Glenwood Springs, Colorado —Nearly one year since voters approved ballot measure 7A, the subsequent Community Funding Partnership has awarded nearly $3 million in grant funding to 23 multi-benefit West Slope water projects. The Colorado River District Board of Directors greenlighted $780,000 for four larger applications at the recent Fourth Quarterly Board Meeting in addition to two smaller grants approved by River District staff. Additionally, the District Board of Directors approved a new policy statement prioritizing multi-purpose, multi-benefit water projects.
“These six projects represent collaboration between stakeholders across multiple user groups,” said Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Colorado River District. “When agricultural producers, environmental non-profits, recreationalists, and local communities join together, the outcome is beneficial for everyone in the watershed.”
The Community Funding Partnership supports multi-benefit projects, Moyer stated, with a goal of geographical equity within the District’s fifteen-county region.
“Our first year of grant funding represents communities across the West Slope. The Colorado River District is proud to provide integral support for projects in every river basin and nearly every county we serve.”
Below is a summary of the most recent project awards. A complete list of Community Funding Partnership projects is available on the River District’s website at: https://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/community-funding-partnership/
Stewart Mesa Ditch Diversion Improvement Project
$200,000 awarded, Delta County
The Stewart Mesa Ditch is the second largest agricultural water provider in the North Fork Valley, serving 243 users and supplying water to farms, ranches, and orchards on the South side of the valley. Identified as a priority project via the recent Stream Management Plan, this project will modify and improve the diversion structure and headgate of the ditch. The existing diversion is antiquated and problematic for water users served by the ditch, for recreational users of the river, and for fish, including native fish species. Through this upgrade, the project will protect the ditch from flooding, improve controls, reduce erosion, eliminate safety hazards for boaters, and improve the habitat and population resiliency for fish populations.
Yampa River Forest Restoration Project
$150,000 awarded, Routt County
Over a three-year period, the Yampa River Forest Restoration Project aims to restore mid and upper canopy tree cover to reaches of the Upper Yampa River to help reduce summer water temperatures. As identified in the 2018 Stream Management plan, the project offers an innovative, natural infrastructure approach to protecting West Slope water supplies in the face of rising temperatures. The expected outcomes from the project are six acres of new riparian plantings, and 1.5 miles of river with increased shading in reaches where summer temperatures exceed state standards.
Crystal River Restoration at Riverfront Park
$100,000 awarded, Garfield County
The Crystal River Restoration Project will restore and enhance a one-half mile, 18-acre reach of the Crystal River as it flows through the Town of Carbondale and improve the efficiency of the town-owned Weaver Ditch headgate and diversion. The project will implement river restoration improvements and water diversion modifications that will result in long term, self-sustaining river channel stability, fish habitat and spawning areas, low flow connectivity, enhanced species diversity and ecosystem resiliency, and create opportunities for recreation including angler access points.
Wolf Creek Reservoir Project Permitting
$330,000 awarded, Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties
Since 2013, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has conducted planning work to design a water storage project within the White River basin. A 2014 conditional water right for a 66,720 acre-foot reservoir was awarded to the project in January 2021 for the following beneficial uses: municipal, augmentation, mitigation of environmental impacts, hydroelectric power generation, recreation, piscatorial, and wildlife habitat. River District funding is intended to support an inclusive, collaborative permitting process supported by data and responsive to public feedback.
Lower Yampa Augmentation Needs Study
$30,350 awarded, Moffat County
The project will fund a Lower Yampa Augmentation Study to investigate anticipated needs for an augmentation plan in parts of the Lower Yampa Basin. This study seeks to quantify augmentation needs, divide the study area into regions that have a common downstream call and potential augmentation source, evaluate the ability to provide augmentation water from Elkhead Reservoir, and, if necessary, present high-level information regarding augmentation sources, outside of Elkhead Reservoir.
Canyon Creek Fish Passage Project
$44,114 awarded, Garfield County
This project improves fish passage and productive fish habitat in Canyon Creek by installing concrete baffles and hemispheres within a previously impassable set of concrete box culverts under Interstate 70. This project supports healthy spawning habitat in area affected by recent wildfires and supports new fish passage research to encourage future, nearby projects.
The District’s Technical Team will update the Board on the current state of soil and atmospheric moisture, streamflow, reservoir levels and operations, as well as current forecasts regarding the upcoming water year.
In short, a multi-decadal drought continues. 2021 was the second driest year in terms of unregulated inflow into Lake Powell in the modern era, just behind water year 2002 at 31% of average. The combination of well-below average precipitation, above average temperatures, dry soils that have plagued the basin since the fall of 2019, and strong regional water demands, water levels have plummeted in Lakes Powell and Mead. This prompted the Bureau of Reclamation to declare the first ever Tier 1 shortage in the Lower Basin, despite the above average summer 2021 monsoonal flow season.
With most long-term forecast models predicting a La Niña cycle winter, a great deal of uncertainty remains surrounding the Colorado River’s foundational snowpack for the next year.
Early calls from Cameo and on the Yampa River were examples of how historic low stream flows have already impacted river health and water management. Shoshone Outage Protocols (ShOP) were also a focus of the last three months, with ongoing repairs to dam operations and damage from mudslides preventing Shoshone from operating at full capacity and playing its historic role in water management on the Colorado River mainstem.
Community Funding Partnership
On the brighter side, the Board will have the opportunity to approve staff recommendations for funding more crucial West Slope water projects through the Community Funding Partnership (CFP) grant program. Nearly one year after voters approved Ballot Measure 7A, establishing the CFP’s fiscal foundation, the program has awarded over $2 million dollars in grants to multi-benefit water projects across the District. Through intensely collaborative partnerships, these grant monies have also leveraged over $30 million in total funding.
Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships, will provide a summary of the following new projects for which CFP funds will be made available with Board approval:
- Stewart Mesa Ditch Diversion Improvement Project in
- Staff recommends grant award of $200,000
- The Yampa River Forest Restoration Project in Routt County
- Staff recommends grant award of $150,000
- The Crystal River Restoration at Riverfront Park in
- Staff recommends grant award of $100,000
- Wolf Creek Reservoir Project Permitting
- Staff recommends grant award of $330,000