The Yampa River has finally fallen to a level that allows for commercial tubing.
On Monday, the river dropped below 700 cubic feet per second through downtown Steamboat Springs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the flow rate that typically kicks off tubing with commercial outfitters…
Though lower than it has been all summer, the river is still running quickly, with water temperatures around 60 degrees. The city of Steamboat Springs — and commercial outfitters — recommend wearing a life jacket on the water, even when on a tube.
fter several weeks of rising water on the Yampa River, homes near the waterway might see drier river banks soon as river level continues to fall.
“We had a big snow year,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the Colorado River District. “Then we had a cool, wet spring even into summer as you saw in Steamboat with their snowfall.”
Officials say much of the snow in Steamboat Springs and other highland areas of the Yampa Valley hasn’t melted yet. So, unless there’s a series of exceptionally hot days, the Yampa River should stay steady…
That standing water has caused some mosquito issues in Moffat County. At least one mosquito tested positive for West Nile Virus near the South Beach boat ramp in Craig. No official human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported anywhere in Colorado yet, but officials want residents to be proactive in protecting themselves during the peak mosquito feeding times of dawn and dusk…
Though it breeds mosquitoes, much of that water has made things green up at ranches across the Yampa Valley as cows and other livestock are having their fill of the foliage.
“It’s been a great year, especially compared to last year,” [Brian Romig] said. “Farmers are happy. Farmers and ranchers seem to be a lot happier this year.”
From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):
Nearly 5 inches of June precipitation and 2 inches of June snow have contributed to keeping the Yampa River flowing near peak levels since the beginning of the month.
Since the river rose to 2,300 cubic feet per second at the Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat Springs on June 5, the river hasn’t fallen below that level, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.
“It’s a good year, and that’s no surprise to anybody at this point,” Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District General Manager Kevin McBride said. “It’s a good thing that it comes off and stays at that level for a long time, because the last thing we want to see is one big peak because that means flooding.”
Scott Hummer, Colorado Division of Water Resources water commissioner serving water users in South Routt, said the ranchers he works with say it’s peaked, but he’s still waiting to see.
“Some of my water users have told me they think the river’s peaked,” Hummer said. “I’m not particularly sold that it’s peaked. I think that everything is still totally temperature dependent. We may see a very sustained, higher-flow rate.”
Hummer added that water users in the southernmost end of the district have seen high water — with the Yampa spilling out of its banks and pooling up in fields — that hasn’t been seen for a lifetime.
“We are light years ahead of where we were last year at this particular point in time,” Hummer said. “Last Saturday (June 22), we saw record all-time inflows into Stagecoach (Reservoir). On Sunday, we saw Stagecoach spill at an all-time record amount, so it’s a much different season than last season, simply based on the snowpack.”
On Thursday, about 200 cfs of water was flowing into Stagecoach Reservoir. The mean for this date — the average of the 31-year record — is 90 cfs…
These higher flows are a boon for river runners who are still catching big waves on the Yampa and to ecosystems that rely on fluctuating flows. While ranchers are glad to have enough water to irrigate hay, the moisture and low temperatures have likely pushed back the growing season, meaning they’ll cut hay later in the season, Romero-Heaney said.
For those who hope to hit the river, it might be a better bet to rent a raft instead of a tube for awhile yet. Commercial outfitters typically start renting out tubes when the river falls below 700 cfs. The Yampa is still flowing at four times that rate.
Romero-Heaney guessed — based on data from 2011, a similar runoff year — that the river might fall to a tube-able level in mid- to late-July.
And while the water is high now, McBride cautions that it doesn’t remedy years of low flow in the greater Colorado River Basin, which the Yampa is a part of.
“As they say, don’t get too comfortable with just one year of good runoff in the Colorado Basin as a whole, but for users in the Yampa, it looks like a banner year,” he said.
Here’s a guest column from Kent Vertrees that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today:
For all snow, water and river junkies out there, last weekend’s weather was one of the most intense and bizarre we have seen in some time. Twenty or more inches of snow in the high country, inches of rain, massive lightning, cold temps, snow in downtown Steamboat Springs marked the official beginning of summer in the Yampa Valley.
Since 1983, the year of all water years in the Colorado Basin, 2011 was the next wettest on record. This year is now very comparable.
