Ed Patterson, who was visiting from Boulder, fishes in the cool waters of the Yampa River on Wednesday morning.  Commercial tubing on the river was stopped Wednesday after the river fell below 85 cubic feet per second. The river, however, is still supports fishing.

Photo by John F. Russell

Ed Patterson, who was visiting from Boulder, fishes in the cool waters of the Yampa River on Wednesday morning. Commercial tubing on the river was stopped Wednesday after the river fell below 85 cubic feet per second. The river, however, is still supports fishing.

Tubing season halted in Steamboat

River outfitters voluntarily pull their tubes out of Yampa River

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Voluntary water restrictions

The three water districts that provide water to the Steamboat Springs area — Mount Werner Water District, the city of Steamboat Springs Water District and the Steamboat II Metro District — have recommended that residents take voluntary water restriction measures to help curb water consumption, according to a news release.

Watering tips:

■ Residents are asked to follow a watering schedule based on the last number in a house address. Those with even address should water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Those with odd addresses should water on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No watering on Wednesdays.

■ Don’t water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

■ Avoid watering in windy conditions.

■ Set timers to avoid overwatering.

■ Water during three short intervals rather than a long one.

■ Adjust sprinklers to avoid watering hard surfaces.

■ Don’t use water to clean hard surfaces; use a broom.

■ Use a spring-loaded nozzle on hoses.

■ Keep grass longer to reduce soil moisture loss.

■ Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding during drier months.

■ Plant native grasses and shrubs or drought-tolerant species in place of water-intensive plants.

Find more water-saving tips at www.steamboatsprings.net or www.mwwater.com.

— The commercial tubing season in Steamboat Springs came to an abrupt end Wednesday afternoon as the Yampa River slowed to 81 cubic feet per second under the Fifth Street Bridge.

The season’s premature end left some local river outfitters feeling a little deflated.

“I’ve never seen the tubing season start so early and end so quickly,” One Stop Ski Shop owner John Kole said at his downtown store, which started renting out tubes 19 days ago. “It really hurts. It really hurts.”

The river near his shop was flowing nearly 1,500 cfs below its historic average for June 20.

The Yampa River Management Plan recommends that tubing stop on the river when its flow falls below 85 cfs. Acknowledging the Yampa was becoming too low to easily float and to protect the waterway’s habitat and wildlife, the city’s three tubing outfitters agreed to voluntarily suspend their operations.

Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director Chris Wilson said the river still is open to all types of recreation, including fishing and private tubing.

But the city is monitoring the river’s low flow with Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officials, and they soon could recommend that all tubers stay out of the waterway.

“I would venture to guess that very shortly, if (the river continues to decline), we will be doing voluntary closures,” Wilson said.

He added that the last time the city had to ask tubers to stay out of the river because of low flows was in July 2007.

Angling continues

Parks and Wildlife administrative assistant Christy Bubenheim said that although the river still is open for fishing, the low flows are a concern.

She added that Parks and Wildlife is considering a voluntary fishing ban that could be enacted if the Yampa River’s temperature and oxygen levels reach a certain threshold.

“We’ve been steering fisherman more toward high elevation creeks rather than in town,” she said.

Meanwhile, fishing guides are reporting the fish in town still are thriving in the low flows.

“The fish are very healthy,” Steamboat Flyfisher guide Jonah Dresher said. “They have plenty of dissolved oxygen, and the temperatures in the water are fantastic.”

Dresher took the river’s temperature near the Fifth Street Bridge on Wednesday afternoon and found the water was 65 degrees. The Yampa River Management Plan recommends an end to fishing in the river when the water temperature reaches 75 degrees for two consecutive days or the level of dissolved oxygen becomes too low.

Bubenheim said the water temperature at the Fifth Street Bridge reached 71 degrees at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Hoping for the best

With the forecast expected to remain hot and dry this week, river outfitters and city officials are hoping for a release of water from Stagecoach Reservoir.

The Colorado Water Trust officials confirmed Wednesday that they still are negotiating with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to purchase and release about 4,000 acre-feet of water the Conservancy District owns in the reservoir south of Steamboat.

Conservancy District manager Kevin McBride said he was hoping to start releasing the water into the Yampa by July 1 to help combat the drought conditions.

But he doubted the release would support recreation.

“The amount of water we release will not be enough to help the Yampa sustain 85 cfs for any period of time,” he said. “But we certainly can help the river’s quality of health.”

He said that because many water users and potential diversions exist between Stagecoach and Steamboat, it will be a challenge to ensure all of the released water makes its way downtown.

“We’re fairly confident it can be delivered between Stagecoach and Catamount, but (getting it from Catamount to Steamboat) is a question that is still out there,” he said.

In the meantime, river outfitters now are rethinking their business models and preparing for a summer without the Yampa. Still, they are ready for the river to come back to life in a moment’s notice.

“We’re all hopeful that maybe there will be some kind of resolution among the water gods, and they will release water or someone downstream with a hugely senior water right will make a call,” Backdoor Sports owner Pete Van De Carr said. “Or maybe a storm will come. We’re always hoping because stranger things have happened. We’re not putting (our tubes) away like we do in September. We’re putting things away with the intent that within a day, we could be back up and running again.”

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

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