On September 19th, 2019 the Yampa River Fund (YRF) celebrated the launch of their recently created endowment fund. This fund will be used to fund projects to improve river health, protect the water supply and enhance river flow in dry years. The celebration kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony over the Yampa River Core Trail Bridge, followed by a public social event at Mountain Tap Brewery.
The YRF was initiated by a generous gift of $1.75 million from an anonymous donor that was then matched by another anonymous donor who provided an additional $1 million. Steamboat Resorts recently announced that they have plans to donate $500,000 to this fund as well. The goal of this organization is to grow the fund to a $4.75 million balance over the next five years. At which time the fund would generate enough interest income to provide over $200,000 in project grants every year. The Nature Conservancy, who was instrumental in developing this fund, will hold the fund with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.
“The YRF Endowment Fund aims to address three areas of action,” Nancy Smith, external affairs director for the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program, stated.
- Leasing water to boost river flow in dry years
- Restoration actions
- Water infrastructure improvements
The YRF projects aim to benefit all who use the Yampa River and its tributaries. This includes ranchers, recreational users, and folks who just want clean tap water. The fund will cover projects throughout the Yampa Valley, from the Flat Tops, and the Mount Zirkel wilderness areas, all the way to Dinosaur National Monument. Approximately 20 organizations, including local governments in Routt and Moffat, have signed on to help govern the fund.
The Yampa River Fund was created to help with the future planning of the Yampa Valley and its river systems. Water managers have recognized that snowmelt is occurring earlier and more precipitation is in the form of rain versus snow, contributing to earlier peak river flow. This leaves less water available during summer for irrigation of hay meadows and livestock for example. Water shortages are being considered and the possibility that the use of water could be limited, under a Colorado River Compact Call, which requires Colorado to send water downstream.
The YRF will specifically direct money to NW Colorado river management plans. The goal of these plans is to: protect water users on the Yampa from curtailment, find ways to address water shortages and to keep infrastructure up to date. Another area of concern is to help provide funding for reservoir releases which, in fact, was the original thought behind creating the endowment fund. That is, to provide a permanent funding source for water releases versus relying on private donor sources, thus eliminating donor fatigue.
“This project, the river fund, is looking at ‘how do we find projects that are beneficial?’ and that taps into some of those core values of our ag producers,” said Michele Meyer, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance. “They care about the river. They care about the environment. They own this land. They want to see the river stay healthy for 100 more generations down the road.” She said she sees those values in other water users, too. “We all have that same core value that we want to take care of this river and see it remain healthy,” she said. “That’s going to make this be successful.”