By mid-July this summer, laminated signs attached to caution cones lined the Yampa River throughout Steamboat Springs, Colorado, declaring: “ALL RIVER USERS ARE ASKED TO REFRAIN FROM ENTERING THE YAMPA RIVER UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”
Flows were 20 percent of normal. Water temperatures approached 80 degrees during the day. A river usually full of people bobbing on float tubes, paddling on standup boards, or casting lines to fish holding in deep, clear pools was void of human activity.
The Yampa River, which winds about 250 miles from the Flat Top Mountains through Steamboat Springs, and into lower elevations was not alone this summer. Rivers across the West were closed for much of the summer—by mandate or as volunteer restrictions—in a desperate attempt by water managers to keep fish alive. These closures made headlines during this summer of historic drought, but really, the issues trace farther back than a single fishing season.
“If you look at the…