The Yampa as a Model for What’s Possible
There are simply not that many wild rivers in the Colorado River Basin. By wild I mean rivers that are not controlled or diverted to other basins – rivers that fill with torrents of raging muddy brown water during spring floods providing nourishment to valleys below – rivers that provide a varied, unique and unparalleled recreational experience.
In the Colorado River Basin, there is one river that stands above them all. It is a river that sustains a vibrant agricultural community while providing for world class whitewater boating and trophy trout fishing. Downstream its turbid waters provide life for endangered fish, wildlife, and plants. It is a natural model – a living classroom – a poster child for balance, community heritage, and livability. Despite being the second largest watershed in Colorado, very few people outside of the state know about this river and its importance to the Colorado River Basin, all the way down to Lake Powell.
The wild Yampa River rises in the Flat Top Mountains above Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While it would certainly not be accurate to characterize the Yampa as “undammed” because there are two relatively small storage reservoirs that capture its water in the headwaters, it functions as a wild, free-flowing river. The reservoirs are high in the basin and do not have the storage capacity to capture its powerful spring flows. From Steamboat it meanders through rangeland, past the rural agricultural towns of Hayden, Milner, Craig, and Maybell. Below Maybell, the river flows through the Class V whitewater of Cross Mountain Canyon and into Dinosaur National Monument.
Words cannot adequately describe Yampa Canyon through Dinosaur National Monument, nor can pictures capture its grandeur. Experienced boaters claim that a trip through Yampa Canyon in Dinosaur is the best 5-day float trip in the world. One travels through geologic formations that date back over a billion years, canyon walls that rise over a thousand vertical feet, ancient pictographs and petroglyphs, and long runs of thrilling whitewater. But the entire time, at least in the back of your mind, your thoughts return to one thing – getting through the daunting Warm Springs rapid.
We recently teamed up with our partners at Friends of the Yampa, American Whitewater, and OARS to support a film created by the talented group of artists at Rig to Flip. The film documents the history of Warm Springs rapid, the unique role the Yampa River played in creating the modern river conservation movement, and the importance of keeping the Yampa wild and free.
The full length film is available here.
We need rivers like the Yampa – to remind us how rivers are supposed to function, to demonstrate that it is possible to sustain vibrant agriculture while conserving endangered fish and recreation, and to help us improve the management of other rivers in the Colorado Basin. Unfortunately, because of its abundant water, increased demand, and diminishing supplies in the Colorado River basin due to climate change, the Yampa River will continue to be a target for diversion. This is why American Rivers is actively working with partners across the basin to find solutions that will safeguard the Yampa for generations to come. We will always stand up for the wild Yampa River.