Colorado’s Yampa River Named World’s 10th Most Threatened Paddling Run
Canoe & Kayak magazine has compiled a list of ten classic paddling runs around the globe that
are critically endangered. Calling upon athletes, adventurers and conservationists to speak on
behalf of each of the runs, the list focuses on rivers that offer stretches of world-class
whitewater and/or wilderness paddling, but are threatened by dams, diversions or other
Threatened Paddling Classic #10: The Yampa River
The Yampa River is often called one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Colorado River basin. The small dams near its headwaters have a negligible effect on the river’s natural hydrograph, allowing floods of snowmelt to rage down its canyons each spring, followed by low flows of late summer and winter. This short season of high flows—combined with the Yampa’s popular Class III-IV rapids, wilderness character and stunning sandstone canyons—make the 44-mile Yampa Canyon from Deerlodge Park to the Green River confluence in Dinosaur National Monument one of the most sought-after river permits in the American West.Upstream, the Class IV Cross Mountain-Gorge and the whitewater playpark in Steamboat provide other valuable resources for paddlers. As a recreational resource, it supports canoe, SUP and kayak schools, commercial rafting operations, fishing concessions, and even a thriving tubing business.
The threat: The Yampa has long been a target of diversion proposals that would pipe water across the continental divide to supply the state’s rapidly growing Front Range cities. Though there are no immediate plans for large-scale diversions (like the infamous Echo Park Dam), the population of Colorado is projected to double by 2050, bringing with it an increased demand for water. The Yampa has far less water storage in the form of reservoirs than other Colorado River tributaries; it is likely to see new proposals for dams and diversion in coming decades. A new Colorado River basin management plan is slated for release this December and river advocacy groups are calling for Yampa River protection to be built into the plan.
“The unanswered question among water experts is whether the Yampa will be tapped to meet the rest of the state’s water needs,” says AW member Kent Vertrees, a raft guide and recreation representative of the Yampa/White/Green River Roundtable, which recommends management plans for the basin. “You have to wonder how long it will be before a trans-mountain diversion is proposed. All things are pointing that way with drought and growth and the knowledge that there’s a supply gap.”
Every Tuesday for the next ten weeks, a threatened river will be featured on www.CanoeKayak.com as we count down towards the announcement of the world’s most endangered run on April 21, 2015.