Commercial tubing in and out of business

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— Sporadic Yampa River streamflows have left commercial tubing operators in a precarious situation.

In recent days, flows have been straddling the threshold at which the city can prohibit commercial tubing, resulting in on-again, off-again business.

With flows dipping below 85 cubic feet per second (cfs) Thursday, the operators were prohibited from doing business. The city's Yampa River Management Plan states that "commercial tubing companies should consider suspending or reducing tubing operations when Yampa River flows drop to less than 100 cfs," and should "discontinue tubing if flow levels drop below 85 cfs."

Open Space Supervisor Craig Robinson said "it's been touch and go" and suspected commercial tubing would remain at the mercy of the weather for the rest of the season. Rain last weekend had streamflows running above 100 cfs.

Robinson said tubing is the only activity being banned. City officials cannot enforce other recreational river closures until the maximum water temperatures downtown "exceed 75 degrees for two or more consecutive days, or if dissolved oxygen levels average less than 6 milligrams per liter" for the preceding two days.

Robinson said those two measurements currently are within acceptable levels.

"The colder temperatures are definitely helping," Robinson said.

Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the river is being monitored but that a voluntary fishing ban is not being sought at this time.

Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports, said Thursday's closure was unfortunate but probably didn't affect business much because of cool temperatures. The high in Steamboat Springs on Thursday was only 67 degrees. Van De Carr said he hopes tubing can return before the end of the summer.

"If we got a good rainfall, we'd be back in business for Labor Day, and that would be a beautiful thing," he said.

Van De Carr said tubing has made it to Labor Day less than half of the years this decade, the result of a prolonged drought.

"We're almost counting on drought anymore," Van De Carr said. "We haven't had a normal year in a long time."

Van De Carr said temporary suspensions of commercial tubing "put the slammer on momentum" and make it less likely that property management firms and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association will recommend tubing to tourists.

"This year, there were so many closures," Van De Carr said. "Every time we close, people think we're closed for the season."

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