Water managers add, improve temperature gauges in Yampa River

Steamboat Pilot, November 21, 2022

Midday Monday, Nov. 21, at the U.S. Geological Survey Fifth Street gauging station on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs the water temperature was a cold 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

That is 5 degrees colder than the median of 37 degrees for Monday based on USGS data from 2003 to 2021.

However, on the warmest water day this summer at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 11, the water temperature rose to 79.5 degrees, according to the gauge data available online. The median water temperature for Aug. 11 from 2003 to 2021 was lower at approximately 67 degrees, according to the database.

The recent trends of 75-plus degrees for high summer water temperature are about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than most stream fish prefer, said Billy Atkinson, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The Fifth Street gauge is an expensive station that includes temperature monitoring. It is also one key to deciding about timing and amounts for upstream water reservoir releases and recreational river closures. Thirty other temperature gauges of varying quality and permanence exist on the Yampa River from above Stagecoach Reservoir to Deerlodge Park in Dinosaur National Monument, according to Julie Baxter, Steamboat Springs water resources manager.

Only four of the existing locations could provide real-time temperature data online to help with immediate decision-making, Baxter said.

The city and partners such as Friends of the Yampa, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and U.S. Geological Survey have recently or are installing new temperature monitoring locations in the river based on the gaps and priorities identified in the recently completed Yampa Integrated Water Management Plan. More and improved temperature monitoring will help water managers make better decisions long term.

Some of the city’s past temperature loggers have been lost from washing downstream during disturbances, Baxter said, and she supervised a small committee and consultant to move forward on a recommendation from management plan. The plan was released in September and is available online at YampaWhiteGreen.com/iwmp.

“Our rivers are warming, and warmer temperatures can stress fish and aquatic life, favor invasive species and worsen the effects of nutrient pollution,” Baxter said.

The conservancy district added temperature measurement to the USGS gauge above Stagecoach Reservoir. Friends of the Yampa installed temperature loggers in several tributaries and downstream of the hot springs. The city contracted with an engineering firm to install more permanent, continuous, real-time temperature monitoring above and below the Wastewater Treatment facility.

After the temperature gauges are added or improved, the goal is to post as much real-time temperature information as possible on the forthcoming Yampa River Dashboard, which is another of the 20 management plan‘s recommendations. The conservation district along with the Colorado Water Trust and nonprofit Friends of the Yampa are working to establish the online dashboard by late 2023.

The dashboard would provide stakeholders a one-stop location for information related to water management such as snowpack, current climate conditions, temperatures and soil moisture.

“Any additional temperature monitoring is great,“ Atkinson said. ”The more data loggers and more data points you get regarding temperature and location, the better.”

High river temperatures and low water flows resulted in several closures of the Yampa River this past summer that confused recreationalists and frustrated some sports shop owners.

Baxter said the added temperature gauges will help in the ongoing process to understand and adapt for the combined causes and influences on the river temperature such as hot springs, reservoirs, tributaries, point source discharge permits, decreased snowpack, ambient air temperatures and river changes through time. The city plans to work with a consultant in 2023 on further Yampa River temperature and streamflow modeling.

Baxter wrote an article for Colorado Municipalities magazine in October that discussed the big picture concern about the community efforts to cool the Yampa River, ranging from tree planting to reservoir releases.

“From a broader perspective, warming stream temperatures are alarming to the community because water temperature fundamentally influences aquatic diversity and ecosystem health,” Baxter wrote.

“In 2022, for the sixth consecutive summer, high water temperatures led to extended commercial and recreational river closures to protect fish and aquatic wildlife,“ Baxter wrote. ”Temperatures in the upper Yampa River during late summer regularly exceed state standards intended to protect water quality, aquatic life and cold-water fish species, including mountain whitefish, one of two salmonid species native to Colorado. The state placed the reach of the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs on the Clean Water Act Impaired Waterbody List for temperature in 2016.”

“The river has temperature exceedance issues,” Baxter explained this week. “Our position is we really need watershed approaches resolving the water quality temperature exceedance.”

Steamboat Pilot & Today
Suzie Romig
Original Article