Survey flights capture bird’s eye view of Yampa-White River basin

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RBC | With the arrival of spring, warmer temperatures, and at least a year’s worth of pent up cabin fever, the river beckons. While the chilly runoff waters flow fast and high for now, water users of all stripes know that come mid-summer, low flows will mean dry fields, special water releases, and a statistically significant increase in the number of wise old farmers repeating the adage “whiskey’s for drinkin,’ water’s for fightin.’” 

With ever more frequent discussions of a “call” on the Colorado river, water scarcity steadily becoming a more prevalent issue in the west, and increased political relevance at the federal and state levels, even the waters of the historically undeveloped Yampa-White River basin are facing historic pressure.

The increasing relevance of our regional watershed means citizens, scientists, policy makers and other groups need more data to make informed decisions, which is part of why CU’s “Water Desk” has been helping facilitate in-depth reporting on issues like the Wolf Creek Reservoir, and other topics relevant to the basin like the summer algae blooms on the White River.

As part of this effort, CU partnered with long time RBC resident and pilot David Cole to perform survey flights of the basin. Lucky for the HT, Cole reached out for help with the mission, which took place over the last two weeks.

Utilizing two GoPro action cameras mounted to the exterior of the plane, flights departed from Coulter Field in Meeker, following the White River all the way to the Green River in Utah, following the Green to the Yampa River, and then following the Yampa all the way to it’s headwaters. Once there, the plane ascended over the Flattops to Trappers Lake, the headwaters of the White River, before completing the loop back down to Meeker.

Cameras captured an oblique view of the plane flight, along with a vertical shot that filmed and simultaneously captured high resolution still photos.

Cole, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former commercial airline pilot, and former director of Colorado Northwestern Community College’s aviation program, noted how valuable the footage could be for researchers, or for investigations into the cause of algae blooms on the White River as one example. Cole volunteered his time for the project, which suffered a few technical hiccups early, but ultimately proved to be a fruitful undertaking. Upon viewing some of the footage, he also expressed great excitement about the quality, made possible by the last decade of camera technology advancements.

High definition video footage and still photos captured on the flights will be shared with CU, who loaned a newer model GoPro for the endeavor. The HT also hopes to make content available to local interest groups like the White River Alliance and other stakeholders in the development, use and politics of the regional watershed.

You can view some examples of footage captured over the course of these missions this week on our website, Facebook and YouTube pages. Thanks again to David Cole for the opportunity to see our beautiful home and surrounding area from a bird’s eye view!


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com