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Yampa River Gets Boost for Priority Water Projects

More than 20 community partners including businesses, city and county governments, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and others came together to create the Yampa River Fund. (Katkimchee/Wikimedia Commons)
More than 20 community partners including businesses, city and county governments, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and others came together to create the Yampa River Fund. (Katkimchee/Wikimedia Commons)
September 26, 2019

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The Yampa River is a key contributor to the Colorado River Basin, which provides drinking water for 40 million people across seven states.

And now the Yampa has its own dedicated fund.

Water funds are used around the world as a tool for bringing diverse interests together to protect water resources.

Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the City of Steamboat Springs, says because no single entity has sole authority over the Yampa, the fund can play a critical role in keeping the river healthy.

"We're all accountable for it,” she states. “And so it really forces us to work together, to form partnerships, so we can manage the Yampa River watershed as a whole system."

Romero-Heaney says last summer the Yampa got so low that it couldn't meet the needs of farmers, ranchers and towns, so part of the fund will be used to tap reservoirs to keep water flowing during low-flow years and drought.

The fund also will help replace antiquated irrigation infrastructure to improve conservation along the valley's robust agricultural corridor and restore riparian areas and wildlife habitat.

Romero-Heaney says keeping the river healthy is critical to the health of local economies, because tourists flock to the Yampa Valley not just for skiing, but for fishing, rafting and other outdoor recreation.

She notes sections of the river around Steamboat Springs have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s heat standard, and the fund can help greenlight projects to increase shade along riverbanks.

"That's the extraordinary part about the Yampa River Fund,” she states. “It's great to have all these plans in place and these projects identified, but without capacity and without funding, none of it happens."

Last week, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation contributed a $500,000 matching grant to the fund. The goal is to raise nearly $5 million from individuals, businesses, state and city governments to generate an annual budget of $200,000 for projects.

The fund was spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy in Colorado in partnership with local groups.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO