#Runoff #Snowpack news: Clear Creek closed to tubing, South Platte pretty much melted-out

Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From KWGN (Drew Engelbart):

Park Rangers were enforcing and informing visitors of the tubing and swimming restriction along Clear Creek on Saturday.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office announced the restriction on Thursday, citing dangerous conditions because of high water.

These temporary restrictions apply to Clear Creek in unincorporated Jefferson County, as well as those portions of Clear Creek within the City of Golden, including Vanover Park.

Colorado’s Own Channel 2 spotted two people with tubes ready to hop in the water were stopped short by onlookers who informed them tubing was restricted.

Water activities prohibited by the order include all single-chambered air inflated devices such as belly boats, inner tubes, and single chambered rafts, as well as “body-surfers” and swimming.

Kayaks, paddle boards, whitewater canoes and multi-chambered professionally guided rafts and river boards are exempt, but are encouraged to observe extreme caution due to the safety concerns surrounding swift moving water and floating debris.

Arkansas River at Moffat Street Pueblo April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Arkansas River at Moffat Street Pueblo April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Authorities said the water of the Arkansas River where the rescue happened [ed. 3 young people rescued from the Arkansas River Tuesday, June 7] was flowing fairly fast. Earlier in the day, it was measured at 4,300 cubic feet per second — fast but not unusual during the annual spring runoff.

Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From The Aspen Times (Erica Robbie):

Rapids on the Roaring Fork River are expected to peak this weekend, said Aspen Fire Department Chief Rick Balentine, citing information from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Balentine said the currents are “dangerously high” now and cautioned those on the water to wear some form of safety flotation device.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 percent of people who drown in boating accidents are not wearing a life vest, Balentine said.

He cited another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stat noting alcohol is a factor in 70 percent of water-recreation accidents.

“These are pretty stark facts,” Balentine said. “If you see somebody about to do something stupid, say something…

On Thursday, the river flow hit around 1,640 cubic feet per second, Ingram said.

River officials often draw a parallel between one cubic feet per second and one basketball — meaning 1,640 cubic feet per second is the equivalent to about 1,640 basketballs rushing down a river at once.

Ingram expects the Slaughterhouse area, one of the faster, more thrilling sections of the river, to reach between 1,800 and 2,200 cfs this weekend.

Cache la Poudre at Canyon Mouth water year 2016 through June 12, 2016.
Cache la Poudre at Canyon Mouth water year 2016 through June 12, 2016.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The National Weather Service in Denver extended a flood advisory for the Poudre in Larimer County and Weld County. The river isn’t projected to reach flood stage through early next week, but residents can expect minor flooding of low-lying areas along the river, according to the advisory.

South Platte River Basin snowpack sat at 194 percent of its historical average on Friday morning and was even higher earlier this week thanks to remnants from spring snows. That’s significant for the Poudre, which is fed by mountain snowpack in addition to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

As temperatures soar into the 90s this weekend, snowmelt will push the river to 6.7 feet at the canyon mouth by Sunday morning, the advisory said. Flood stage is 7.5 feet, and the river stood at 6.2 feet Friday morning.

At 6 feet, water covers the bike path and trail along the river in and near Fort Collins.

southplatteriverbasinhighlo06112016

From The Greeley Tribune (Katarina Velazquez):

Colorado has twice as much snowpack than normal for this time of year, according to the latest snowpack report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The cool, wet weather in May contributed to the exceptional water supply Colorado appears to have heading into the summer. According to the report, as of June 6, the state was at 201 percent of the average for snowpack, compared to last year’s 95 percent.

“This should be a good year waterwise for cities and for farmers; that’s the bottom line,” said Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The fact that snow is still visible in the mountains at this time of year means the runoff should last longer than it usually does, which in turn means less water will be pulled from reservoir storage later in the year, he said.

And the snowpack is especially good in the northern Colorado area. The majority of remaining snowpack in Colorado exists in the northern mountains, especially in watersheds such as the South Platte and Upper Colorado, which are above 10,000 feet.

As of June 6, both river basins that feed into northern Colorado — the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin — were above 200 percent of the median snowpack.

