City asks people not to use Yampa River

Council supports voluntary suspension because of record-low water levels

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— The city of Steamboat Springs is asking people to stop using the Yampa River within city limits.

Record-low river flows and high temperatures spurred the city Rivers and Trails Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission to recommend the voluntary suspension of all river recreation activities. That would include boating and tubing, wading and swimming and fishing.

When the river returns to suitable levels, the request to stop using the river will be withdrawn.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, the council supported the voluntary suspension and the $1,500 cost of notifying the public through newspaper ads, public service announcements and signage.

"I think the key to this is signage. If people don't see this through the chamber, hear this through the radio, then they won't know," Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said.

During the meeting, Councilman Loui Antonucci asked if the city could restrict access to the entire river with the exception of popular spots like the D-Hole and near the bridge behind Backdoor Sports on Yampa Avenue.

But Chris Wilson, director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation, said enforcing a river restriction like that could be very difficult.

The report given to the council explained the city's authority to actually close the river to recreational use is unclear, which is why a voluntary compliance was recommended. But the Colorado Division of Wildlife does have the legal authority to close waters to fishing.

The city's request comes a week after local tubing companies and other commercial river operators stopped using the river. At a June 26 meeting, unanimous consensus was received from the River and Trails Committee and five commercial river operators that non-commercial river activities like private tubing, fishing, kayaking and swimming be suspended because of low flows and impacts to river ecology.

On June 28, the Yampa River was measured at a flow of 60 cubic feet per second, compared to the 92-year average of 1,016 cfs. By Wednesday, that flow had slipped to 30 cfs.

The major concern is that low water means temperatures increase and the dissolved oxygen content drops correspondingly. Because fish are cold blooded, increasing water temperatures increases their metabolism and ultimately oxygen consumption.

And because warmer water cannot hold as much dissolved oxygen, fish are faced with a double hardship as they need more oxygen, but less is available.

A sign intended to be posted along the river will inform users that the river is less than 1/20th of its average flow. And in order to try to save the fishery and protect the health and safety of the river, the community is being urged to avoid stressing the river any further.

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