Officials consider expanding Elkhead |

Officials consider expanding Elkhead

Field studies for reservoir expansion organized

Several studies including an environmental impact study and an inquiry into private land issues may be the only roadblocks to the proposed expansion of Elkhead Reservoir.

The need to expand the reservoir comes from an attempt to protect native endangered species in the Yampa River. Increased storage capacity in Elkhead will augment flows to the Yampa River during low flow periods in July, August and September, providing a better habitat for species such as the humpback chub, pike minnow and bonytail chub.

Ray Tenney with the Colorado Water and Rivers Conservation District, held a meeting on Monday to begin informing the public and organizing field researchers to gathering information for the proposed expansion.

Two series of letters have gone out to the private land owners who will be impacted by the reservoir expansion; 67 residents have been contacted. The first letter asked the landowners to state any possible hazards to field workers, plus any conditions or concerns they had for allowing the researchers on to their land. The second letter discussed the environmental impact research, the need for it, and some of what the research would be evaluating.

The information gathered by the first series of letters will allow field researchers to have a notebook of landowner names, contact numbers and information, and any noteworthy issues or limitations concerning a particular property being examined.

The state of Colorado has already acquired a significant portion of the land that will be consumed in the reservoir expansion, but there are several areas of private land where the issues of exchange, compensation or other solutions for land lost to expansion have yet to be settled. Part of the research to be conducted will affect decisions on private property issues.

One issue in particular that was raised by landowners is that the Elkhead dam has contributed to accelerated erosion downstream from the reservoir. Tenney said a recent U.S. Geological Service (USGS) report partially agrees with this assessment. The USGS survey, done with aerial photography, shows greater bed migration rates both above and below the reservoir, though not to the extent landowners assert. This means that something else is going on, Tenney said, and with no report completed because of priority reorganization within the USGS, an answer is not readily apparent.

The raw data is available to the researchers on this project, and as the reservoir expansion process continues, it is a possibility that a report could eventually be solicited from the USGS, Tenney said.

Other issues the concern landowners will be incorporated into the expansion plan.

The minimal vegetation surrounding the downstream bed, raising the water level and stabilizing the bed against further erosion, are high on the private-owners’ priorities. The wetland production to be incorporated into the expansion could dovetail with the need for better water management to allow for greater tracks of land for grazing and hay meadows on adjacent private holdings, according to Tenney.

Part of the process on the Elkhead Reservoir expansion includes an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consult, a clarification of which mitigation options for various subjects are the most beneficial to consider, and how to handle wetland formation at the waterline considering the steep banks the reservoir has, and will continue to have after the proposed expansion.

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