Fireworks explode over Howelsen Hill on July 4, 2011. Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Mel Stewart said the annual display could be canceled this year because of dry conditions.

Photo by Scott Franz

Fireworks explode over Howelsen Hill on July 4, 2011. Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Mel Stewart said the annual display could be canceled this year because of dry conditions.

Steamboat's Fourth of July fireworks show in jeopardy

Dry conditions threaten to ground rockets, shorten summer recreation season

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— Dry conditions could snuff out Steamboat Springs’ Fourth of July fireworks show for the first time in a decade.

“The state is dry. Northwest Colorado is dry. It’s remarkable we haven’t had a wildland fire here in the last two weeks,” Steamboat Fire Chief Mel Stewart told the Steamboat Springs City Council before he announced the firework show over Howelsen Hill likely will be spoiled.

Stewart said he plans to continue meeting with the city’s fireworks committee and announce the show’s fate within the next two weeks. He added that he is leaning toward canceling the display.

“We certainly would like to have the show go on,” he said. “It’s a big event for Steamboat. It’s a big draw. But we have to be prudent. We don’t want (the fireworks show) to be turned into a disaster.”

Stewart’s announcement was followed by a grim forecast for the Yampa River that gave the City Council several reasons to pray for rain.

Business owners who depend on the free-flowing river’s livelihood told the council Tuesday night that without an abundance of rain, the waterway likely will experience drought conditions not seen since 2002.

“There are so many potential losses,” Backdoor Sports owner Pete Van De Carr said after he listed city revenue, tube sales, wildlife and the river habitat as potential victims of the drought and a premature end to the river’s summer recreation season. “2002 was so devastating for us.”

In July 2002, the Yampa slowed to less than 20 cubic feet per second in Steamboat, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

The Yampa River Management Plan calls for the closure of the river for recreation if its dips below 85 cfs, becomes too warm or has low levels of dissolved oxygen.

Van De Carr said that in 1997 there were 28,000 commercial tubers on the river. But in 2002, he said, the drought dried that number up to a very disappointing 2,000 after the tubing season came to an abrupt halt in July.

The river was flowing at 413 cubic feet per second at midday Tuesday under the Fifth Street Bridge, a pace well below the average flow of 2,330 cfs for the date. The river is forecast to fall below 300 cfs before Saturday.

Buying water

Anticipating the drought, the City Council and three of Steamboat’s commercial tubing operators agreed Tuesday to spend $20,000 to purchase extra water from Stagecoach Reservoir that is being offered to the city at a significant discount by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

Kevin McBride, the Conservancy District’s general manager, told the City Council the Colorado Water Trust plans to buy $140,000 worth of water from the reservoir south of Steamboat and release it next month to combat the low river flows and protect the river’s habitat and wildlife.

“The situation is really dire,” he said. “The river is flowing at virtually half of what it was flowing at this time in 2002.”

He said that together, the groups could purchase about 4,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir at $35 per acre-foot. The water then would be released from July through September, depending on the weather conditions.

He estimated that it would take 2 acre-feet of water to increase the Yampa’s flow in Steamboat by 1 cfs, and there is no guarantee the measure would be enough to keep the river comfortably above the 85 cfs threshold.

To raise $10,000 toward the water purchase, Van De Carr said, Backdoor Sports, One Stop Ski Shop and Bucking Rainbow plan to charge $1 more per tube this season. He said that despite the plan to release more water, the season promises to be a challenging one.

“Last year, we were worried about flooding, and now we’re worried about drought,” he said.

In other action

The Steamboat Springs City Council voted, 4-1, to deny Eric and Samantha Rabesa’s request to remove a deed restriction on a property they own in the Fairview neighborhood west of Bud Werner Memorial Library. The couple wanted to subdivide the lots they own in the neighborhood and a build a home on their half-acre parcel that borders Emerald Mountain off Manitou Avenue. While the couple still can build a home on the lot, the deed restriction prevents them from selling the home they rent out in front of the vacant lot separately from the half-acre undeveloped parcel that is considered a “back lot.” About 20 Fairview residents attended the meeting, and several of them asked the council to deny the request and honor the deed restriction.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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