Maybell diversion project gets a huge funding injection

The antiquated headgates to the Maybell Ditch will be replaced with modern, remotely-operated headgates as the Maybell Diversion Project works to put together the estimated $6 million needed to complete a modernization project.
Jennifer Wellman/Courtesy photo

The Maybell ditch project, which will update a century-old diversion dam and headgate in the lower Yampa River, was awarded $1.92 million in federal funding this week. 

Several local and regional partners have been working together for the last several years to put this project in motion. The Maybell Irrigation District is partnering with the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Yampa, as well as local stakeholders who have contributed to the project. 

The Nature Conservancy applied for the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART grant in December and found out this week it was selected for funding. This funding is a part of a $36.1 million investment by the federal government to preserve local water supplies in response to record years of drought across the western United States. 

“We are thrilled that the federal government is putting forth a significant investment into water security projects throughout the West,” said Jennifer Wellman, freshwater project director for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. 

The Maybell diversion project was one of 27 projects in 12 states and Puerto Rico to receive funding for making improvements on watersheds that are vulnerable to deterioration of aquatic habitats and steam beds. The fund focuses on supporting restoration projects that protect against drought-related impacts. 

“It’s an honor that the Maybell Diversion project was granted funding of this size and significance from the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Mike Camblin, President of Maybell Irrigation District.  “We are grateful for the support and partnerships that make this project possible.”

Wellman said that the current project budget is in the range of $6 million. To date, partners have secured $3 million including the SmartWATER funding, and according to Wellman they hope to raise an additional $3-5 million for irrigation and infrastructure improvements. 

Currently, the Maybell diversion dam does not provide a safe passage for three species of endangered fish and one threatened fish species. The diversion is also a danger for watercraft passage, in a section of the Yampa River that attracts a significant amount of recreational use. 

The diversion, which sits at the mouth of Juniper Canyon, currently presents a hazardous path for water crafts to travel. For the project, boulder-grade control structures will be installed to maintain water depth which will allow for safe fish passage and reduce boating hazards. 

Another aspect of the project will be restructuring the stream bed in the diversion path by filling in several large holes that require push-up dams to be built annually to control low water flows. Supervisory controls will be installed for data collection and to better manage water flow. 

This project is aligned with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Maybell Improvement Plan, which involved collaboration by federal, regional, water district, recreational group, and other stakeholders. 

 “We are at a crucial point in history where we need to implement long term solutions to address water use and needs in the face of climate change. Our partnership with Maybell Irrigation District is a great example of community-driven, long-term freshwater protection that supports local economic stability,” Wellman said.

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