Upper Yampa Watershed Water-Quality Data

Science Center Objects

The Upper Yampa River Watershed (UYRW) drains approximately 1,798 square miles west of the Continental Divide in northwestern Colorado. The Upper Yampa River Watershed includes the Yampa River Basin upstream from Elkhead Creek and the Elkhead Creek Basin and primarily is in Routt County. The city of Steamboat Springs and the towns of Hayden, Oak Creek, and Yampa are in the watershed. The Yampa River is largely unregulated and free flowing. Only a few smaller water storage facilities are in the headwaters area. Several geothermal hot springs are located in the watershed. Major economic activities include agriculture (cattle production), coal mining, recreation, and tourism. The Steamboat Springs area is an internationally known winter resort destination.

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

(Credit: Jeffrey B Foster, USGS. Public domain.)

The Upper Yampa River Watershed is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. As development proceeds, there is the potential for short- and long-term changes in the quantity and quality of surface-water and groundwater resources. Water-quality data currently are stored in disparate formats among numerous Federal, State, and local agencies, private consulting firms, universities, and stakeholder groups. Development of a publically-accessible water-quality database (Data Repository) standardizes and unifies data from the numerous sources. These data can be used to assess water quality in the Upper Yampa River Watershed and develop a water-quality monitoring plan by identifying data gaps and redundancies. With these considerations, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the City of Steamboat Springs and Routt County, is conducting a study to compile and assess water quality in the Upper Yampa River Watershed. Specific objectives of the study were to:

Yampa River valley circa 1919

Yampa River valley circa 1919

(Credit: M.R. Campbell. Public domain.)

  • Develop and maintain a web-accessible common data repository that provides agencies, researchers, consultants, and interested stakeholders equal access to the latest water-resources information.
  • Evaluate existing water-resources data for uniformity and ability to meet the needs of water and land resource managers and decision makers as well as the public and other stakeholders.
  • Perform and publish an assessment of water-resource conditions.
  • Design and implement regional monitoring strategies to effectively fill identified data gaps by reducing duplication of effort while still meeting a broad base of data collection objectives.
  • Upon implementation of the monitoring program, periodically assess the new data to update what is known about factors affecting water-resource conditions.