In an effort to help alleviate conditions that recently led to an historic second call for water use restrictions on the Yampa River, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Colorado River District announced today a joint effort to release up to 1,500 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to support irrigators and endangered habitat.
Tri-State will release 500 acre-feet of its stored water from the reservoir. The Colorado River District will release another 750 acre-feet of water it controls from Elkhead, and the Colorado Water Trust, utilizing funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will contract with the River District to release an additional 250 acre-feet of water.
The joint actions come as the Yampa River has gone under water rights administration for the second time in its history, both occurring within three years, as low, late summer flows besiege the river basin after monsoonal rains did not arrive. The call for water curtailment is proving to be a hardship on the agricultural community, and these water releases hopefully will allow producers to irrigate their fields as cattle are already coming down to the valley floor from the dry high country. Increased flows will also benefit endangered fish habitat.
“One of our most important priorities at Tri-State is supporting the communities in which we operate, and that includes efforts to protect natural resources as we provide reliable, affordable power,” said Duane Highley, CEO at Tri-State. “Agricultural producers in the western U.S. currently are being hit with the triple threat of drought, low prices and pandemic restrictions, so anything we can do to ease the burden of farmers and ranchers in the Yampa Valley is something we are willing and honored to do.”
Andy Mueller, the Colorado River District’s General Manager, said: “We hope these actions help alleviate the depth and severity of ranchers being curtailed and allow some of them to turn their pumps back on to grow more forage before winter. As drought and low flows promise to persist, today’s cooperative actions could help us learn and plan for an uncertain water future. Use of stored water in Elkhead is an example of how traditional water uses and the environment can benefit in times like this.”
In addition to affecting commercial and recreational activities, low water flow on the Yampa River can affect the availability of local water supplies. Low flows also can increase river water temperatures and create poor water quality conditions, which can have significant impact on fish and other wildlife in the area. Fish in the river in particular, already stressed by existing conditions, could become even more vulnerable to diseases.
Both Tri-State and the Colorado River District noted that the joint effort is a prime example of how long- standing partnerships within the water community can mobilize quickly to reflect the spirit of good neighbors committing to water sharing in rural communities, during a time of need. Tri-State also participated in releasing water into the Yampa River during the last call and restricted its own water use in 2018.
This content was originally published here.