A sporadic 12-day boating release from McPhee dam into the Dolores River in June was hampered by uncertain runoff forecasts after a late-season snowfall, reservoir managers said at community meeting Tuesday in Dolores.
Boaters faced on-again, off-again announcements of whitewater releases from the dam, which complicated their plans for trips down the river. It was the dam’s first whitewater release since 2011.
A 22-day rafting season was forecast as possible in March when snowpack registered at 130 percent of its median normal. A two-month dry spell erased the advantage, and the release was adjusted to five to 10 days of boating for late May. The forecast then dropped to a three-day release in early June, and after it was confirmed days later, hundreds of boaters flocked to the Dolores as it filled below the dam.
“Small spills are the most difficult and tricky to manage,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir.
But on the fourth day, managers said they realized the volume of river inflow was more than the reservoir could handle, and the dam release was extended nine additional days.
“The second spill was highly under-utilized,” said boater Kent Ford, who added that the lack of notice “killed a lot of multi-day trips.”
Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Cortez, attributed the uncertainty to the narrow margin of runoff expected to exceed reservoir capacity.
The runoff forecast has a margin of error of 10 percent, “and this year, the spill was within that 10 percent,” Harrell said.
Decisions about dam releases rely on forecasts from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, which depends on Snotels that measure snowpack in the Dolores Basin.
When there is possibility for a small spill, managers don’t have the tools to give a lot of notice, Harrell said, so decisions are made day-to-day based on river inflow and reservoir levels.
“By May, all the Snotels are melted out, and we are in the blind,” he said.
In small spill years, managers said they err on the side of caution when announcing the number of days available for boaters. They want to ensure that the reservoir remains full, but they don’t want to end a dam release prematurely.
“We have to be careful we don’t leave boaters stranded on the river,” Harrell said.
Ken Curtis, an engineer with Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the priority is to fill the reservoir, and if there is excess water, it is managed for a boating release.
It was especially difficult to forecast runoff into the reservoir this year, he said, because much of the late-season precipitation came as rainfall.
“In May, we called off the spill because we were not reaching our reservoir elevation,” he said. “Then the forecasters bumped us up by 30,000 acre-feet,” enough for a small spill.
At the end of a five-day release, the forecast center showed a dip in river inflow, “so we started to shut the gates, but the river inflow was hanging in there,” and the spill was extended several days.
Managers acknowledged that they were rusty managing the release. They’d faced many dry winters that hadn’t filled the reservoir, and the unusual winter of 2015-16 complicated the matter.
Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said boaters and the reservoir managers cooperate on potential spills, and this year was a learning experience.
In May 2005, Pueblo Whitewater Park — a half-mile section of the Arkansas between the Fourth Street and Union Avenue bridges — was unveiled. The park featured eight drops primarily for kayakers.
It didn’t take long, though, to discover that the river park’s third and fourth waves were ideal for surfing -— be aboard a boogie board, surfboard or paddle boating — and an old ocean sport was born in landlocked Pueblo…
[Bob Walker] also began spreading the word on social media via Facebook and surfers came, traveling from Denver, Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs and other areas around the state to ride Pueblo’s waves.
Walker now teams with the Colorado Association of River Surfers to host a surfing contest in conjunction with International Surfing Day observed each June.
Gogarty finds river surfing “much more fun,”
“In the ocean you spend a lot of time paddling for hours. Catching a wave is challenging and then you usually ride for a few seconds,” he said.
“In the river, the wave is not going anywhere, it’s always there. You get to ride as long as you can. It can last minutes.”
The river waves range 2-3 feet in height.
The Pueblo course is rated No. 1 in Colorado and among the top 10 across the U.S., Gogarty boasts.
BASALT – Pitkin County has awarded a construction contract worth $770,000 to a company in Durango to build a whitewater park in the Roaring Fork River near Basalt’s Elk Run subdivision.
The in-channel work, to be completed by next February, includes extensive rock work in the channel and on the riverbank and the installation of two wave-producing concrete structures anchored into the riverbed.
The upstream wave is designed to appeal to kayakers, while the downstream wave should also be suitable for stand-up paddlers at some water levels.
After a recent bid process, the county awarded the contract to build the in-channel features of the whitewater park last week to Diggin’ It River Works Inc. of Durango, according to Laura Makar, an attorney with Pitkin County who is overseeing the project. The whitewater park is being managed by the county attorney’s office, as it started as a water-rights effort.