As for reservoir storage, the state is currently at 108 percent of average, according to the June 1 update from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is exactly where the state was last year, as well.

The Upper Colorado River Basin is at 110 percent of average for reservoir storage and the South Platte River Basin is at 112 percent of the average.

Werner said the Colorado-Big Thompson project is 20 percent above normal, which is promising at this point in the year. The Colorado-Big Thompson project is a series of reservoirs, pipelines, diversions and ditches that provides water to municipalities, farmers and other water users throughout northeastern Colorado.

Werner said going into summer, farmers and cities should be in good shape if nothing drastic occurs within the upcoming months.

“We shouldn’t have any major water worries this year,” he said.

#Runoff news: Rafting outfitters are hopeful for a good whitewater season

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

From CBS Denver:

Colorado rafting companies excited about the summer season and they’re hoping for big crowds.

Nearly 100,000 people rafted just a stretch Clear Creek last year, but there are some safety precautions rafters need to take before they think about heading out.

“We expect to have a great year this year,” Clear Creek Rafting Company Manager Dale Drake told CBS4’s Matt Kroschel.

Dozens of commercial companies raft the waters in Clear Creek, and many more tackle other sections across Colorado.

Rafting hits high-water mark in Clear Creek — The Clear Creek Courant

From The Clear Creek Courant: (Gabrielle Porter):

The number of people taking commercial rafting trips on Clear Creek this year was likely higher than 2014, which would make 2015 the third straight year of improvement for the industry, according to the Colorado Rafting Association.

The association saw more than 72,000 commercial customers in Clear Creek in 2014. The association hasn’t finished compiling figures for 2015 year, said executive director David Costlow, but “my guess is this year it will exceed that,” he said.

“That’s big business for Clear Creek County,” Costlow said.

According to the organization’s 2014 report:

• 60,644 people took commercial rafting trips on Clear Creek in 2011.

• 35,422 took Clear Creek trips in 2012.

• 61,172 took Clear Creek trips in 2013.

• 72,224 took Clear Creek trips in 2014.

[…]

Idaho Springs-based company Raft Masters had 6,036 visitors in 2015 — up about 7 percent from last year, said owner Dennis Wied. The company has been running trips in Clear Creek for about 10 years.

“Rafting on Clear Creek is becoming really popular,” Wied said. “Initially our Clear Creek operations made up 25 percent of our total operations between Clear Creek and the Arkansas River. Now it’s more like 40 percent.”

Wied said the county’s proximity to Denver has helped boost its image, especially for people wanting to make day trips…

Costlow said other areas have higher fees than Clear Creek. He pointed to the Arkansas River, which is called the most rafted river in the world.

“The fees there are such that a lot of (rafting companies), although they still run there, they’ve transferred a lot of their business to Clear Creek …,” Costlow said. “That’s why Clear Creek County gets the increase in revenue.”

Clear Creek rafting via MyColoradoLife.com
Clear Creek rafting via MyColoradoLife.com

CPW is restoring Greenbacks to Herman Gulch in Clear Creek County

Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com
Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com

From CBS Denver (Matt Kroschel):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife set up a camp with more than 20 people working around the clock along the banks of the Herman Gultch in Clear Creek County. They are working to kill all the fish that live in the waterway currently, and then restock that waterway with the greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish.

Presumed to be extinct by 1937, several wild populations of what were thought to be greenback cutthroat trout were discovered in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins starting in the late 1950s. According to the CPW, those discoveries launched an aggressive conservation campaign that replicated those populations across the landscape so that they could be down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Momentum for preserving the native jewels continued to build, and in 1996 the greenback was designated as Colorado’s state fish. Efforts to establish new populations were proceeding along a track that suggested the recovery plan benchmarks might soon be met, and the subspecies could be delisted entirely.

Currently, biologists estimate there are less than 5,000 wild greenback cutthroat in the state, but once this project is complete, they hope to double or triple that number.

“We choose this creek in particular because once we clear out the invasive fish species that live in these waters it will be impossible they will be able to get back into the creek to compete with the greenback cutthroat once we stock them here,” Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist, South Platte River basin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said.

