Yampa River Flow Restoration

The state of Colorado faced severe drought conditions in 2012. By late spring, flows in the upper Yampa River near Steamboat Springs were dropping rapidly and the river was approaching a critical low flow threshold that threatened water quality, recreation, and fish and wildlife populations. By late June, the river’s flow had dropped to just 5 percent of normal for that time of year, and there was concern about a repeat of 2002 when the last severe drought closed fishing and tubing, decimated fisheries, and severely impacted the local recreation economy.

The solution created by the Colorado Water Trust utilized an innovative drought response leasing program to purchase, release and protect water from an upstream reservoir in order to increase flows throughout the upper Yampa River during a critical time of need. In total, the project restored 4,000 acre-feet of water to the river during the summer of 2012 and added approximately 26 cubic feet per second of flow to a river that, prior to the release of new water, had dropped to a relative trickle of just 44 cubic feet per second. The restored flow was protected through an initial 5.5 mile reach of the river near the town of Steamboat Springs, with additional instream flow benefits accruing for over 60 miles downstream.

* Project supports voluntary transactions to change, reduce or stop water use – either temporarily or permanently – to protect or restore water for environmental benefit


Near Steamboat Springs, CO

Start Up Date:


Project Benefits:

Enhancing Recreation & Economic Benefits

Water Quality Improvement

Wildlife & Habitat Protection

Project Type:

Flow Restoration Transaction *


Funding Needed

Volunteer Opportunities

Project Partners

Colorado Water Trust, Colorado Water Conservation Board and National Geographic