High water temperatures close Yampa River, end tubing season
People were lined up outside of Backdoor Sports to rent tubes Monday morning, July 18, 2022, and inside longtime owner Peter Van De Carr was on the phone taking names and numbers from customers hoping to reserve their spot on the Yampa River later in the week.
However, by the afternoon it appeared that the hustle and bustle flowing through Van De Carr’s shop has come to an end for the foreseeable future after temperatures in the Yampa River reached 75.02 degrees. It was the second straight day the waters of the Yampa River peaked above 75 degrees, officially closing the waters to commercial operators like Van De Carr.
The public is also being asked to respect the city’s voluntary river closer, which means no tubing, no boating, no paddle boarding, no swimming and no fishing.
“I actually just sent an email to outfitters,” said Jenny Carey, open space and trails supervisor for Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department. “Outfitters will not be operating tomorrow.”
She said that there will also be information provided to the public and signs at popular spots along the river alerting the public to the closure.
She said once the temperatures exceeded the threshold for closure as outlined in the city’s Yampa River Management Plan, the announcement was made.
The river can also be closed if flow drops below 85 cubic feet per second or dissolved oxygen levels average less than six milligrams per liter at the Fifth Street Bridge for the preceding forty-eight hours.
The rain Steamboat Springs enjoyed this spring and summer extended what was expected to be a short tubing season well into July with the river flowing at 152 cfs Monday. However, the information provided by a United States Geological Station from the Fifth Street Bridge was not what Van De Carr was hoping for.
“It’s grim,” said Van De Carr, who has owned Back Door Sports for 36 years and run a commercial tubing operation for more than 30. “It means that me, and all of my wonderful employees, we are all going to have to find new jobs.”
He had held out hope that water temperatures would remain below 75 degrees and that rain and a cooling trend expected this week might somehow extend the season. The clouds and rain came too late to drop the water temperatures. Van De Carr does not expect the Yampa to re-open this summer, and is already making plans accordingly.
“My big beef with the city, and it’s so frustrating, is that if the temperature goes above 75 (degrees) for two consecutive days, we’re closed and I get that,” Van De Carr said. “But then the city made it so that if it cools off for a few days down the road — say if it cools off by this weekend — they want to close it for the whole summer, so it’s done.”
Carey said the city considers long-range forecasting and works with Colorado Parks and Wildlife when coming up with a strategy for reopening the river.
“Typically what we’re trying to do is avoid confusing the public,” Carey said. “The temperature is a tough one because we might get one cool day, but then it’s going to be 90 degrees for the rest of the week. So it’s kind of a collaborative effort working with CPW, and then kind of looking at the long-range forecast.”
She said if conditions improve, the closure could be lifted.
“We want to open it back up,” Carey said. “It really just depends, again, on the flows, the temperatures, all those things. There’s kind of a number of factors that we have to look into, again, in consultation with CPW.”
Van De Carr remains skeptical that even if the water temperature in the Yampa River falls the water will be reopened in time for his tubing operations to resume this summer. Last Saturday his staff of 12 employees served 650 customers.
“That’s what I have to assume. I can’t hang around and be wishful,” Van De Carr said of waiting to see if the river will re-open. “The biggest problem is re-energizing your crew, which can handle 650 people in a day.”
He would like to see the city be more open to opening the river if and when the conditions improve, but also realizes that the challenges the river faces are not going away,
“I’m lucky that we had this little bit of rain that allowed us to have this season, but the droughts — rather than being 10 years apart — are starting to happen every year. That’s what’s crazy,” Van De Carr said.
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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