Great snowpack equals a great water year, right? Surprisingly, not on the Yampa.

Present hydrology on the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is not what one would expect given the fantastic snowpack in the basin this winter. In fact, current hydrologic conditions are much more analogous with 2022, a year with below average snowpack, than in 2019, the most recent year with above average snowpack.

Discharge as measured at the 5th Street bridge in Steamboat Springs (USGS YAMSTECO gage) on July 18th was almost the same as last year, at about 142 cfs, and substantially lower than the almost 500 cfs in 2019. Several factors are likely at play here. Timing of runoff this year was similar to that of the 30-year median as opposed to a lengthened runoff season that one would expect. There were no substantial late spring snow accumulations that delayed runoff like there were in 2019. Once runoff began in earnest, it was not slowed. The rate of runoff was likely increased by an average temperature in May that was about 2.5° F warmer than normal. Other factors like dust on snow could have sped up runoff, and soil moisture deficits from previous drought conditions may be leading to reduced discharge.

Though the present conditions were unexpected, the Colorado Water Trust is ready to work with Yampa River collaborators to supplement Yampa River Flows from Stagecoach Reservoir. Look for updates on those efforts soon. To learn more about our past work on the Yampa, check out our Upper Yampa River Project Page, and our Photo Story of the Yampa River.

Blake Mamich
Water Resources Specialist
Colorado Water Trust

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