Maybell Ditch

Modernizing irrigation infrastructure for fish and people

About the Project

The Yampa River, a tributary of the Green River, is a key part of the Colorado River system, flowing through northwestern Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument. Like many rivers in Colorado, the Yampa River is well known for its recreational uses but faces growing water scarcity and a decline in riparian habitat as temperatures increase and drought becomes commonplace.

Owned and operated by the Maybell Irrigation District (District), Maybell Diversion, built in 1896, is a six-foot-high, 40-foot-wide, gravel and boulder structure rebuilt annually for the irrigation season from April through October. It directs water through two broken and antiquated head gates into the 18-mile-long Maybell Ditch, frequently dewatering more than 20 miles of the river. Located west of Craig, Colorado in a remote part of Moffatt County, the diversion is one of the largest on the Lower Yampa with a 129 cubic-feet-per-second water right, serving 18 water users.

Maybell Diversion is in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat of the Lower Yampa River, home to four endangered fish species—the Humpback Chub, Bonytail, Colorado Pikeminnow, and the Razorback Sucker—whose movement are often constrained by low flows in the channel, especially during irrigation season. The area also poses a safety hazard for recreational boaters.

This project has the District, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, replacing the existing diversion with in-channel grade control structures and an engineered riffle to facilitate transfer of irrigation water while improving river function, fish movement, and boat passage. The project will also replace the headgates with electronic, remote-controlled equipment that will ensure the precise allocation of water is collected. The project is also a high priority for the Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan, a basin wide stakeholder-led restoration effort that addresses water scarcity and improves recreation and river health.

Owner: Maybell Irrigation District
Size: 6’ high, 40’ wide
Project Cost: $8.4 million
ORF Investment: construction
Miles Opened: 50
Fish: ESA listed Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub
Status: Construction underway summer 2023 through early 2025

  • Improve flows in the Yampa River for the benefit of the four endangered fish and other aquatic and riparian species
  • Increase ecological connectivity and resilience to climate change
  • Increase efficiency and operational flexibility of the Maybell irrigation diversion
  • Remove a safety hazard for recreational boaters
  • Improve collaboration among multiple stakeholders, landowners, and partners
  • Provide a model of protecting both stream systems and agricultural production on the Yampa
  • Support Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan, a basin-wide restoration effort
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Project Partners

The Nature Conservancy

Maybell Irrigation District

Friends of the Yampa

Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable

Moffat County Board of County Commissioners

Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Colorado Water Conservation Board

American Whitewater