Yampa River closes to recreation in Steamboat, could re-open with a boost in flow
Tubers, anglers, swimmers and all other users asked to avoid the river
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The stretch of the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs closed to recreation Tuesday morning due to low river flow.
The river is under a voluntary closure. Commercial outfitters are not allowed to operate on the river in town, and the city is asking swimmers, boaters, tubers and anglers to avoid entering the river in town.
“We appreciate it when everybody does their part,” said Jenny Carey, Steamboat Springs open space and trails supervisor. “It’s our resource. We all have to take care of it, so we appreciate when people follow that (closure).”
River closures are put in place to protect aquatic habitat, Carey said.
The river flow fell below 85 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge on Monday evening. Flow below 85 cfs triggers a river closure through city limits. The Yampa has been flowing between 82 and 87 cfs since that time.
The city closes the river when conditions meet one of three criteria as measured by the stream gauge at Fifth Street:
- Flows drop below 85 cfs.
- Water temperatures are warmer than 75 degrees for two or more consecutive days.
- Dissolved oxygen levels — a measure of how much oxygen in the water is available to aquatic life — fall below an average of less than six milligrams per liter for two consecutive days.
Unlike summer 2018, temperatures in the river so far have not reached 75 degrees.
“We’ve been getting into the 70s kind of in the hot part of the day. That’s not as concerning as last year,” Carey said. “Last year, we hit 75 two days in a row, and that’s what triggered the closure. … So luckily, temperatures are doing a lot better this year, and that’s not as big as a concern. It’s good to only have one trigger (for a closure), versus two or three.”
The river could reopen if flows rise.
Until the snow falls and melts in the spring, the upper Yampa River’s flows will be dependent on rain and releases from reservoirs upstream, which could boost flows as ranchers and other water users request to use stored water they’ve purchased.
The city is investigating releasing its own reservoir water to boost flows and increase hydropower produced by the John Fetcher Hydroelectric Plant at Stagecoach Reservoir, according to a news release.
“With a rainless August, which has likely increased irrigation diversions, the Yampa dropped significantly over the past week,” City Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney was quoted as saying in the news release. “With this release, we’d hope to see enough of a bump in flows to raise levels above 85 cfs and hold off a closure at least through the holiday weekend. We’ll just have to wait and see as we get closer to the weekend.”
Tubing season kicked off with a late start this summer with a spring of high flows. While so far about the same length as last year’s tubing season, river conditions this year have been much different with a summer of higher water. At this point last year, the river had closed due to low flow or high water temperatures twice.
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