Steamboat council advances Yampa River closure change

Tommy Jenkins, of Denver, cruises down the Yampa River in a Backdoor Sports tube in July 2017.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to change city code outlining how a voluntary recreational closure on the Yampa River is administered.

Currently, closures are based on criteria established in the Yampa River Management Plan. The amendment, recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission, would incorporate these criteria into city code and make changes to rules for commercial operators.

Currently, the Yampa River is closed to recreation, including paddling, tubing and fishing, when one or more of the following criteria is met at the Fifth Street Bridge.

  • Flows fall below 85 cubic feet per second.
  • Dissolved oxygen levels are less than 6 milligrams per liter for 48 hours.
  • Maximum water temperatures are warmer than 75 degrees for two or more days.

The new rules being considered by the city would add another element to a river closure. Once a closure is instituted, commercial outfitters would not be allowed to operate until city staff has verified the river hasn’t exceeded the above criteria for three full days.

The code would also provide for additional closure days to allow fish and other aquatic life to recover, which would be determined in cooperation between the city and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

City Council directed staff to remove a line from the rules recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which would have included outfitters in the conversation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff and the city to determine when to reopen the river after the recovery period.

Council member Sonja Macys said it was not best practice to include people who only have an economic interest in re-opening the river, though she acknowledged outfitters have worked with nonprofits to restore and protect the river.

Back Door Sports owner and tubing outfitter Peter Van De Carr said he’s
OK with that.

“I don’t necessarily think that we need a voice at the table,” Van De Carr said. “My whole point was keep the process objective.”

Van De Carr believes river closures, in recent years, have not been lifted at times when the river was meeting criteria because the city says it is difficult to manage the closing and reopening of the river. He wants river closures to remain under the status quo under the criteria of the Yampa River Management Plan.

“It’s turned into a situation where we’re no longer basing the closure and reopening on science,” he said. “We’re basing it on our inability to manage the river, even though the city says compliance has been near 100 percent. … We’re creating a solution where there is no problem.”

Council and Colorado Parks and Wildlife also discussed the possibility of more stringent river closure standards in the future as the Yampa faces more frequent drought conditions and amid predictions that the Colorado River Basin will continue to see lower flows.

Council members have only discussed the revisions and have not yet considered an ordinance adopting the change.

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

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