A reservoir bigger than Elkhead?

Yampa diversion study suggests one near Maybell

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A recently completed study -- searching for ways Colorado can meet future water demands -- includes the possible construction of a reservoir near Maybell 20-times the size of the Elkhead Reservoir.

The study, commissioned by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, was conducted by consulting firm Black & Veatch Corporation and completed Jan. 2.

The investigation looked at the possibility of diverting water from the Yampa River at a diversion point below Maybell, downstream of major Yampa River water rights for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses.

The study suggests the project could yield more than 300,000 acre-feet of water annually, diverted through a series of pumps, pipes and tunnels to the Front Range.

A 500,000-acre foot reservoir would be constructed near Maybell to store water before it makes its way over the continental divide by pipeline to a reservoir on the Front Range.

An acre-foot typically is used as a unit to measure volume of water in irrigation. It measures the amount covering one acre to a depth of one foot, equal to 43,560 cubic feet.

"We would like to stress to users of Yampa River water that this, by no means, is taking water from them," said Carl Brouwer, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District project manager.

The study notes that water diversion is limited to high runoff months, meaning it would never reduce the Yampa River's flow to less than 1,000 cubic-feet-per-second, known as cfs.

The project would only take water out of the Yampa River that is currently flowing out of state, diverting about 20-percent of the Yampa River's water that currently leaves Colorado.

All water rights holders will receive their allotted water, and earlier water agreements will be guaranteed, including the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and the 1948 Compact, which guarantees that Colorado will not cause the flow of the Yampa River at the Maybell gauging station to fall below a total of 5 million acre feet for any period of 10 consecutive years.

The study estimates the project's cost at $3.2 billion to deliver 300,000 acre-feet of water to the northern Front Range yearly.

Three possible routes for the pipeline to the Front Range were explored in the study, all with objectives of avoiding wilderness areas and national parks, while minimizing impacts to forest service lands and utilizing existing corridors for utilities.

Proximity to high voltage power lines will be utilized for power supply needs.

Two sites were considered for the reservoir in Moffat County, including Spring Creek northeast of Maybell, and Sand Creek northwest of Maybell.

The Sand Creek site would require a 4,400-foot long dam that is 280 feet tall, and the Spring Creek site would require a 2,500-foot long dam rising 253 feet above the canyon floor.

The storage facility's size was based on flow records from the Maybell gauging station kept since 1917. The Yampa was chosen partly for its water quality, which is superior to that of the Colorado and Green rivers, according to the study.

A 75,000 acre-foot reservoir is recommended on the Eastern Slope by the study.

Conclusions drawn by the study call the project "economically feasible" and state the project compares favorably with projects currently being considered by Denver metro suppliers.

The project could supply water to meet the state's needs well into the 21st century, the study said, and the proposed system could be operational by the summer of 2023.

Brouwer said the next step is for the state to become involved in the process.

"How much, and what kind of risk is involved in this project?" he said. "We'll ask the state to look into that."

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