Steamboat rule change could adjust commercial tubing rules on Yampa River
October 25, 2018
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 to add clarity regarding proposed rule changes to the size of canoes and rafts allowed on the river.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs could amend its city code to outline 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.
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• 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, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and commercial outfitters.
"We need to give those fish an opportunity to recover," Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf said in a meeting earlier this year. "It's kind of like having pneumonia and then running a marathon as soon as you open that river back up."
Though city officials praised the public for staying out of the river during this year's closure, opening and closing the river in quick succession has decreased public's compliance with river closures in the past, said Craig Robinson, the city's parks, open space and trails manager.
Peter Van De Carr owns Backdoor Sports, and in tubing season, his business can put up to 600 tubers in the Yampa in a day, he said.
He's frustrated by the proposal because he believes the change will allow the city to close the river, not based on scientific criteria, but based on how difficult it is to manage the closure. Van De Carr helped develop the Yampa River Management Plan more than 10 years ago.
Last year, he said a staff member's vacation created confusion in re-opening the river when the Yampa was meeting flow, temperature and oxygen standards.
"Now, we're no longer at a science-based decision. Now, we’re making our decisions based on our inability to manage, and I don't think that's right," he said. "Our inability to manage should not be a part of whether the river opens or closes."
He hopes the regulations remain as they are.
"I think they should leave all the subjectivity out of the process and go with the river management plan," he said.
During a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on Monday, Van De Carr argued the current criteria for river closures has worked successfully for 14 years and only now has the city's management of the closures caused problems.
The code change also would extend where commercial tubing is allowed on the Yampa River to Bear River Park. Only outfitters in good standing with the city would be allowed to operate.
The rules would also amend the lengths of canoes and rafts allowed on the river at certain flow levels. Rafts must be 14 feet or shorter and canoes must be 12 feet long or shorter to be allowed river from peak runoff until the river fell to 400 cfs, according to the new rule. Under that level, no rafts are allowed on the river.
Current code says rafts more than 14 feet long and canoes more than 18 feet long are not allowed on the river from peak runoff until flows fall to 800 cfs. When the river is between 800 and 400 cfs, rafts longer than 12 feet and canoes longer than 17 feet long are not allowed on the river in Steamboat.
The Parks and Recreation Commission recommended some small changes to the proposed code changes, which will be reviewed by the city attorney. If there aren’t additional revisions from the city attorney, the code change would go before Steamboat Springs City Council on Nov. 13. Council members could amend or approve the rule changes on first reading.