As the water rises, stay safe when on or near the Yampa River |

As the water rises, stay safe when on or near the Yampa River

A cyclist makes his way along the Yampa River Core Trail on Monday. The rising water levels on the Yampa have caused the river to run over the banks in some places, flooding the nearby trail, which is used by cyclists and pedestrians.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa River through Steamboat Springs is currently flowing higher than it did at any point during the previous water year and with big water comes additional risk.

“Always wear a (personal flotation device) when you’re in the water and in the river,” Steamboat Fire Chief Mel Stewart said. “Currently, the river is at or near its peak for the year, and this really isn’t a time to be in the river unless you’re either a) a professional or b) with a professional.”

Steamboat Fire Rescue is trained to conduct swift water rescues, though in a news release, the city said individual responsibility, river awareness, safety knowledge and common-sense can keep users from needing that rescue.

Stewart reminded boaters to avoid drinking alcohol while on the river.

“Things happen quickly in cold water,” he said. “Alcohol impairs your judgment and ability to perform physically. You’re putting yourself at a very high risk being in cold, fast-moving water while under the influence.”

The Yampa River is currently flowing at about 2,900 cubic feet per second Monday after a weekend of flows around 3,400 cfs.

Depending on the time of day, water temperatures in the river are around 40 to 47 degrees, a temperature that is low enough that without a wetsuit or dry suit, exposure to river water is cold enough to cause hypothermia and to seriously impact a person’s breathing, according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety.

The National Weather Service’s Hydrologic Prediction Service forecast flows to remain at around the same level through Thursday, with a predicted flow around 3,600 cfs late Thursday.

Staying safe on the river
  • Always wear a personal flotation device on or near the water.
  • Never boat, paddleboard, tube or swim by yourself.
  • Tell someone where you plan to put in and where and when you plan to take out of the river.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you plan to get on or near the river.
  • Be prepared for weather extremes.
  • Watch out for your dog and use caution along the river’s edge.
  • Carry and know how to use a first aid kit.
  • If you lose your water craft, let first responders know you’re okay by calling Routt County Communication’s non-emergency number at 970-879-1144 with the location and description of your boat. First responders want to know that you’re okay and that there’s no need for emergency services to respond.

Source: City of Steamboat Springs and Routt County Search and Rescue

The river is still below flood stage, though it’s over the Yampa River Core Trail near Emerald Park and the 13th Street underpass.

High flows are creating low clearance for paddlers traveling underneath several bridges along the river, including the railroad ridge behind the Flour Mill, the Fifth Street Bridge and those west of Steamboat at the Steamboat Golf Club and Steamboat II. The city does not recommend traveling under these bridges when flows exceed 2,400 cfs. Tubers should wait to hit the water until flows fall below 700 cfs.

While the river is flowing through Steamboat at a level similar to previous peak flows, it remains to be seen if the river has peaked for the season.

The snowpack that melts into the Yampa is still sitting in the mountains. Aaccording to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, snowpack in the mountains is 297% of what is typically on the ground by June 10. Routt County’s NRCS snow telemetry sites are reporting anywhere from no snow at Lynx Pass, one inch of snowpack still on the ground at Dry Lake to 94 inches at the Tower Site on the Continental Divide.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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