The company has recently built whitewater parks in West Glenwood and Durango. River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the West Glenwood wave, has designed the Basalt project and its two wave-producing features.
The in-channel work for the Basalt project includes:
constructing temporary coffer dams to channel the flow of the river into a 60-inch bypass pipe to expose the riverbed for construction;
the placement of boulders in the river to form five grade-control structures above the features;
the anchoring of the two wave structures themselves; and
installation of stabilizing boulders along the toe of a steep section of riverbank.
The county plans to build a modest level of access features and public amenities as part of the project, consistent with approvals for the project granted by the town of Basalt in 2015.
(See “Exhibit A” from town of Basalt ordinance number 18-2015).
The amenities, for example, do not include viewing platforms on the riverbank as shown in some conceptual renderings by the county during public meetings on the project last year.
The riverside improvements, to be completed by May 1, 2017, include a new ramp, or path, down the riverbank from Two Rivers Road to the downstream end of the whitewater park and a metal stairway down the riverbank across from the entrance to the Elk Run subdivision, at the upper end of the whitewater park.
The downstream ramp is to serve as both a public access path and as an emergency ramp big enough to drive an ATV down if necessary.
The stairway, to be built on the riverbank across from the entrance to Elk Run, may or may not be open to the public and might be used for emergency access only, according to James Lindt, a planner with the town.
The county’s plans also include the creation of five or six parallel parking spaces just downvalley of the whitewater park, on town land on the south side of Two Rivers Road, and the addition of four more parking spaces at Fisherman’s Park, which today can hold about eight vehicles in a small dirt lot next to a picnic pavilion and a bathroom.
The town has also required that the county delineate parking spaces for two or three vehicles with trailers near Fisherman’s Park and resurface the small boat ramp across Two Rivers Road from the park. The county also plans to add boulders in the river to enlarge the eddy at the bottom of the modest boat ramp.
In an effort to make it safer for kayakers and spectators heading to and from the whitewater park, the roadside improvements include a path on the south side of Two Rivers Road, just above the whitewater park, to be formed by two sections of split-rail fence running parallel to the road and the river.
The “pedestrian corral” is designed to safely guide people from the downstream end of the whitewater park back up Two Rivers Road toward Fisherman’s Park, which the county is viewing as the primary put-in for boaters to access the two play waves.
It’s a short float around the corner from Fisherman’s Park to the whitewater park location, but it’s a difficult paddle back up the river, especially in higher water, from the whitewater park location to Fisherman’s Park.
So if a boater parks at Fisherman’s Park and floats down to the park, they will likely need to walk back up through the “corral” when they get out of the river, cross the road at the Elk Run intersection, and then walk on the sidewalk on the north side of the road back to the parking lot at Fisherman’s Park.
In an effort to increase pedestrian safety along the busy roadway, the county is also required to install three crosswalks across Two Rivers Road, each with flashing cautionary signs to warn and stop motorists.
The crosswalks are to be located at Fisherman’s Park, at the entrance to the tree farm property about a block down the road, and on the downvalley side of the entrance to Elk Run, at the upstream end of the walking corral. There are currently no marked crosswalks on Two Rivers Road in those locations.
The town intends to discourage accessing the whitewater park from the other side of the river, at the end of Emma Road, past Subway and Stubbies, although there is technically public access to the river from that location on town property. Emma Road is a private road, but it does have a public access easement on it, according to Lindt.
It’s also possible to access the whitewater park from Ponderosa Park, on the south side of the bridge by the 7-Eleven store, where there is public parking and a riverside trail leading up to the whitewater park location.
“The main access to be encouraged is off of Two Rivers Road,” Lindt said.
Construction staging for the project is slated to take place on the Emma Road side of the river, however, and the county is required to leave a dirt roadway for emergency vehicles to use to access the whitewater park when it’s finished.
The location for the Basalt whitewater park is not ideal, either in terms of the roadside access or its place on the river, just below a low highway bridge and hard against a steep bank on river-right.
But the choice of location, just above the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers and the Pitkin County line, has been driven more by a water rights consideration than the location in the river itself or in Basalt, where the town is working on a riverfront park downstream of the county’s whitewater park location.
Pitkin County officials have consistently stressed that their primary motivation in pursuing the whitewater park is to establish the water rights associated with the park’s wave-producing features, but they also think it will be a good recreational amenity.
