Dipping temperatures slip Yampa flow below normal levels

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After surging to flows that were more than five times what is typical in late March, the Yampa River has retreated to slightly below average flows this week. And that could be a good thing.

Longtime kayaking instructor Barry Smith describes current conditions on the town stretch of the Yampa as being "the best of both worlds."

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"It's still running pretty clear, so you can get some fishing in," Smith said. "And the kayaking is just great for warming up for the season."

The Yampa, where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat Springs, was running at 500 cubic feet per second at 1:30 p.m. Friday. That compares to the 97-year median flow of 679 cfs.

That's good news for kayakers because the amount of water stored in the remaining snowpack in the surrounding mountains is below average, so below average streamflows in the third week in April could help extend the paddling season.

Smith, who has seen it all in more than 30 years, is philosophical on this matter.

"Everybody wants to ask me what kind of season we're going to have," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, every kayaking season is good. Some just last longer than others."

Snowpack sensing equipment operated on Rabbit Ears Pass by the U.S. Geological Service indicates there was 21.4 inches of water still stored on the West Summit on Friday. However, that's significantly less than the 30-year average of almost 30 inches.

The Yampa was flowing at 900 cfs in town on March 28 compared to a typical flow of less than 150 cfs for that date. However, that trend didn't alarm paddlers because the water was coming from low-level snowmelt.

Smith, who owns some rural property west of town, was fixing fence last week and noticed the meadow had dried up several weeks ahead of schedule -- a clear sign low-level runoff is virtually over.

However, the true spring runoff that generates standing waves where kayakers play in the Yampa will be fueled by water coming off the Continental Divide.

Daily temperatures probably will determine when runoff peaks.

"The colder weather (this week) has really slowed it down," Smith said.

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