Yampa might have peaked in Steamboat on Sunday | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa might have peaked in Steamboat on Sunday

River hit 2,920 cubic feet per second, could go higher this weekend

The bald spot on Storm Peak at Steamboat Ski Area has been growing in recent days as the snowpack melts. Runoff likely peaked May 30.

— The Yampa River may have hit its peak runoff for the season during the Yampa River Festival on Sunday. But there remains a small chance it could go higher this weekend.

Joe Sullivan, a supervisory hydrologic technician with the U.S. Geological Survey office in Grand Junction, confirmed Wednesday that the Yampa River likely peaked in Steamboat Springs at 2,920 cubic feet per second at 11:30 p.m. May 30.

However, Sullivan held out the possibility that lingering snowpack and a forecast of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s Friday through Sunday still could push the Yampa to a new 2010 peak.

Barry Smith, of Mountain Sports Kayak School, said he knew Tuesday that the river was at least temporarily on its way down.

"I walked out on the boulders at the C-Hole (adjacent to Bud Werner Memorial Library) to take a picture of a class," Smith said. "I couldn't have done that the day before because the rock was under water."

Sullivan's thought that the Yampa might have one last surge in it this spring wasn't based on hard science but anecdotal information. He observed that historically, when the average amount of moisture stored in the overall snowpack of the combined Yampa and White river drainages remains above 5 inches, there's still a chance that peak runoff hasn't been seen yet. The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that the basin still had 7 inches of stored water Wednesday.

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"I think it would be unlikely if the Yampa went higher this spring, but there's a chance it could happen this weekend," Sullivan said.

The river was running at 2,370 cfs at midday Wednesday, and a forecasting service provided by the Na­­tional Oceanic and Atmospheric Ad­­ministration an­­ticipated the river would remain above 2,300 cfs through Monday.

The 6.1 inches of water stored in the snow on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass is just 45 percent of average for this date, but Buffalo Pass, with 33.2 inches of moisture, stands at 78 percent of average.

Smith said he was confident, even when snow totals lagged during the ski season, that the Yampa would offer good floating conditions early this summer.

"I told people we'd get all the moisture we needed, and it happened," he said. "Every year is a good year, some just don't last as long as others. The best is where (streamflows) hang in at medium level for a while."

Smith just might get his wish this year. The Up­­per Yampa Wa­­ter Con­ser­vancy District in­­tends to expand Stage­coach Reser­voir upstream from Steamboat this summer. Dis­­trict officials pre­viously said they would begin releasing 100 cubic feet per second of water or more sometime in mid-July to draw down the reservoir and facilitate construction.

That could produce mid-summer flow levels that would keep beginner kayak play holes enjoyable, Smith said.

If the town stretch of the Yampa did indeed peak May 30, the 2,920 cfs compares to the peak of 3,060 cfs in 2009 and 2,520 in 2007. The highest peak in the past 20 years was 5,310 cfs recorded in 1997.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

Peak flows

A record of the date and flows (in cubic feet per second) when the Yampa River has historically peaked at the Fifth Street Bridge

Year / Date / Gauge height* / Cfs

1990 / June 8 / 5.71 / 2,430 cfs

1991 / June 7 / 6.20 / 3,140

1992 / May 27 / 5.43 / 2,340

1993 / June 17 / 6.33 / 3,280

1994 / May 17 / 5.22 / 2,140

1995 / June 16 / 6.63 / 3,720

1996 / May 17 / 6.89 / 3,930

1997 / June 3 / 7.65 / 5,310

1998 / May 21 / 5.84 / 2,780

1999 / May 30 / 6.10 / 3,070

2000 / May 29 / 6.82 / 4,620

2001 / May 16 / 5.55 / 2,830

2002 / May 30 / 4.10 / 1,290

2003 / June 1 / 7.44 / 5,190

2004 / May 10 / 4.72 / 1,950

2005 / May 24 / 6.02 / 3,210

2006 / May 23 / 6.40 / 3,850

2007 / May 18 / 5.16 / 2,520

2008 / June 4 / 6.34 / 3,850

2009 / May 20 / 5.71 / 3,060

*The third column shows gauge height at the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat. Flood stage is 7.5 feet.

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