“I think that this is going to be a water park that people will use, people will enjoy, and people will be safe while using,” Makar said.
The county is eager to move forward with construction of the in-channel work associated with the whitewater park, and is doing so before a “river recreation plan” and a master plan for Two Rivers Road have been completed by the town. Both plans are cited in the town’s approvals of the whitewater park, but there is not a requirement that they be complete before the county moves ahead.
“Pitkin County doesn’t have control over those planning processes, or control over when those planning processes are complete,” Makar said. “That’s why Pitkin County has gone forward with the instream work and the minimal improvements out of stream. If there were recommendations and changes made by the town of Basalt pursuant to those planning processes, certainly the park could adjust in the future to work with recommendations made by those planning processes.”
For example, there has been discussion of moving Two Rivers Road to the north to create more space to access the river. Lindt said a third public meeting on the river recreation plan will likely be held in August.
Final plans coming
The county still has to submit a final site plan for the project, which will provide additional details to the parking and pedestrian aspects of the plan, which are being worked on by Loris, a planning firm in Denver. The county must also obtain a construction management plan and a floodplain development permit from the town before construction begins.
Gregory Knott, the chief of police in Basalt, expressed concerns last year during the review process about public access and safety, given the location of the whitewater park along Two Rivers Road.
“Two Rivers Road is not suited to provide parking for individuals utilizing the whitewater park,” Knott said in a referral-comment letter dated Aug. 27, 2015, emphasizing that “parking along Two Rivers Road is not a safe or viable option.”
On Friday, Knott said he is comfortable that the safety measures ultimately included in the town’s October 2015 approval of the park will address his concerns, but also said he still needs to review the final site plan from the county.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates changes to rivers and waterways, issued a 404 permit for the county’s work in the river in 2010, but the initial deadline to complete the work under the permit has expired and the county is currently seeking an extension until February 2018.
Funding for the project has come from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and was approved by the county commissioners. The $770,000 worth of work awarded last week does not include the cost of roadside amenities. Makar said an estimate for the final project is forthcoming as design work continues.
After an expensive water court process the county obtained a conditional water right for the whitewater park and it carries a 2010 priority date.
The right is known as a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, and county officials see the water right as a way to keep water in the river in the face of future potential transmountain diversions from the upper Roaring Fork.
From April 15 to May 17, the county could call for 240 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to flow through the park.
Then, from May 18 to June 10, the county could call for 380 cfs.
And during peak runoff, from June 11 to June 25, it could call for 1,350 cfs of water to flow through the kayak park and create the biggest surf waves of the season.
After June 25, the water right steps back down to 380 cfs until Aug. 20, and then back to 240 cfs until Labor Day.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, July 4, 2016.
Dorothy Hargrove, Englewood’s director of library, parks and recreation, told officials at the June 29 tri-cities meeting that the project called River Run includes a trailhead and amenities including a wave generator so visitors can surf the South Platte River.
She said it has been a project involving a number of agencies including Englewood, Sheridan and Arapahoe County — plus the agreement from the Army Corps of Engineers — for all the work on the river channel.
“The project includes a pavilion, restrooms and easy ADA accessible from the parking lot to the river,” she said. “River Run is just one part of the effort to revitalize the South Platte River through Littleton, Englewood and Sheridan.”
The effort is being spearheaded by the South Platte River Working Group. The group is made up of representatives of Englewood Sheridan, Littleton, Arapahoe County, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Grants from Arapahoe County Open Space funds as well as money Englewood received from the open space fund and from lottery funds provided the roughly $800,000 needed to construct the trailhead.
Another trailhead amenity was funded when Greater Outdoors Colorado approved Sheridan’s grant request for $350,000 to construct and equip the playground adjacent to the river.
Plans are for the money to be used to build a nature-themed playground, seating overlooking the river, pedestrian paths and to install landscaping around the playground.
Other river amenity projects are planned or under construction. For example, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to construct a walking and running trail along the east bank of the river from Union to Oxford avenues. The estimated cost of the east-side trail is about $3.3 million.
Hargrove and members of the South Platte Working Group talked about some of the other efforts, including the work at Reynolds Landing and Carson Nature Center in Littleton. There are plans for bank enhancements along much of the seven-mile stretch as well as creation of a whitewater tubing and boating channel between West Union and West Oxford avenues. Smaller trailheads are planned at Union and Belleview avenues.
