Snowpack lags in South Routt; Stagecoach OK

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The speedboats that pull wakeboarders across Stagecoach Reservoir should have no problem tying up at the dock this summer.

John Fetcher, manager of the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, said Monday that he's confident Stagecoach will fill this spring, despite a below average snowpack in the Flat Tops. He could not offer the same assurances for Yamcolo Reservoir southwest of Yampa.

"I'm positive we'll not only fill but spill" water over the top of the dam at Stagecoach, Fetcher said. "We're below average (snowpack), but we've been very cautious in not pulling the reservoir as far down as we have in past years."

Spring runoff has yet to begin, but the streamflow in the Yampa where it enters Stagecoach was about 60 percent of the 40-year average this week -- ranging between 30 and 40 cubic feet per second. And the snowpack in the mountains near the headwaters of the Yampa isn't promising -- the water stored in Crosho Lake southwest of Phippsburg was just 69 percent of average Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Service. Yet, the reservoir is already 91 percent full, or about 4 feet below the spillway, Fetcher said.

The condition of Yamcolo, a smaller reservoir tucked beneath the ramparts of the Flat Tops southwest of Yampa, is more concerning, he said.

"Yamcolo is more important because it's critical to the ranchers," Fetcher said.

Rancher Dean Rossi can see the Flat Tops from his home and already he can see the big snow cornices that should be there are gone. He anticipates the ranchers who irrigate out of small streams in South Routt may face some challenges this year.

"The upper ranchers up here could be in trouble this summer unless there's more snow than what it looks like," Rossi said.

Rossi pulls water out of the Yampa, Oak Creek and Trout Creek to irrigate his hay. If the valley receives anything like the June moisture it received in 2004, things will be fine, he said. June is the critical month for meadow hay to get a good start.

"You'd better make it in the last week in May and the first couple of weeks of June," Rossi said.

It's a different story for Rossi's fellow ranchers in North Routt -- the snowpack near Columbine north of Steamboat Lake contains 110 percent of average moisture. That suggests the Elk River will carry health flows this spring and summer.

Fetcher said that during the historic drought year of 1977 (before Yamcolo was built), there were some ranchers in South Routt who never put up a single bale of hay.

Rossi said he managed to bale a good crop of hay in 1977, but he'll never forget how low the Yampa River got that year.

"The river here at my house was a trickle in 1977," he said. "We dipped fish out of the little pools and put them in bigger pools so they could survive."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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