Elk River flows significantly above average

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The Elk River is carrying more water this fall than at almost any time in the past 33 years.

The river set daily records Oct. 21 and 22, and recent snowmelt has kept late autumn flows high.

Streamflow in the Elk at its confluence with the Yampa River about nine miles west of Steamboat Springs on Friday morning was 233 cubic feet per second, after peaking at nearly 300 cfs the night before.

Erin Light, a water resources engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Steamboat confirmed the unseasonably high flows are not because of any releases from upstream reservoirs -- Steamboat and Pearl lakes.

Colorado remains in a multi-year drought, and experts say it will take years of typical precipitation patterns to refill many reservoirs. However, abundant precipitation this fall in the mountains north of Steamboat has kept the Elk at above average levels.

The river, which merges three tributaries flowing out of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, flows through hay meadows for most of its length before joining the Yampa near Milner.

The typical flow in the Elk at the confluence on Nov. 5 is 100 cfs. That means daily flows are ranging from 150 to 200 cfs more than the median daily flow based on 33 years of record-keeping.

Daily streamflow patterns Oct. 21 and 22, when the Elk set records above 250 cfs, were not indicative of snowmelt, Light said. Melting snow usually results in noticeable peaks and valleys called a "diurnal flow."

Light said water flowing out of Steamboat Lake into Willow Creek those days was less than one cubic foot per second, and Lester Creek, which flows out of Pearl Lake, was flowing at between 3 and 5 cfs.

Diurnal flows have returned to the Elk since Tuesday, as warm, sunny days and cold, clear nights have produced spikes in streamflow.

The Yampa River in Steamboat Springs was flowing at 150 cfs on Friday. That's about 20 cfs more than the median.

The temperature in the Yampa at noon on Friday was just above 35 degrees.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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