Low water levels suspend commercial tubing

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The Moore family, from left, Ryan, Randy, Aimee, Tym and Brenda inflate their tubes on the grass at West Lincoln Park in Steamboat Springs on Thursday morning. The family, which is visiting from Loveland, hoped to catch the tail end of the tubing season this week. However, city officials are asking river users to suspend their activities because of low water levels in the city stretch of the Yampa River.

— While the thermometer read a comfortable 82 degrees Thursday in Steamboat Springs, the Yampa River's streamflow dropped to an unseasonably low level of 81 cubic feet per second. The result was the immediate suspension of all commercial tubing operations on the city stretch of the river.

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."

Accordingly, Steamboat's three tubing outfitters, Backdoor Sports, One Stop Ski Shop and Bucking Rainbow Outfitters, suspended commercial tubing activities until the flow increases to an acceptable level.

Craig Robinson, the city's Open Space supervisor, said the primary ecological concern with low river levels is the pressure that recreational use puts on a stressed fish habitat.

"We're asking, for the health of the river, for people to stop all river activities," Robinson said Thursday while contacting commercial fishing outfitters, many of whom he said have volunteered to suspend activity in the city corridor. "All private tubers and other river users should also stay out of the river while low flow conditions persist."

Robinson's staff plans to have suspension notices posted at popular river access points this morning.

City officials cannot enforce 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 6.0 mg/l," for the preceding two days.

Robinson said Wednesday's readings had the Yampa at 69 degrees with a 7.2 dissolved oxygen level.

At Backdoor Sports, owner Peter Van De Carr had to turn down two separate groups of potential river tubers who walked into his shop during a span of five minutes Thursday afternoon.

"Sorry, there's a certain water level with our river management plan that we can't operate under a certain water level," Van De Carr told them, estimating he already had turned away 100 people.

The city permits 433 commercial tube trips daily Monday through Thursday, 500 on Fridays and 915 on weekends. Last year, the town stretch of the Yampa was flowing above 100 cfs on Sept. 2. Despite the healthy, sustained flow during 2006, Van De Carr said he still is trying to make up for the lost business he had from the summer of 2004, the last time the city requested closing down the river for some recreational uses. That year, the Yampa reached closure levels on Aug. 5.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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