River rafters in Colorado could see reduced flows this summer

Tom Ross / Steamboat Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — River-runners and irrigators will want to monitor the progress of spring runoff closely this year after the Denver office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service projected Wednesday that streamflows in the combined Yampa and White rivers this summer are likely to be in the range of 50 to 69 percent of average.

The forecast is based on snowpack in the region as of Feb. 1, so there’s still a chance for the snowpack to grow. But Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos said it would take a significant reversal in the weather patterns to turn snowpack levels around.

“With nearly one-third of the typical winter season remaining, a major shift in weather patterns will be needed to make significant improvements,” Domonkos said in a news release.

And Northwest Colorado is in better shape than the southern part of the state.

“Nearly one-quarter of the almost 200 snow-monitoring sites across our network recorded snowpack at the lowest or second-lowest levels on record,” he said.

The Yampa/White basin snowpack is 70 percent of median and just 55 percent of last winter’s snowpack as of Feb. 1, according to the Conservation Service. But in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, snowpack is just 34 percent of median. It’s an indication that flows in the Four Corners region will be scant this summer, including on the San Juan River, a popular river trip destination for families in Steamboat Springs.

Domonkos reported that landmarks in the Southern Colorado Rockies like Wolf Creek Pass and Red Mountain Pass in the San Juans typically have 5 to 6 feet of standing snow in early February but currently report only 2 to 3 feet.

“What’s more concerning is the considerable number of mid- to lower-elevation monitoring sites that have little to no snow,” he said.

Close to Steamboat, the Tower snow measuring site, at 10,500 feet elevation, typically has some of the deepest snow in the state. The snow there on Feb. 4 was 59 inches deep with snow water content that represented 66 percent of median for the date. It’s the high elevation snow in locations like Buffalo Pass that feeds streams that support the Yampa River well into July.

Near the bottom of Buffalo Pass, the Dry Lake measuring site showed a snow depth of 36 inches with a snow water equivalent that was 72 percent of median.

One of the river drainages in the state projected to have stronger flows this summer is in North Park, just across the Continental Divide and the Park Range from Steamboat Springs, where the mountain snowpack that feeds the North Platte River is a respectable 82 percent of median.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.