Water testing shows upper Yampa River is healthy

The following article was published by the Steamboat Pilot & Today by Tom Ross on January 24th 2017. Full article with photos can be seen here: http://www.steamboattoday.com/news/2017/jan/24/water-testing-shows-upper-yampa-river-healthy/

Steamboat Springs — A pair of water experts from the U.S. Geological Survey reassured the Routt County Board of Commissioners and members of the Upper Yampa Watershed Group on Tuesday that the water quality in the upper reaches of the Yampa River, which flows through Steamboat Springs, is very good.

At the same time, they stressed the importance of continuing the water quality monitoring, which began in 2010 as a means to build a database about the river’s health for comparison in years to come.

“One of the great things that came from the (ongoing) water quality monitoring is that in general water quality is good in the upper Yampa Basin,” USGS supervisory hydrologic technician Steve Anders said.

He added that some of the telltale chemicals that might raise concerns for a Western river such as the Yampa were almost undetectable.

A lot of the compounds being tested for “were at such low levels, the lab couldn’t accurately measure them,” Anders said. “That’s a great thing to have.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any warning signs on the Yampa.

Routt County Health and Environment Director Scott Cowman pointed out in late 2016 the Yampa has been found to sometimes be overly warm further downstream from Steamboat. He said consistent water quality testing through time will help the entities involved in the testing make the case that they’ve been responsive to that condition when the Colorado Water Quality Control Division next focuses on the Yampa’s temperature.

Under the current testing regimen, six different sites on the upper river are tested four times annually to establish the baseline for a healthy river. That includes a longstanding site at the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat that has been funded by the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

Steamboat Today reported Dec. 6, that the Board of Commissioners had agreed to renew its $9,660 commitment for 2017 to help fund the ongoing water quality testing by the USGS along with equal contributions from the city of Steamboat Springs and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, plus $2,500 from the Mount Werner Water District. The USGS is contributing $14,631 or 30 percent of the total cost of $48,433.

County Commissioner Doug Monger asked Routt County Health and Environment Director Scott Cowman in early December why, in six years of testing, there had been only one report issued on the results of the testing.

Anders and colleague Ken Leib, a USGS hydrologist, said their organization always intends to be available to local watershed groups to discuss what they are seeing, but that the current contract does not call for them to conduct a through analysis of the test reports.

Cowman drove home the point that the 2017 water quality sampling will continue to build a foundation that will become the basis for future water projects to protect water quality.

“From 2010 to now, it’s a very small data set, but it’s a start,” Cowman said.

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

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