Williams Ditch

Prioritizing projects for fish, farms, recreation

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 most rivers in Colorado, the Yampa River faces growing water scarcity and declining riparian habitat resulting from increasing temperatures and recurring drought conditions.

Williams Irrigation Diversion was removed in November 2022. The 200-foot-long, 10-foot-wide, six-foot-tall gravel push-up dam spanned the length of the river and was constructed annually in the summer to irrigate 120 acres of hay and cattle operations. Located above the town of Hayden, Colorado in Routt County, it also blocked fish and recreational boat passage, particularly during frequent low-flow conditions. The stretch of the river, known as Morgan’s Bottom, is a critical transition zone from cold to warm water fisheries and an important area for rare and declining fish, including the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, globally vulnerable roundtail chub and flannelmouth sucker. The project is also a part of the Yampa Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP), a basin wide stakeholder-led restoration effort to address water scarcity and improve recreation and river health.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) owns the land and senior water rights at the Williams Ditch diversion and led the removal project in tandem with riparian restoration. In collaboration with the Yampa IWMP, TNC has identified additional barriers that block boat passage and fish passage at low flows. TNC is working with the local landowners and water users in the Morgan’s Bottom reach to address these diversions in future years.

Owner: The Nature Conservancy
Size: 6 feet high, 10 feet wide
Project Cost: $840,412
ORF Investment: construction
Miles Opened: 16 miles
Fish: globally vulnerable roundtail chub and flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, mountain whitefish, and Colorado pikeminnow
Status: Dam removed in 2022

  • Open 16 miles of this critical reach of the Yampa River
  • Improve aquatic habitat connectivity for native fish species and decrease habitat for invasive northern pike that prey on native fish species
  • Support globally rare riparian forest comprised of native cottonwood, willow, and red Osier dogwood
  • Continue irrigation of pasture and wet meadows to support Central Flyway migratory birds— sandhill crane and bobolink
  • Stabilize the riverbanks, protecting the upstream river channel and railroad bridge from hydraulic impacts
  • Enhance reliability of water supply and improve irrigation water management while decreasing their operation and maintenance costs
  • Improve public recreational access and angling opportunities
  • Provide a model of protecting both stream systems and agricultural production on the Yampa and improve collaboration among multiple stakeholders, landowners, and partners
  • Support Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan, a basin wide restoration effort
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Project Partners

The Nature Conservancy

Trout Unlimited

River Network

Community Agricultural Alliance

Colorado Water Conservation Board

Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable IWMP

Yampa River irrigator community