Four days of high water temperatures close Yampa River again
City officials resisted closing river until water hit 76 degrees on Monday
The Yampa River will again close to recreation on Tuesday, Aug. 2, after water temperatures exceeded 75 degrees four days in a row, including a peak of 76.5 degrees on Monday, Aug 1.
The closure is mandatory for commercial outfitters and voluntary for private tubers, just as it was when the river closed from July 18-25.
“This is the fourth day in a row where we’ve breached 75 degrees on the river,” said City Manager Gary Suiter, who had opted not to close the river on Sunday, July 31, and Monday despite metrics for a closure being met. “The other days were just barely above 75.02 (degrees), but we hit 76 today.”
Suiter continued by saying city officials were giving the river some extra time to see if it recovered, “but it really hadn’t, so we’re going to close it and we’ll see what the weekend looks like.”
Suiter added that city officials will reevaluate the closure later in the week.
Typically, having two consecutive days with water temperatures exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit would trigger a closure — as it did about two weeks ago.
However, after hitting 75.02 degrees on Friday, July 29, and Saturday, July 30, Steamboat Springs officials opted not to reimpose the closure, citing rain in the forecast for Sunday.
That rain came later in the day than expected and temperatures again exceeded 75 degrees on Sunday. However, Suiter still opted to keep the river open, though outfitters were told to be ready for a closure.
Suiter said that prior to making the decision on Monday, he visited with outfitters along Yampa Street as he weighed how to proceed — an experience he said was good for him to see.
“They all had great input,” Suiter said. “They’re all very supportive. They understand the river is necessary for the economics of their business and they totally understand and are supportive of the closures as well. It’s a balancing act.”
Suiter said the city would reevlauate the closure ahead of the weekend, which currently is forecasted to bring rain each day.
In the last two years when the Yampa in Steamboat has closed to recreation, it has stayed closed for months. But after this year’s first closure on July 18, some outfitters including Backdoor Sports Owner Pete Van De Carr criticized the city for not reopening the river when temperatures fell below the threshold for a closure. The river eventually reopened on July 25.
Suiter said he wants to avoid opening and closing the river too frequently, as he feels it can be confusing for outfitters and those looking to cool off. He also worries that frequent changes could lead to more people ignoring the closures.
“I think we ought to get together this fall with all the stakeholders and take a look at the criteria and see if we can come up with some definitive measures we all agree on,” Suiter said. “It seems silly that we have to go through the controversy every year when we should be able to come up with an agreeable solution.”
The criteria for closing the river is pretty clear — two consecutive days above 75 degrees, flows dropping below 85 cubic feet per second or the dissolved oxygen falling below six milligrams per liter.
Van De Carr takes issue with the city’s lack of clear metrics to reopen the river and would like to see the city create clear metrics about what would reopen the river so outfitters aren’t waiting on the city in these situations. He said he is also willing to change metrics that close the river, even if that means a closure would be more likely.
“If they don’t like the criteria, let’s go through the process and change it,” Van De Carr said. “But these are the numbers, you know, stick to it. Don’t change the goal posts.”
Van De Carr asserted that even reopening the river for a few days is beneficial for his business, which has dealt with closures the past two years. Last summer, he closed the shop and went to work at the Steamboat Springs Airport when the river closed.
But this year has been better with his business making enough money to recoup last year’s debts. About a quarter of all tubers he has seen this year — 1,600 out of 6,600 — have come since the river reopened again.
“We’ve turned a corner where (2022) is a good year,” Van De Carr said. “Now, every day is good.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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