City stands by Yampa River closure that has local outfitter wondering if he should ‘go rogue’
Peter Van De Carr, the owner of Backdoor Sports, has long been vocal about his disagreements with Steamboat Springs’ policies for closing the Yampa River to recreational and commercial users.
Per city rules, high temperatures shut down the Yampa River to commercial outfitters and initiated a voluntary recreation closure on Monday, July 19, but Van De Carr said it may be time to go rogue.
“I’m on the verge of going super-fly-TNT-race-car-in-the-red,” Van De Carr said Friday, July 22, implying that he might resume his rental tube service despite the latest closure.
Speaking to the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission on July 13, Van De Carr voiced his frustrations with the city’s policies for closing the Yampa River.
“I think that we should sit down and come up with an objective way of closing and reopening the river,” said Van De Carr. “There have been some closures that have been below criteria, and then when the river comes up above criteria, the city has reserved the right to keep the river closed.”
Less than a week after he addressed the commission, the city closed the river to commercial outfitters.
The guidelines for commercial outfitters are included in the 2003 Yampa River Management Plan, which states that the city may close the river to recreational uses if water temperatures exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more consecutive days, if the river’s flow drops below 85 cubic feet per second or if dissolved oxygen levels average less than six milligrams per liter at the Fifth Street bridge for 48 hours.
The latest river closure happened because of two hundredths of a degree. The Yampa’s water temperature peaked at 75.02 degrees Fahrenheit at 5:15 p.m. Sunday, July 17, and again at 4 p.m. the following day.
“I didn’t even know they had thermometers that could record hundredths of a degree,” Van De Carr said. “But it did go over 75, and as an outfitter that believes in the Yampa River Management Plan, I shut down gladly.”
The thermometer at the Fifth Street bridge actually records in Celsius before the reading is converted to Fahrenheit, so technically, the thermometer doesn’t record hundredths of degrees. The recorded temperature on those two days was 23.9 degrees Celsius, which equates to 75.02 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperatures haven’t encroached the 75-degree threshold since, peaking each day between 70 and 75 degrees. Amid high temperatures and lack of moisture this past week, water flow has slowed down from its week-high peak of 172 cfs on Sunday, July 17, to 114 cfs as of Friday evening.
Van De Carr has kept apprised of the river’s conditions.
“It’s definitely very frustrating when the conditions are green,” said Van De Carr. “I’m to the point where I’m about to go rogue.”
Van De Carr said he pays his employees $35 an hour, considers them family and is eager to get them back to work if possible.
It’s uncertain how serious Van De Carr is about resuming his tube rental service despite the closure, but according to the city’s municipal code, commercial outfitters who operate on the river during a closure could have their permit revoked, possibly for good.
In a Friday afternoon news release, the city reiterated that its policy for closing the river was made in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which recommend river closures when water temperatures exceed 71 degrees Fahrenheit.
The news release also noted that water temperatures have exceeded 71 degrees Fahrenheit for the past 10 days, and that CPW has announced a voluntary fishing closure from Chuck Lewis to the western city limits because of the consistently high temperatures.
Craig Robinson, the parks and open space supervisor for the city, explained that in addition to referencing the criteria for closure, the city works with CPW to examine detailed conditions and weather forecasts.
He said he’s optimistic about possibly reopening the river, but it would require a period of consistent moisture and lower temperatures for that to happen.
“I’m seeing some lower temperatures around 80 degrees and some moisture in the forecast,” said Robinson. “That is very favorable to bringing conditions down.”
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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