Cool weather slows runoff

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— The amount of water flowing through Routt County waterways has dropped significantly in the last seven days, but people who watch the Yampa River on a daily basis aren't ready to say it has reached its seasonal peak.

"The cold weather has just dropped the river," said Barry Smith of Mountain Sports Kayak School. "Traditionally (high water) is the last week in May. If we get a couple of days of 80 degrees, the snow will come down really fast."

The Yampa had been flowing at 1,900 cfs as recently as May 11, but the cold weather that blew into the valley Wednesday slowed streamflows as snow stopped melting in the high country.

On May 20, 2003, the Yampa peaked at 1,290 cfs, one of the lowest numbers on record. By the first week in June 2003, it had dropped to 645 cfs. Most years, the Yampa peaks between 3,500 cfs and 4,500 cfs.

The recent decline in runoff in the Yampa was being mirrored in other nearby streams. One of its main tributaries within the city limits, Fish Creek, was flowing at 149 cfs Monday morning after pushing 400-plus cfs early last week. Current flows are in the range of historic flows for the date.

The Elk River at its confluence with the Yampa, east of Milner, dipped below historic norms to 1,300 cfs Monday. Typical flows for the date range from 1,800 cfs to 2,100 cfs. Just a week ago, the Elk was carrying 3,000 cfs.

State water engineer Bob Plaska said he has learned not to predict when the Yampa will peak because changes in weather will determine the pace of snowmelt.

"This cool weather will prolong the melt," Plaska said.

If the valley sees a stretch of several days of temperatures in the 75- to 80-degree range, and the river doesn't respond by spiking upward, it could mean the Yampa has seen its seasonal peak, he added.

Bob Stoddard of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District charts the annual cycles in Fish Creek Reservoir, above Steamboat on the Continental Divide.

The annual graph typically shows a sharp upward spike in mid to late May, but Stoddard said the reservoir began filling about two weeks early this year and is now 90 percent full.

The water stored in the snowpack on Buffalo Pass, a few miles from the reservoir, took a jump in late April to 40 inches, still less than the historic average of 53 inches. Snow-water equivalent recorded a small upward blip Wednesday, thanks to a snowstorm, but stands at just more than 30 inches at a time when it typically remains above 50 inches.

A couple more hot days could quickly fill the reservoir, Stoddard said, and it would begin spilling about an additional 100 cfs into Fish Creek, making a modest contribution to the Yampa.


-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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