Rethinking Reservoirs

Terrace Reservoir

Around Colorado new collaborations are emerging around water storage and use. From Steamboat Springs to the San Luis Valley, different water interests are working together to increase flow in rivers and streams, benefiting local economies, local water tables and aquatic life. Through our new radio program, Connecting the Drops, produced in partnership with Colorado Community Radio stations, we’re exploring these collaborative relationships.  Listen to Rethinking Reservoirs here.

From the Rio Grande issue of Headwaters magazine, a story “Water in the Bank”:

In the arid San Luis Valley, investment in a reservoir is an investment in the future. Impacted by persistent drought conditions and a runoff period coming three weeks earlier than it has historically, the importance of banking water for use throughout the year has never been more apparent.

Water banking is important around the state and can benefit multiple uses. From Connecting the Drops, the Alamosa Riverkeeper partnered with Terrace Reservoir to find funding, repair an aging spillway, and use that extra reservoir space for releases to benefit the health of the Alamosa River:

“With the natural resources damage money and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and several agencies working together, we got the money to build the spillway,” says Reinhardt [Rod Reinhardt is former president of the Terrace Irrigation Company board and manager of Terrace Reservoir’s new spillway project.]

In return, Terrace is putting 2000 acre feet of water back in the Alamosa River during that critically dry period of late fall, helping the river flow longer and further. Reinhardt says this type of multi-agency approach is the way forward as it benefits all parties.

“I think we need to maximize the use of all our reservoirs that we can,” Reinhardt says, “and it just takes this innovative thinking to try to maximize it and to try to solve the problems we do have.”

Similar strategies have been successful in other parts of the state– in the Yampa Basin, around Steamboat Springs, the Colorado Water Trust has worked with the Upper Yampa Conservancy District to release water from Stagecoach Reservoir and wet the riverbed. From the radio program:
At the time, the Yampa River in northwest Colorado was experiencing significantly reduced water levels. This meant less water running through Steamboat Springs impacting fishing, tubing and kayaking. This in turn had an impact on local economies. In addition, a low flow rate meant rising water temperatures, affecting native fish. Smith [Zach Smith, staff attorney with the Colorado Water Trust] says the Trust was able to  find a local reservoir that would sell them the water needed to help restore the Yampa. “We bought the entire 4000 acre feet last year for $140,000,” says Smith, “and then worked with the fisheries biologist to determine at what rate to release that water downstream.” Those strategically timed releases then benefited stream flows, aquatic habitat, recreation in the city of Steamboat Springs and even hydropower generation. Smith says efforts like this are happening around the state and are helping protect water and the communities that rely on it.”
Many water providers, planners and others are working towards collaboration like this around Colorado. Were you part of either of these agreements or others like them? What are your thoughts and experiences?
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