Yampa River flow up 87 percent since Thursday

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— The Yampa River was flowing at a healthier 75 cubic feet per second through downtown Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, thanks to about 26 cfs leased from Stagecoach Reservoir by the Colorado Water Trust, a dash of natural rain and healthier flows coming into Stagecoach from upstream.

Those flows still are not enough to meet the threshold for commercial tubing operations of 85 cfs, and a voluntary ban on public recreation on the river remains in effect as the Independence Day holiday gets under way. The ban includes fishing, tubing, swimming and kayaking.

As recently as Thursday, the Yampa was flowing at just 40 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge.

The Colorado Water Trust agreed June 25 to pay $140,000 to the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to lease 4,000 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir, enough to support flows of 26 cfs into September.

And there’s more help for the Yampa coming. David Hill confirmed Tuesday that the board of directors of the Catamount Homeowners Association has agreed to release 500 acre-feet from Lake Catamount this summer to boost the Yampa River.

“We still have to decide how much water for how many days,” Hill said.

His board will consult with water experts and other agencies before working out the details.

Stagecoach Reservoir, about 15 miles upstream from Steamboat, was releasing 60 cfs Tuesday afternoon, including the water leased to the Colorado Water Trust.

Tom Sharp, a member of the board of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, theorized the inflows Tuesday had benefited from thundershowers farther up the Yampa headwaters this week.

“A week ago, it was only in the 20 cfs range,” Sharp said. “We’re in a stage where, if the inflow is 40 cfs or less, we’re required to pass that amount through.”

So, the 60 cfs coming out of the reservoir was a combination of the 24 cfs called for in the lease and a little more than 36 cfs flowing into the reservoir from the Yampa River.

Fish Creek, according to a U.S. Geologic Survey stream gauge, was contributing 10 cfs to the river Tuesday afternoon.

Colorado Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said his organization is satisfied that the water it leased from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is achieving its goal of flowing through Steamboat and beyond.

“We’re keeping our eye on it, and that’s our impression right now,” Smith said.

He said Colorado Water Trust Project Manager Scott Hummer visited Steamboat last weekend to observe the condition of the Yampa and interviewed hikers along the river about their impressions.

He added that the trust has entered into a lease agreement with TriState Generation, owner of the coal-fired Craig Station power plant, that would release the conservation water to the power plant should the need arise later in the summer. The power plant uses water in its cooling system.

“We’re proud that you have hydropower being generated (at Stagecoach dam), we’ll have a formal (minimum) instream flow between Stagecoach and Catamount and, beyond that, delivery of water downstream to a consumptive use,” Smith said.

Sharp said the flows in Steamboat also suggest a modicum of return flows from irrigation water that has found its way into the alluvial gravel about eight feet beneath the surface of the hay meadows on the valley floor, and then into the river channel.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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