The Yampa River, White River, and Green River basins cover about 10,500 square miles in northwest Colorado and south-central Wyoming. Elevations in the basin range from 12,200 feet to about 5,100 feet at the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument.
The Yampa is known as the last major “wild” or free-flowing tributary throughout the entire seven-state Colorado River Basin, due to its predominantly undammed status and natural hydrograph—the timing and variation of its flows over the course of the year. The Yampa flows into the Green in Colorado before the Green River reaches the Colorado River in Utah. While it’s considered free-flowing, there are some reservoirs high up in the basin. Stagecoach Reservoir is the largest, with a capacity of 33,275 acre-feet.
The basin contains steep mountain slopes, high plateaus, canyons, alluvial valleys and floodplains. Agriculture—primarily livestock and grazing—accounts for the vast majority of water use in the basin.
Much land in the Yampa River Basin is federally owned, which supports a thriving tourism industry featuring sports like rafting, tubing, kayaking, fishing and skiing. Livestock grazing and recreation are the predominant land uses in the basin. Species such as the federally protected Colorado pikeminnow also depend on the Yampa’s flows.
Two coal-fired power plants have been the basin’s main industrial water users, but one, Xcel Energy’s Hayden Station, is set to retire by 2036. The other power plant, Craig Station, Unit 1 is expected to retire in 2025 and, according to Xcel’s Electric Resource Plan, Unit 2 will retire by 2039.
Community members work together through the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable where they share their voices and determine how water will be managed into the future.
The Yampa Basin is governed by a mix of historic treaties and compacts including Mexican Treaty on the Rio Grande, Tijuana and Colorado Rivers (1944); Colorado River Compact (1922); and the Upper Colorado River Compact (1948).