was seen this spring.

Plaska said he hasn't heard any talk of calls going out. A call is when one of the senior water right holders requests that people with lower priority water rights and people with no water rights at all stop extracting water from the river. To his knowledge that isn't in the cards for near future.

"The levels are low, but nobody has talked with me about putting out a call," said Plaska.

Dennis Scheiwe, park supervisor at the Colorado State Parks said that they have been advising people not to float the river due to the low levels of water.

"You can't do it with out dragging the bottom of your boat or canoe over rocks and gravel," said Scheiwe. "If the wind picks up, the water isn't moving fast enough to move you down steam to your pick up point. There was never a time last year where the river got to this point and it hasn't happened in the past couple of years either." Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, said that the sheriff's department plays a role in the water rights once someone puts out a call for their rights. Once they get the documentation it is their job to make sure that those with lesser water rights or those without water rights stop drawing from the river.

"I heard it's getting close to that," said Grinstead. "I would assume that the power plant is definitely up there near the top when it comes to water rights."

Tri-state Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. is already doing some major overhauling to make sure that their water intake station down on the Yampa can still pull water. Late last week the intake pond in front of the intake station was dredged to try and encourage more water to flow into it.

Jim VanSomeren, spokes person for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, said that the dredging is not uncommon and is usually done every two to three years.

"The silt buildup had gotten so bad that it needed to be done," said VanSomeren. "It is easier to do when the water levels are low. The low levels did contribute to having it done, but it isn't at a critical stage yet."

As far as Tri-State asserting their water rights, VanSomeren said that there is no plan to put out a call currently.

"There are no immediate plans to do that," said VanSomeren.

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