Lower flows forecast for Yampa River
May 18, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Forecasts call for the Yampa River to surge one more time before plunging to levels that could allow commercial tubing operations in Steamboat Springs to begin.
If the forecast for rains proves accurate, flows on the Yampa where it heads through downtown Steamboat could grow to 1,400 cubic feet per second tonight. But by the end of next week, flows are expected to drop to below 700 cfs and continue a quick downward trend.
When flows drop to that level, Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van De Carr usually is geared up to begin renting tubes. Not this year.
"I don't want anyone to have a bad experience," Van De Carr said Friday. "We want 100 percent satisfaction when we open up."
The water of the Yampa is still icy cold because its flows are being fed largely by melting snow. Steamboat Flyfisher this week was measuring water temperatures downtown in the upper 40s and low 50s.
Additionally, Van De Carr said air temperatures have not been high enough to make recreational tubing enjoyable.
But perhaps most important, there simply isn't yet demand to start renting tubes.
"We need to have people in town," Van De Carr said.
He estimated tube rentals likely will not start until the summer tourism season picks up in mid-June, and it probably will be a brief tubing season.
"We might be done by July 1," Van De Carr said.
River conditions dictate when tubing businesses can operate. According to the Yampa River Management Plan, they have to close shop when flows drop below 85 cfs.
"I bet it will happen in early July or late June," Van De Carr said. "That's just my guess. There is no science behind that."
Conditions are drastically different compared to last year, when record snowpack led to a swollen Yampa River and commercial tubing operations did not get going until about July 24.
According to preliminary data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, the flows on the Yampa peaked this spring on either April 27 or May 6, when flows were measured at about 1,570 cfs. The peak will not be made official until the data is analyzed this fall.
Craig Peterson, a hydrologist with the Forecast Center, said the earliest peak on record for the Yampa downtown was April 26, 1974, when the flow was measured at 5,790 cfs. The records go back to 1904.
According to data from the Tower snow measuring station 10,500 feet above sea level on Buffalo Pass, 35 inches of snow remains, containing the equivalent of 16.3 inches of water. The historic average snow-water equivalent for May 18 is 50.7 inches of water. On May 18, 2011, the snow-water equivalent at the Tower measuring station was 74 inches, which was 146 percent of average, and the number still was growing. The snow-water equivalent did not peak last year until May 29, when the snow held 80.1 inches of water.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com
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