Yampa River should see above average total flows through July

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Annual peak streamflows

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

(in cubic feet per second)

2014: 4,850 cfs

2013: 2,830 cfs

2012: 1,570 cfs

2011: 5,200 cfs

2010: 4,320 cfs

2009: 3,060 cfs

2008: 3,850 cfs

2007: 2,520 cfs

Elk River at Yampa River confluence

2014: 6,300 cfs

2013: 3,630 cfs

2012: 2,280 cfs

2011: 8,590 cfs

2010: 6,970 cfs

2009: 4,930 cfs

2008: 6,290 cfs

2007: 3,280 cfs

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

— The Yampa and Elk river basins carried above average snowpack into June and that translates into an optimistic outlook for streamflows through the end of July.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver predicted Monday that the total volume of flows in the Yampa in Steamboat Springs in June and July will be 118 percent of average, and maybe more if precipitation is abundant. And flows in the Elk, one of the Yampa’s biggest tributaries, could be at 145 percent of average during the heart of the summer.

The streamflow projections issued by the NRCS shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the flows in the Yampa consistently will be at 118 percent of average, Mage Hultstrand cautioned. She is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS in Denver.

Hultstrand explained that the streamflow projection anticipates the total volume of water that will flow under the Fifth Street Bridge from June through July.

“It’s based on current (snowpack) conditions and weather patterns in the area the past few months,” Hultstrand said.

The weather in terms of temperature and precipitation will have much to say about streamflow from week to week.

The Yampa at Steamboat peaked for the season May 30 at 4,850 cubic feet per second, Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Wednesday. The Elk peaked at 6,300 cfs also on May 30.

The Yampa came close to going higher June 2, but fell just short, Alcorn said.

Flows in the Yampa were in decline this week, but the snowpack still has a kick in it; the Forecast Center expects the Yampa to rally Thursday and Friday, jumping from Wednesday morning’s flow of 2,300 cfs to perhaps 3,400 cfs by Friday. The median flow for June 11 is 2010 cfs. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s under clear skies Thursday and Friday.

The streamflow projection issued by the NRCS really is intended to inform reservoir managers and help them understand how full their reservoirs will be and how much water they can release.

It’s safe to say the upper Yampa will be carrying more water than average for much of the next seven or eight weeks, but the streamflow forecast doesn’t guarantee there will be above average water in the river for irrigating hay fields or providing thrills for tubers during the last week in July, for example, Hultstrand said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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