Whitewater release announced for the Lower Dolores — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiga):

Reservoir managers have announced a 10-day spill at an approximate rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second. However the plan is to begin the release the first weekend of June instead of over Memorial Day as forecasted last week.

“There will be a spill, and by pushing it forward we’re setting up the boaters for a longer season with improved rafting flows,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Warmer weather beyond the current five-day forecast could accelerate the start of the spill by a few days.

McPhee will fill and provide full farmer allocations, with an estimated left-over water for rafting.

Cooler, stormy weather and significant snowpack holding in the mountains forced managers to adjust the timing of the spill until the first weekend of June.

Reservoir managers are waiting on a second peak runoff from remaining snowpack.

Preston said the decision for the delay is to avoid the possibility two small spills and their associated ramp-up and ramp-down water needs. For safety, spills are gradually increased 200 cfs at a time, then reversed at the end of the controlled spill.

Releasing rafting flows for Memorial Day weekend was not seen as ideal for boaters because managers would have to stop it to allow the reservoir to fill. Then a second spill would likely be required to avoid overfilling the reservoir as the second peak finishes coming down.

“Delaying for one release saves ramping water to extend the season,” Preston said.

The benefits of a single combined spill of rafting flows allows for longer trips and less down-river congestion of boaters.

The district worked closely with the Dolores River Boating Advocates on the early June release decision.

“There has been definite improvement in communication between the reservoir managers and the boating community,” said DRBA board member Wade Hanson. “DWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation have been on the ball with timely public notice about a release.”

Boaters should be aware of some new changes on the Lower Dolores River.

The usual private land available for a public take-out/put-in at Slickrock is closed.

However, another landowner is negotiating with the DRBA to open public access point on land just downstream of the bridge at Slick Rock near the old store.

Farther down river, the BLM’s Big Gypsum Valley river access remains open.

Boaters should be especially alert this season on the Lower Dolores because it has not been floated for many years.

A large boulder fall has been reported in Ponderosa Gorge upstream of the Dove Creek pump house at mile 17, and debris flows and log jams are a real possibility.

Also expect campsites throughout the 100-mile section to Bedrock to be overgrown.

“It’s exciting to get on the Lower Dolores after all these years,” said Hanson said. “We will be taking a lot of pictures and GPS coordinates of the campsites to inform the public.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Whitewater seekers might get crack at Dolores River – The Durango Herald

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Durango Herald (Sue McMillin):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District announced on its website on Monday that recent heavy precipitation, including what’s in the forecast for this week, would likely fill McPhee Reservoir and allow for a boating release. If it happens, it would be the first since 2011.

The water district said that the precipitation combined with a cool, slow start to irrigation season has left the reservoir just 12 feet below full.

“A boating release will likely cover the Memorial Day weekend and last 5-10 days at 1,000 +/- CFS (cubic feet per second),” the website says.

The district says it will continue to keep boaters updated through the week.

The Dolores River was dammed in the late 1980s, which created McPhee Reservoir to ensure domestic water supply for Cortez and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and irrigation for more than 70,000 acres of otherwise arid land.

For the latest on the reservoir levels, visit http://www.doloreswater.com/releases.htm.

2015 Arkansas River boating season economic impact = $62 million


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Arkansas River rafting companies are expecting another busy spring and summer as turnout continues to rebound from the Great Recession and the damaging 2012 and 2013 wildfire seasons.

Last year, commercial rafters provided trips to 196,998 thrill seekers, the fourth straight year of increased ridership on the state’s most rafted river, according to recently released Colorado River Outfitters Association statistics for the 2015 season.

The overall economic impact of last year’s Arkansas River rafting season was estimated at $62 million, including $24.4 million on direct spending on rafting and $37.6 million on lodging, gas and food and other related expenses, the industry group said.

Among the factors that contributed to the busier season was the late spring snowpack that grew to above average levels and created a high water season for most of Colorado.

Also, no major wildfires broke out, which contributed to stable use patterns, said Joe Greiner, who compiles the use report for the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

“Part of the increase use on the Arkansas River is due to recovery from the Royal Gorge fire that burned much of the infrastructure of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in 2013. The park was open the entire 2015 season, contributing to solid increases in rafting use,” Greiner said.

This year’s rafting season begins with “a lot of positive elements” that point to another great year for outfitters, Greiner said.

“I think everything is now in line. The Royal Gorge Bridge has been reopened a full year. The Brown’s Canyon National Monument has now been designated for a year and is starting to show up in guidebooks and on state maps. Plus the snowpack is perfect,” Greiner said.

Snowpack levels are a little above normal, which is right where rafting outfitters like to see them: not so high that they cause flooding and not so low that the river is flat.

“We should have excellent flows all the way through the summer,” he said.

Other favorable indicators are a more stable stock market and increased housing prices, factors that help people feel they have more money to spend on vacation.

