First-come, first-serve augmentation water available to local farms and ranches |

First-come, first-serve augmentation water available to local farms and ranches

The Yampa River received a brief call on the river by senior water right holders, but in the event another is made, two organizations are working together to ensure area water users have what they need.
Dylan Anderson / Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Colorado River District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is releasing up to 677 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to provide relief to farmers and ranchers in the Yampa Valley impacted by severe drought conditions.

The Yampa River Basin is — like many in western Colorado — suffering the effects of increasing temperatures, decreasing precipitation and soil aridity, adding pressure to an already limited water supply.

Various agencies and water groups have worked to keep restrictions or “calls” off of the Yampa River for junior water rights holders, but if the drought persists as it has in recent weeks, there is potential that a call may be inevitable. The last call was placed on July 29, the third call in the river’s history, though it was later rescinded on Aug. 2.

Marielle Cowdin, director of public relations at the Colorado River District, said that the release was made possible by the Yampa River Flow Pilot Project, which received $50,000 in funding.

“We have been managers at Elkhead Reservoir of certain pools of water that exist there,” Cowdin said. “So when the call came on the Yampa, earlier this month, we worked in partnership with the Department of Water Resources and their division engineers to release some water to take the call off the Yampa — at least for a temporary time — so that junior water users would not have their water rights curtailed for that short amount of time.”

Because of potential calls in the future, the River District has a financial partnership with the CWCB to provide supplemental water for agricultural producers in the Yampa River Basin. The agreement with CWCB will allow the River District to provide water to local agricultural stakeholders on a first-come, first-serve basis in 2021, specifically for crop and livestock production.

Cowdin also said that because it is only August, the Yampa region still has weeks of potentially hot and dry weather, which could lead to another call. She added that the Colorado River District worked with the state of Colorado and the CWCB to provide contracts with local ranchers and farmers to access the 677 acre-feet of water.

“(The CWCB) financially backed the water in that pool so that the river district could individually contract with farmers and ranchers in the Yampa River Basin to provide some supplemental water to them, should the call come back on and certain agricultural producers need more,” she said.

Cowdin said several calls and emails from ranchers have already come in to claim part of the water in the Elkhead pools to provide extra relief. Agriculture workers interested in accessing the water can reach Hunter Causey, chief engineer and director of asset management, at or 970-945-8522.

“(The 667 acre-feet) just highlights the importance of cooperative efforts and finding innovative, on-the-ground solutions, in times that have been increasingly challenging and unpredictable,” Cowdin said.

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