This is a reality of ours. Living on the spine of the continent, high up in elevation, this offers extreme variability in our climate as is. We have always experienced broad shifts in annual snowpack, rain, temperature and river flow, and the perfect scenario like last weekend is never out of our reality. We already had a deep snowpack remaining from winter and spring. Then, throw in a low front with adequate moisture and low temperature and residents woke up to snow on first day of summer.
The trick with last week’s storm is that is wasn’t all snow. We typically see river levels drop when we get cold fronts, because they shut down the snowmelt with colder temperatures. But in this case, it poured rain leading up to the snowfall which spiked our rivers, creeks and streams to their seasonal peak flows.
River flows in the Yampa Basin are notorious for having large fluctuations in their seasonal flow. With limited storage reservoirs in the basin, there isn’t the capacity for water managers to store the runoff. When the conditions are right, and Mother Nature sends us her wrath, it’s not out of the ordinary to see river levels spike.
In early June at the Yampa Basin Rendezvous that was held in Steamboat Springs, we learned all about snow, water, rivers, climate modeling and the resiliency of communities to handle shifting climate aridity. We learned from scientists that the future we can expect in the Yampa and greater Colorado River basins in general, will only continue to be more variable, extreme and a bit wilder than what we are all used to.
Years of hotter and dryer climate, drought and low river flow, followed by periods of extreme snow and rainfall along with heavier flooding seems probable in our future, and it is what many of the modeling trends are indicating. What we saw last weekend is just a glimpse into our extreme weather reality and is something that we will all have to get used to.
Kent Vertrees is the board president of the Friends of the Yampa.
For the last four years, Green River and Little Snake River basin ranchers have been getting paid not to irrigate in late summer to conserve Colorado River water. But the pilot phase of the program is now over. The next step is developing the technology to measure how much water is actually saved.
Big Piney Rancher and water engineer Chad Espenscheid said the key to making sure the program succeeds is proving the water was really making it down to the Colorado River…
As part of a new drought contingency agreement, Upper Basin states like Wyoming will now be able to store as much as 500,000 acre feet of conserved water to fill lower basin demands. But that’s only if they figure out how to quantify the saved water.
Espenscheid said the program is definitely worth keeping. He said it made it worth his while to participate, paying him enough to expand his cattle herd.
But as for quantifying how much water he really conserved?
“How much? Who knows,” he said. “But for sure there was water going down the creek that we probably would have used.”
Espenscheid said he plans to work on possible methods to answer that question, like developing computer models or creating measuring devices to install in streams.
Wyoming’s Trout Unlimited Director Cory Toye says the test run was popular with ranchers and translated to real benefits for native trout.
FromThe Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hassenbeck):
The collective group of [recently signed] agreements is called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
It aims to raise the unprecedented low water levels in the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to enable them to continue to deliver water and produce hydropower.
In Colorado, it calls for three possible actions:
Creating a bank of stored water in federally owned reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. This water would be released into Lake Powell in order to make sure Colorado continues to meet obligations to deliver a certain amount of water to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact.
Increasing cloud seeding and removing deep-rooted, invasive plants that take up a lot of water, such as tamarisk.
Creating a voluntary program that would temporarily pay agricultural water users to fallow their land and send water they have a right to downstream. This is called demand management.
Of the options on the table, demand management — the option that would pay farmers not to use their water — is the one most likely to impact Routt County…
Demand management is still only a hypothetical, so the Yampa River Basin could opt out of a program if it doesn’t work for the area.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled workgroups on topics related to demand management. These groups are now meeting behind closed doors to develop preliminary reports outlining how the program might work.
Brown said once these reports are completed and released to the public, there will be opportunities for community members to provide input on the idea. She said there will be the “opportunity for a real, thoughtful conversation, especially in the Yampa and White (river) basins.”
From Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Jack Taylor) via Steamboat Pilot & Today:
Are you familiar with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Habitat Partnership Program (HPP)? If you are in the livestock/agriculture business or a landowner in Routt County you should be.
CPW’s HPP program works to reduce wildlife conflicts, particularly conflicts associated with forage and fences, and to assist CPW in meeting game management objectives. HPP efforts are primarily aimed at agricultural operators and focus on problems and objectives for deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. HPP is funded by receiving 5% of the deer, elk, pronghorn and moose license revenue from each HPP area. This results in millions of dollars annually that can be spent on projects on both private and public land across Colorado.
