Steamboat Springs If it appears that the Yampa River is unusually robust for this time of year, it’s not your imagination. But it’s probably not for the reasons you think.
Thanks in part to afternoon thunderstorms, the river was flowing at 243 cubic feet per second at mid-morning Friday at the Fifth Street Bridge, according to a remote monitoring station operated by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The river was perking along at about 190 cfs (about 20 cfs higher than normal) Monday when a cloudburst bumped it above 250 cfs. By the early morning hours of Thursday, the river had jumped higher than 300 cfs.
However, the underlying reason that river flows are so healthy this year is that the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is releasing an unusual amount of water from Stagecoach Reservoir east of Oak Creek. The district is preparing for a construction project that will increase water storage by almost 10 percent.
“Most of what folks are seeing is definitely from the reservoir right now,” Conservancy District Engineer Andy Rossi said. “We began releasing about 142 cfs two weeks ago, and we’ve drawn down the reservoir 3 feet.”
So the unusually high early August flows that are a boon to tubers, trout and the anglers who stalk them are a one-time event as the district adds 4 feet to the top of the concrete dam at Stagecoach. The work will add 3,185 acre-feet of storage capacity to the reservoir that already holds 33,375 acre-feet of water when full. To complete the expansion, the district will draw down the reservoir 15 feet by Sept. 18, but no more than 10 feet by Labor Day.
“We promised not to drop it too low, too fast,” Rossi said. “We’ve determined that a long, slow draw-down will achieve our target.”
Rossi said the district has worked closely with officials at Stagecoach State Park, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to tailor the draw-down of the reservoir and water releases to mitigate impacts on facilities.
An overhaul of the turbines used to generate electricity at Stagecoach almost was complete Friday, Rossi said, and power generation will resume within days.
Colorado state parks issued a written statement detailing how the construction at the reservoir will affect its facilities. State parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier said the Morrison Cove boat ramp will close for the season Friday. The Elk Run Trail (from the dam to Morrison Cove) will be closed Aug. 16 through Nov. 30, as will the parking lot at the dam.
The boat ramp at the marina and the swim beach will close for the season Sept. 7.