The Yampa River in Craig is running higher and faster than average, but the National Weather Service in Grand Junction expects the river to peak this week and continually decrease thereafter.
Weather Service hydrologist Bryon Lawrence said the 9.9-feet crest height measured Wednesday morning is likely the highest the Craig area will see.
It will be the third highest peak crest in 25 years.
The average peak crest is 7.8 feet.
“It looks like this will be the peak,” he said. “But, we expect flows to remain quite high on the Yampa River for the next few days.”
At a measurement station where the Yampa crosses Colorado Highway 13, the river hit 11,575 cubic feet per second, which Lawrence said is likely the peak discharge for the year.
The average peak flow for the last 25 years is 8,400.
Despite below average winter snowfall on the Western Slope, warm temperatures since Memorial Day weekend have caused a quick snowmelt in the high country, causing creeks and streams to swell and rise, Lawrence said.
Rapid snowmelt in the high country is responsible for incidents of flooding in the Eagle River and Gore Creek through Vail, and in the Elk River around Routt County Road 42.
In Craig, Lawrence said lowland flooding of agricultural lands is not uncommon with the Yampa flowing at high levels.
Barry Barnes, captain of Moffat County Search and Rescue, warned river users of the dangers of going afloat this time of year.
“Stay off the river if you don’t need to be on it,” Barnes said. “If you are on it, make sure you have a life vest, make sure everyone in your boat has a life vest. Make sure you have the proper boat: A swift water boat or a good steel boat.”
He said recreational river users who like to float sections of the Yampa in inner tubes or inflatable rafts would be wise to wait.
“Now is not the time to be doing that,” Barnes said. “It’s not floating season right now because the river is out of the bank. The hydraulics of the river are just really strong.”
Lawrence said the river level will decrease slightly as the week goes on.
“We don’t expect it to keep going up,” Lawrence said. “There have been cooler temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday. As for snow left in the mountains, there’s not much left and that’s going to slow the melt, which should slow the flow of the Yampa River and lower the crest.”
The river’s discharge began to decline Wednesday afternoon, falling below 11,000 cubic feet per second.
Lawrence also warned water recreation enthusiasts about the dangers of fast-moving water.
“We always just like to tell people that the water’s moving fast and moving water has a lot of force,” he said. “And, that water’s very cold. Even a river that’s not flooding can be deadly if you aren’t prepared to be in it.”
Barnes said he doesn’t keep track of the river’s ever-changing flow statistics. But, he knows a dangerous body of water when he sees one.
“I don’t really keep track of that,” he said. “But, I just know that I don’t want to be out on it, either, looking for people.”