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In Colorado Water Plan, Proposed Yampa River Pumpback Alive, Would Further Drain the Colorado River

June 23, 2017

The Yampa River Pumpback Rears Its Ugly Head In The Colorado Water Plan Process And Would Devastate the Yampa and Further Drain the Colorado River

Over the last few years in Colorado, the “Yampa River Pumpback” has reared its ugly head again through the “Colorado Water Plan” process as water planners and growing cities on the Front Range seek to drain the rivers of the state to fuel and subsidize new growth. The Yampa River Pumpback would be a massive multi-billion dollar project to create a huge reservoir on the Yampa River near Maybell, Colorado, and then build a 250-mile long pipe to pump the water “backwards” up over the continental divide and down into the Fort Collins area on the eastern side of the mountains.

As the “Colorado Water Plan” process played out in 2014/15/16, the Pumpback was inserted into multiple documents in multiple places by Front Range water planners. The “South Platte/Denver Metro Implementation Plan” for the Colorado Water Plan included these references to the Pumpback:

1. Section “Yampa Project” identified as an “Alternative Concept for Additional Colorado River Basin Supply Development”

2. Section CWCB identifies cost of large projects like Yampa.

3. Table 4-23: Yampa concept identified as “250 mile pipeline with static pumping requirement of 5,000 feet.” “Upper Basin interests have previously secured 60,000 AF subordinations to protect future uses.”

4. Table 4-24: Middle Yampa Pumpback identified as a “Potential Smaller-Scale Transbasin Water Project”.

5. Table 4-24: “Mini Yampa” project identified for connecting to Northern’s system.

6. Yampa project also identified by South Metro Water Supply Authority.

7. Section “We envision meeting long term needs by preserving new Colorado River Basin supply and agricultural transfer options for future generations to determine whether they should be developed such as: New Colorado River Basin supply projects that would provide multipurpose water for both the West and East Slopes capable of producing roughly 250,000 acre-feet of M&I supply for the urban Front Range from the Green, Yampa and/or Gunnison Rivers.”

8. Section 5.3.3: “To garner support for a statewide project, it will be necessary to address the following project-related tasks: Identify locations and conceptual configurations of state water projects (for example, on the Green, Yampa, and/or Gunnison Rivers)”


The Yampa River Pumpback has been championed by the powerful Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District for years — the District General Manager, Eric Wilkinson, has spoken in favor of it many times to fulfill the District’s hope of diverting more Colorado River water over to the Front Range to provide massive amounts of water for growth along the fast-growing I-25 corridor from Denver to Fort Collins. For example:

1. In 2008, Eric Wilkinson said in the Steamboat Today his organization was moving forward with the Yampa River Pumpback, but he “did not expect any progress on the project for 1 or 2 years.”

2. In 2013, Eric Wilkinson said in the Steamboat Today, he: “believes the economics for such a project will only improve. Prices for urban water use have reached $40,000 per acre-foot, he says. The result of that robust market is the drying up of farms in the South Platte River valley.”

3. In 2015, Eric Wilkinson said in the Denver Post: “Colorado owes it to itself to fully explore that [Yampa River Pumpback]. With the number of people coming here, we’re going to have to look at all alternatives. Conservation isn’t the silver bullet; it’s also going to take additional infrastructure. … These people need water, and they’re willing to pay for that water.”

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District isn’t the only organization looking at the Yampa River Pumpback.  In 2016, South Metro Water Supply Authority, which provides water to the southern Denver metro area, also identified the Yampa Project as a “Viable Option for the SMSWA Region” in its “Regional Master Plan”.

Save The Colorado opposes all new dams and diversions on the Colorado River or its tributaries. We will monitor any progress on the Yampa River Pumpback and intervene when necessary.


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