Steamboat Springs Water levels in the Yampa River went through some dramatic fluctuations this week, dropping to ankle deep Tuesday and soaring to above average Wednesday.
The Yampa had been running well above normal flows through late summer, but it began a steep decline Sept. 2 as unusually generous releases from Stagecoach Reservoir were tapered. River flows rocketed upward again Wednesday.
The Steamboat stretch of the Yampa has benefited all summer from flows of 150 cubic feet per second being released from Stagecoach Reservoir as its managers draw the impoundment down to allow a construction project to increase its capacity.
Upper Yampa Conservancy District Engineer Andy Rossi confirmed that the spike in flows Wednesday was a combination of a series of rain showers and the resumption of escalated releases as the reservoir is drawn down to 15 feet below its typical level.
Typical flows for Wednesday’s date are 100 cfs. They had bounced back to 120 cfs by 2:15 p.m. Wednesday.
As it turns out, the atypical dam releases probably masked just how low the river might have fallen in August without them.
“Whatever it’s been, it was us,” Kevin McBride, district manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, said Tuesday. “Here in town, we haven’t seen the real flows, that’s for sure.”
He explained that in preparation for the Labor Day holiday weekend, the releases were scaled back to help ensure that recreational boaters still would be able to use the boat ramps at Stagecoach Lake State Park.
The tapered flows saw the river at Fifth Street in Steamboat Springs go from almost 180 cubic feet per second Sept. 3 to 65 cfs on Tuesday. Broad stretches of the Yampa within the city limits Tuesday were ankle deep.
The Conservancy District is adding four feet to the top of Stagecoach dam to add to storage capacity.
Demolition began Wednesday on the top six feet of the dam, a step needed to tie into existing structural steel, before pouring new concrete back on top of the dam.