The local HPP committee in Routt County is the Upper Yampa River HPP committee. The committee is comprised of several local agricultural producers, local sportsman and agency representatives (CPW, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Serivce). This combination of local knowledge allows for innovative project ideas and novel solutions to problems specific to Routt County.
The Upper Yampa River HPP committee has recently funded several habitat improvement projects, specifically projects that enhanced the amount of water available to both wildlife and livestock on private property. These projects allowed for better grazing practices that will benefit wildlife and livestock into the future.
Other common projects for the Upper Yampa River HPP committee involve assisting landowners with fencing projects. This could be providing materials for a strong welded wire hay stack-yard that can stand up to the snow loads in Routt County or supplying vinyl-coated top wire. The vinyl-coated top wire program helps to reduce the damage that deer and elk can cause to fencing while they are crossing it because the vinyl-coated wire is more visible, which also results in fewer deer and elk fence entanglement issues.
The possibilities do not end there. In addition to fence and forage type projects, the Upper Yampa River HPP committee also assists landowners with funding a portion of the transaction costs for conservation easements.
HPP looks for a 50/50 cost split to approve the project being submitted. This means if you are asking the HPP committee to contribute $2,000 to a habitat improvement project on your property, they would be looking for a contribution from you worth $2,000.
The Upper Yampa River HPP committee also considers any other partners associated with the project, like a neighbor, if the project can span multiple parcels of property.
To submit a project with the Upper Yampa River HPP committee, contact your local district wildlife manager directly or call the CPW Steamboat Springs Service Center at 970-870-2197. Upper Yampa River HPP meetings are typically held once a month. Contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife to learn more.
Jack Taylor is a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Christmas Elk via the Middle Colorado Watershed Council December 2013
From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenback):
According to data from a National Weather Service cooperative weather station, Steamboat Springs receives a long-term average of 2.15 inches of water in May.
Data from that station shows the area received nearly double that average, with a total of 4.26 inches in May. This data is preliminary, and the National Weather Service will release its official tally of May precipitation later this month.
Steamboat received 9.3 inches of snow in May, well over the long term May average of 2.8 inches at the station.
That snow hasn’t melted off the mountains, either. The Natural Resource Conservation Services’ snow telemetry site atop the Continental Divide on Buffalo Pass measured 115 inches of snowpack on the ground on Sunday. There were 35 inches at the Rabbit Ears Pass site…
“This has been a pretty active year — a pretty wet winter and spring. … I think that’ll have some influence on the temperatures too because as the sun is melting the snow, it’s not able to heat the ground as much. That could be a reason why our temperatures could be at or below normal for this short-term forecast,” said Erin Walter, a meteorologist at the Weather Service Forecast Office in Grand Junction…
“The warmer temperatures are just going to increase the runoff, so that’s kind of the big threat right now for Western Colorado,” she said.
The river runners’ adage states that the Yampa River peaks when two brown spots atop Storm Peak meet. Those brown spots have yet to make an appearance this spring.
The Yampa River sees an average peak in early June around 2,250 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat, though the peak has ranged from 1,570 to 5,200 cfs in the last ten years.
For much of the last month, the river has flowed relatively consistently between 1,000 and 1,500 cfs through Steamboat, though the Weather Service forecast that the Yampa will rise to about 3,600 cfs later this week amid sunny weather starting Tuesday.
Walters said the forecast for June looks to see average temperatures and a slightly above average chance for “wetter than normal conditions.”
While this year is shaping up to be a good water year so far, climatologists and water managers are still concerned by a trend of drought intensified by warmer temperatures and an earlier spring in the West.
“Just because we have one good year … doesn’t negate the realities we’re seeing with consistent warming trends,” Taryn Finnessey, a senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board told the Durango Herald on Wednesday…
The Yampa River flows into the Colorado River, and then into Lake Powell, where it helps fulfill Colorado’s annual obligation to provide a certain amount of water to downstream states. As of Saturday, Lake Powell was only 43% full, and even with Colorado’s healthy snowpack, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated that Powell would fill to 54% of its storage capacity this water year. The lower Powell falls, the more concerned water managers become about meeting obligations to other states.