Yampa dropping fast with little rain in sight

Weekend showers help some

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— Fire isn't the only danger that dry weather is bringing to the valley. Scarce rain, coupled with an early runoff season, has led to see-through rivers and creeks in the area.
"Water levels are low," said Bob Plaska, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. "We're probably about two or three weeks ahead of where we'd normally be. We need rain. Unless we get some good rains, this is all we'll have, and levels will just keep dropping."
Last week, water levels in the Yampa River have dropped from 250 cubic feet per second to 160 cfs. Saturday's rain helped pump the level back up to 175 cfs, but more is needed.
"This is pretty drastic, what we see here," Mount Werner Water's Jeff Peterson said. "This is a pretty dramatic change."
Dry weather and irrigation are the primary reasons for the sudden drop, Peterson said. The water level in the Yampa has dropped from an average depth of 1.8 feet to 1.5 feet in the past week.
That means there is less water available now for irrigation and recreation, Plaska said.
"Of course we're worried," said Buggywhip's Jenny Pack, whose company offers fishing and tubing trips. "We're affected by the low water levels daily. Rain would be nice. It would make tubing last longer. We're anticipating rain for the businesses' sakes and for the town and state. The fire danger is just awful."
Fish Creek Reservoir, from which Steamboat Spring gets its drinking water, is "brimful" right now, according to Peterson.
"In fact, it's spilling over, which is normal," he said. "We really never have a problem with it. We get more snow up on Buffalo Pass than almost any other area in Colorado. And as of two weeks ago there was still snow up there."
The town of Hayden, however, pumps its water directly from the Yampa River.
"It's low," Hayden Public Works Director Frank Fox said. "I haven't seen it like this before."
Despite what Fox perceives to be a remarkably low river level in the Yampa, he is not concerned about the water supply in Hayden.
"I don't think it's so bad that we need to worry a whole lot about it," he said. "If it really gets to be a problem, I guess we could do even and odd watering days. I don't like to do that. It could become a conservation issue for people."
Fox said that once irrigation ditches are cut back to the river, if they don't rise, water levels will at least not get any lower.
In Fox's 14 years as public works director, Hayden has never had water availability problems.
"Any problems we've ever had had to do with our plant. And people were real good about water issues then," he said.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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