For years, the railroad has offered to haul boaters and their gear up to one of the four “put-ins” at Silverton, Needleton, Tacoma Power Plant and Rockwood Gorge.
Aside from embarking on a grueling hike – carrying rafts, kayaks, food and, of course, the celebratory beer, the train is about the only way to access the roaring rapids of the Upper Animas.
Then, after taking in the dramatic scenery of the train’s slow ride into the San Juan Mountains, rafters are faced with up to 30 miles of Class IV/V continuous rapids, known for their bitterly cold water, punishing flows and rocky river bottom.
Hundreds of visitors from all over the world each year pay for the experience. Over the years, commercial rafting companies have fine-tuned how they offer trips, slowly edging toward a more cautious approach.
As Mountain Waters founder Casey Lynch explained a few years ago, the Upper Animas is the only two-day, Class V run in the Southwestern United States, with the highest commercial launch in the U.S. at 9,000 feet, which requires travel in an 1880s steam train along the edge of the largest wilderness in Colorado.
Boat races, bounce houses, live music and plenty of refreshments are all in the lineup for this year’s Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival slated for Friday and Saturday.
Competitors will take on the waves of the Arkansas River to try everything from freestyle and downriver kayak, raft and paddle board races to inner tube and Build Your Own Boat races. For those who want to stay on dry land, competitions held in the Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park section of the river are visible from Centennial Park and the Fourth Street pedestrian bridge.
Throughout the two-day event, live music will run on two stages. Performances are slated to kick off at 3 p.m. Friday at Centennial Park with the Polynesian- influenced alternative rock performer Kai’mi Hanano’eau of Hawaii.
In addition to dozens of water-related events, the festival will feature the Whitewater Adventure Race, or WAR, where runners get obstacles like a mud pit, ice bath, pipe crawl and other challenges thrown at them. A fun zone full of bounce houses for children, merchant and food vendors, a beer garden, yoga and a fly-casting competition will round out offerings.
Other stage performers will include the Eric Tessmer rock and blues band, the Judd Hoos country rock band, Colorado based reggae band Irie Still, country musicians Adam Ashley and Kinsey Sadler and Colorado Springs rock band Wrestle With Jimmy.
The festival favorite, the BYOB (Build Your Own Boat) Race, is slated for 5:15 p.m. Saturday and gives spectators the thrill of watching amateur watercraft builders and their crews take to the river in an all-out sprint for buoyant glory.
Admission to the festival is $5 per person. Cost for a fun zone wristband and all-day access to bounce houses is $10 per child.
“As long as we stay hairy side up, no problem,” went [Jake Schalamon’s] rapid-fire narrative through a portion of river during which the bearded guide led the boat over a swift drop, then directed passengers to rock their raft vigorously in order to free it from a jutting rock.
“Peak season” looms over the Arkansas River Valley. The summer heat in coming weeks will melt the mountain snow, sending water rushing into the country’s top whitewater rafting destination and creating the fast, choppy waters that thrill-seekers crave. And judging by the above-average snowpack that remained firm through the cool spring, Stew Pappenfort predicts the Arkansas’ runoff will be especially strong.
“I think we’ll see high, if not very high, flows this year,” said the head ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which monitors a 152-mile stretch of the river between Leadville and Lake Pueblo State Park.
Pappenfort said last year’s peak season carried water flows above 6,000 cubic feet per second in some sections; Colorado Parks and Wildlife issues advisories for areas reading above 1,250 cfs. With such conditions pending, now is when Pappenfort offers advice to the public: Boaters should know the water they plan to take on and, most important, they should know themselves…
Traffic was up 3 percent on the Arkansas last year, according to a report released last month by the Colorado River Outfitters Association, and business owners along the river anticipate a similar increase this year…
Rafting in the state is rising with the waters – the 508,728 commercial user days logged in 2015 by the Colorado River Outfitters Association represents a 22 percent increase from only three years prior. The growth has brought $162 million to local economies in each of the past two years, according to CROA.
The growth also has brought more attention to rafting’s inherent risk. In 2014, a record-tying 14 people died boating Colorado’s rivers. Last year, that number was 13, above the state’s yearly average of 10 boating fatalities. Last month, the season had its first two deaths, the most recent being a 60-year-old woman who fell into the Arkansas rapids west of Cañon City. She was rafting with her husband and grandson.