Water quality testing in Yampa River could lead to new classification and regulations | SteamboatToday.com

Water quality testing in Yampa River could lead to new classification and regulations

The water flowing down the Yampa River flows out of downtown Steamboat Springs is supplied by the snow-covered slopes of Mount Werner and the high peaks that surround the Yampa Valley.
John F. Russell

— City officials in Steamboat Springs say some high water temperature readings taken in the Yampa River west of Hayden in recent years could soon lead to a big change in how a 57-mile stretch of the river is regulated by the state.

The stretch of the Yampa that runs from the confluence of Oak Creek south of Steamboat to the Moffat County border is poised to be listed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as an impaired waterbody.

City officials are concerned the listing could eventually lead to, multi-million upgrades to such things as the wastewater treatment plants that discharge water into the river.

They are questioning the methodology used to arrive at the listing and are hoping a proposal to monitor the health of the river in more areas will help municipalities along the river avoid costly new regulations.

“Given the variability of altitude, temperature and aquatic life throughout the 57-mile segment, the city questions whether the standard applied to such a long reach (of the river) is appropriate,” officials recently wrote in a memo to the Steamboat Springs City Council.

The test results, which could ultimately lead to the reclassification of the entire stretch of river, were taken in 2012 and 2013 near a boat launch site near the Moffat County border.

Higher water temperatures can have an adverse impact on the ecology of the river and fish populations.

Kelly Heaney, the city’s water resources manager, said the Water Quality Control Commission will consider whether to list the Yampa as an impaired waterbody at its Dec. 14 meeting.

“It could potentially have a costly impact on the wastewater treatment plants in Hayden, Milner and ours,” Heaney said.

She said the added regulations could call for such things as the installation of expensive cooling towers at these wastewater treatment facilities. The classification could also add more regulations to construction de-watering permits, industrial discharge permits and stormwater permits.

Heaney will attend the Dec. 14 hearing to outline the city’s plans and the extensive efforts it has undertaken already to protect the water quality of the Yampa.

Heaney said the city does not have enough temperature data from the entire stretch of the Yampa to oppose the listing on the impaired water list. So, city officials are proposing to invest more in monitoring the quality of the Yampa at more locations to better understand what impacts the temperature changes are having on the river.

Heaney said the city feels there isn’t yet enough data about the causes of the temperature variations in the river to warrant the costly regulations that could be put in place by the river’s listing on the impaired waterbody list.

“We don’t want to be chasing a waterbody impairment that may not be a waterbody impairment,” Heaney said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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