Biologists are using a substance called rotenone to kill the fish that currently call the creek home. They add the liquid upstream of a temporary water treatment and testing center at the bottom of the stream. Once the substance does its job they then dilute and consternate the deadly substance. The process turns the water a purple color for a few hundred yards downstream of the treatment center, but water samples taken downstream from that location show the water quality is back to safe levels as it enters Clear Creek.

Right now, biologists are raising thousands of greenback cutthroats in fish hatcheries in Lake and Chaffee counties.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

West Clear Creek cleanup: “But who can make instream flow part of the deal?” — David Holm

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

After years of delay, state and federal agencies this month confirmed they will clean the water by building a $15 million treatment plant — a project that had the goal of restoring fish habitat. The plant is a key step in a federal Superfund cleanup that has dragged on for 32 years. But fish are still out of luck.

Local town leaders want to divert the cleaned water for people, frustrating the agencies and those who want fish to return to the creek. It’s a case of how Colorado’s population growth and development boom are intensifying competition for water.

“It isn’t ideal,” said David Holm, director of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation. “Would it be better if we had a deal to ensure ample in-stream flow in North Clear Creek? Yes. But who can make in-stream flow be part of the deal?”

The mining towns-turned-gambling meccas Black Hawk and Central City have asserted that, under Colorado’s water appropriation system, they can use senior water rights that they own to tap the cleaned creek. Black Hawk plans to build thousands more hotel rooms, hiking and biking trails, a reservoir and, possibly, a golf course — all requiring more water.

More Clear Creek Watershed coverage here.

A look at the state of the whitewater business along the Arkansas River

raftingarkriver

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A nearly 7 percent increase in Arkansas River rafting business last summer bodes well for a further rebound in the industry, yet some fear the river is slowly losing its share of the market. The Arkansas River reported 191,307 boaters last summer, up 6.6 percent from 2013, according to a report issued this week by the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

While the Arkansas River remains the most rafted river in the state by a large margin, it has lost about 3 percent of its market share to other rivers, according to the rafters group.

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

One river showing big gains is Clear Creek west of Denver. Clear Creek reported 72,224 rafters last summer, up from 61,172 in 2013 and 35,422 in 2012.

“Clear Creek has been drawing substantially because of its convenience to Denver,” said the outfitter association’s Joe Greiner of Wilderness Aware Rafting in Buena Vista. “They are taking more (of the) people who used to come to the Arkansas River from Denver.”

The main staging area for Clear Creek rafting is Idaho Springs on Interstate 70.

Greiner said rafting on the Arkansas remains “well off its peak” of just over 252,000 customers in 2001. That peak was followed by an all-time low of 139,178 boaters during the drought year of 2002.

It was a plunge that the local industry hasn’t fully rebounded from. In 2007, the river came close with 239,887 boaters. Then came the Great Recession and a string of summers marred by drought and wildfires.

Rafting is big business.

The $23.7 million in direct 2014 expenditures on Arkansas River rafting multiplies to an overall economic impact of $60.7 million when spending for items like lodging, gas and food is factored into the equation.

Greiner credits strong water flows and the absence of major wildfires as big contributors to the increased business last summer. Last summer’s river-related deaths totaled 11 — three of which were attributed to commercial rafting accidents — but were not seen as scaring away business.

“The public is more educated and not reacting to headlines like they used to. People are taking responsibility for which section of the river they choose based on their physical limitations, river conditions and experience,” Greiner said.

If the Arkansas River is to get back to its past peak season of 250,000 customers, Greiner thinks the Browns Canyon national monument status designation would do the trick. The canyon, located between Salida and Buena Vista, is being considered for the federal status. [ed. President Obama signed the executive order designating Browns Canyon as a nation monument on February 19, 2015.]

“It would put a star on the map and people would plan their trip around that. If they find out the best way to see the national monument is by raft I think it would improve the status of the river,” Greiner said.

Friends of Browns Canyon have lobbied in Washington, D.C. and gotten positive feedback.

“There is a good chance of it,” Greiner said.

Another positive sign for this year’s rafting season is the snowpack.

“It is in pretty good shape although it has been warm and we’ve lost some (snow), if you look at the three critical gauges, they are all above average,” Greiner said.

