Most area reservoirs expected to fill this summer, but Stagecoach still a question mark

— Stagecoach Reservoir east of Oak Creek has a chance to fill this summer, and Elkhead Reservoir outside Craig and Fish Creek Reservoir on the Continental Divide northeast of Steamboat Springs are expected to top out in spite of the persistent drought conditions.

However, Yamcolo Reservoir near the headwaters of the Yampa River upstream from the town of Yampa is a bigger question mark.

“We’ll be hard-pressed to fill Yamcolo this year,” Andy Rossi, district engineer for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, said this week. “I would say right now we have an optimistic view on Stagecoach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t fill.”

Rossi said Yamcolo, with a capacity of 9,000 acre-feet of water, was tapped early by irrigators in the summer of 2012, when every drop of the reservoir’s water committed to agriculture was used. The recently expanded Stagecoach leased some water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board last summer, which drew it down farther than it might have been. The reservoir gradually has been gaining ground since September 2012.

“We’ve been hanging on to every drop we can,” Rossi said.

The ability of Stagecoach to fill could depend upon how early the irrigation season begins this summer, he added.

About 55 miles farther down the Yampa River system, Elkhead Reservoir can be expected to fill, said Ray Tenney, a water engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble filling Elkhead,” Tenney said. “That’s a pretty small reservoir and a big water source.”

Elkhead Reservoir isn’t on the main stem of the Yampa but on Elkhead Creek about nine miles northeast of Craig. It drains a 2,005-square-mile basin, with the headwaters of the creek in California Park.

Elkhead was expanded from a capacity of 13,800 acre-feet to 25,550 acre-feet in 2009 at a cost of $31 million.

The reservoir serves as a backup supply of domestic water for Craig, but its primary economic impact derives from its attraction to anglers and boaters at the state park there.

Craig relies on flows in the Yampa for its municipal water, and even during the midst of the drought last summer, there was ample water in the river to meet the city’s needs, Craig Public Works Director Bill Earley told the Craig Daily Press last year.

Jay Gallagher, manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District in Steamboat Springs, told the Steamboat Today on Wednesday that although Fish Creek Reservoir currently is less than 40 percent full, the 26.7 inches of water currently stored in the snowpack on Buffalo Pass is sufficient to fill the city of Steamboat Springs’ primary water supply this season.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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