Yampa River still dropping through Steamboat after reaching peak
Rainfall has created small spikes in how much water is flowing through town, but overall, the Yampa River is slowing down after its peak
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa River is still steadily falling.
Rainfall has created small spikes in how much water is flowing through town, but overall, the Yampa River is slowing down after its peak at the end of June.
On Monday afternoon, the river was flowing at about 200 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at Fifth Street, falling over the course of the past week from just under 300 cfs on Monday, July 22. Saturday’s rainfall boosted flows back up to 300 cfs on Sunday, though the river fell back to 200 cfs by Monday.
The river typically levels out after its peak, but city water resources manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said that level varies year to year.
“We see the hydrograph tail off after the peak snowmelt, and then it hovers above 100 cfs typically for the majority of the summer, but it can depend on what’s happening with releases out of Stagecoach Reservoir and irrigation diversions upstream from town and the weather,” Romero-Heaney said.
Rain boosts flow in the Yampa in multiple ways, she explained. When rain falls, farmers and ranchers don’t have to use as much water from the Yampa and its tributaries to irrigate crops. That rain also falls into the streams that drain into the Yampa, placing more water in the river.
“If it rains, not only does that supply more water for the river, but it also supplies more water for agriculture, so less is needed for irrigation,” Romero-Heaney said. “Then, reservoir operations — how Stagecoach (Reservoir) is operated — can make a difference for the base flows in the Yampa through town.”
As irrigators and other water users request, purchased water is released from Stagecoach Reservoir. That water flows downstream, sometimes through the city, to the end user. This also can alter flows in the river.
Romero-Heaney said the city will monitor water temperatures as air temperatures creep up at summer’s end. The city closes the river based on the level of flow, water temperature and dissolved oxygen in the water.
“I think it’s unlikely that the river would need to be closed for streamflow,” she said. “It’s been a good runoff year. Temperature is a little less predictable. It’s going to be in better shape this year than it was last year, but we’ll continue to monitor it.”
Romero-Heaney said the biggest driver of high water temperature is solar radiation — heat generated by the sun’s rays. The amount of water in the river also impacts river temperatures.
Water temperatures on Sunday and Monday reached about 70 degrees at the Fifth Street Gauge. The city closes the river to recreation when water temperatures reach 75 degrees for two consecutive days.
July has seen air temperatures with highs slightly below average and lows slightly above average in Steamboat Springs. The average high temperature in July 2019 was 81.6 degrees, compared to a long-term average of 82.5, according to the National Weather Service and the Colorado Climate Center. The average low in July 2019 was 45.8 degrees, four degrees higher than the long-term average of 41.7 degrees.
So far this July, the area received 1.06 inches of precipitation at a National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Network weather station, below the long-term average of 1.52 inches at the same location.
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