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Clear Creek: A river runs though it — The Clear Creek Courant

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Here’s part II of the series on Clear Creek from the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh). Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek.

Through the mountains and down to the plains, Clear Creek has rushed along its jagged banks long before civilization ever found it and the gold hidden within. Its discovery led to industry, economy and community. The tie binding the stream to the people living along its banks will not be broken easily.

A commitment

Several thousand mines are estimated to crisscross the county. Lasting repercussions of the mining industry led to more than 100 efforts to clean up the stream and mitigate the mining pollution in the last decade.

According to David Holm, the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation’s executive director, stream mitigation is a “forever commitment.”

“Once you’re going down that road, you’ve really made a forever commitment for maintenance,” Holm said. “So mine drainage is like that. It is a forever problem.”

Mine waste removal and restoration of stream banks are projects that, once completed, are ultimately removed from the Clear Creek remediation radar screen, Holm said.

Clear Creek always had a “metal footprint” because of the natural mineralization in the mineral belt, which the stream cuts across, Holm said.

“So there’s no question that there would have been iron, manganese, aluminum in elevated levels, and probably a little bit of a diminished pH,” Holm said. “The tremendous increase in exposure to the weather and elements of the mineral zone, brought about by mining, definitely has increased that footprint, and we will never eliminate that additional increased footprint.”

However, the stream is cleaner today than in recent memory, thanks to efforts by the Watershed Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

A new industry

The mining industry, once so reliant on the stream, has dwindled to nearly nothing. In its place, a recreational industry has grown by leaps and bounds.

Since 1991, rafting companies using Clear Creek have experienced more than a 7,000 percent increase in customers. This increase comes at an ideal time, when the county is looking to transition to a recreation-based economy, with Clear Creek considered the area’s crown jewel.
The increase in visitors to the county had nearly a $19 million economic impact in 2013, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

Association executive director David Costlow said the meteoric rise in recreation over the years is in large part due to the stream’s close proximity to Denver and to the relatively relaxed regulations for outfitters launching in Clear Creek.

Costlow said a lot of companies based on other rivers, such as the Arkansas, now bring customers to Clear Creek.

Last year, 61,000 “user days” were reported on the stream. A user day is how the rafting industry tracks customers and equates to one customer spending time on the river during one day. In 1991, the Colorado River Outfitters Association noted, Clear Creek had just 800 user days. Today the area has 15 rafting outfitters, with several owning locations in the area and putting in additional features such as zip-lines.

“You can see the growth on Clear Creek pretty rapidly. It was just 30,000 (user days) not too long ago, and now it is around 60,000,” Costlow said. “It’s a fun river, a lot of rapids per mile.”

‘Mining recreation opportunities’

County officials see the stream as a large piece in the area’s economic puzzle. In 2010, Clear Creek Open Space, with the help of funding from a Federal Highway Administration grant, created the Lawson Whitewater Park. The park includes boulders that create specialty chutes and waves for kayakers and other boaters along the 450-foot stretch of Clear Creek just upstream from Mile Hi Rafting. The park also has parking and a changing station with environmentally friendly toilets.

County Commissioner Tim Mauck said Clear Creek saw little to no rafting 15 years ago, and now it is the second busiest river in Colorado. The county is working on a Greenway Project, which it hopes one day will create an uninterrupted recreational space following the stream from one end of the county to the other.

Earlier this year, officials met for a groundbreaking ceremony for a $13.9 million project that will link Clear Creek and Jefferson counties with a 10-foot-wide concrete trail for 6 miles, improve stream access, and link the Oxbow parcel with Mayhem Gulch.

“Looking for recreational opportunities is really something we need to position ourselves to take advantage of,” Mauck said. “The stream is the lifeblood in so many ways, not just physically to the necessities of life, but we’re drawn to it in ways that just make obvious sense.”

Mauck said Clear Creek offers a diversity of recreational opportunities such as rafting, kayaking, angling and gold panning, and the county needs to continue to transform itself and take advantage of the creek, but now in a different way.

“It’s (now about) mining the recreation opportunities,” Mauck said.

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.