“The gas prices are certainly affordable, too. Our bookings are now a little bit up, but we are finding that as people get more and more comfortable with computer booking, there are more last minute bookers,” Greiner explained.

A new music festival set for early August in Buena Vista, the Vertex Music Fest, should lead to more rafting business with 20,000 people expected to visit the region..

“So all the elements are there for an awesome season,” Greiner said.

The face of rafting is changing as the number of rafting companies diminishes — “very slowly,” Greiner said — and may eventually dwindle down to 25 outfitters.

“In the early ’80s, when I started (his company, Wilderness Aware Rafting), there were over 80 companies and today we have 47 permit holders. I would say 25 is about the most any river in the country has and through attrition we should get there,” he said.

The Arkansas River remains the most rafted in Colorado with a statewide market share of 39 percent last year.

The river’s biggest year ever was 2001 when 252,213 boaters floated its waters.

#Colorado rafters spent at record levels last year, outfitters ready for another big season — The Denver Post

Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com
Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Commercial rafting remained a strong economic driver in Colorado’s high country last year with the state’s outfitters logging more than a half million user days for the sixth time in a decade.

The 508,728 commercial raft trips on 29 stretches of Colorado rivers generated $162.6 million in economic impact in 2015, setting a new record just above the economic benefit estimated for the 2014 season.

Rafting outfitters are thinking the coming season will be about the same, thanks largely to the snowy April that bolstered alpine snowpacks and the recent cool weather keeping that snow from melting too early.

“We don’t want the melt to start until the crowds get here,” said David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which released its annual user report on Thursday.

The Arkansas River from above Buena Vista through Salida to Cañon City remains the state’s powerhouse. Traffic was up 3 percent on the most-rafted stretch of river in the country, with 197,000 user days in 2015. This created an overall economic impact of $62.5 million in Chaffee and Fremont counties.

Southwestern Colorado’s Animas River saw an 8 percent decline in both rafters and spending last year — blamed largely on the catastrophic Gold King mine blowout that fouled the river in August and abruptly deflated that river’s rafting season. Traffic on the Animas River dropped to 34,000 user days from 37,000 in 2014, triggering a nearly million-dollar decline in economic activity, which decreased to $10.8 million in 2015.

For the last decade or so, Colorado’s commercial rafting days have hovered around 500,000, with the exception of the wildfire-plagued 2012 and 2013 seasons when annual visits fell to the lowest points since 2005.

In the business world, that kind of stagnant growth translates into declining stock prices, fired CEOs and new strategies. Not in the realm of rubber riders. Flat is fine in Colorado, where river quotas and caps keep the number of users on several stretches of river at sustainable levels. It’s not likely rafting visits will ever climb much beyond 500,000, Costlow said.

“There’s not enough room on the river to have tremendous growth. It’s protecting the resource,” Costlow said. “We are fine with it. It’s the reality of the resource.”


Rafters directly spent a record $63.5 million in 2015, or about $125 per person, up from $116 per person in 2010.

“A lot more people do multiple activities when they come to visit,” said Alex Mickel, whose Mild 2 Wild Rafting in Durango offers whitewater and Jeep adventures around southwest Colorado. “Reservations are trending strongly this season and we are hopeful. We looking at a good runoff and I think economically, people are looking to travel this summer.”

#Runoff news: Raft companies ready for rising rivers — Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

In some ways, 2016 is mimicking last year which was marked by a moisture-laden spring that allowed for an extended, and prosperous, 
season for outfitters.

In 2015, Colorado’s whitewater rafting industry hit 508,728 user days, which was considered a “healthy season,” according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association, a group that represents between 80 and 85 percent of the state’s commercial operators.

While that total was about 5 percent off of the statewide record year of 2007, when 533,166 rafters paid to float, local companies would be happy for a repeat of 2015.

“We had a fantastic rafting season last year,” Ingram said. One measure of that was the ability to run the Slaughterhouse section of the Roaring Fork, known for its Class IV waterfall, deep into July…

The Arkansas River…remains the state’s most popular rafting river, hogging about 39 percent of the total market share, according to CROA. Last year there was a 3 percent increase, or almost 5,700 more people who used the “Ark,” as compared to the prior year. Because it is heavily regulated, there’s little room for growth on some of the season’s “bumper days,” according to CROA executive director David Costlow.

Commercial user days on the upper Roaring Fork (above Basalt), at 5,038, represented only a fraction of the busy Arkansas in 2015, according to CROA data.

Slow going, for now

A slow warm-up rather than a rapid meltdown is highly preferable for flooding concerns and also to better serve tourists, who are in short supply right now. So far, the snowpack has cooperated by remaining stubbornly high in the hills.

On May 12, the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s snowpack and stream flow report summarized that “snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed is 102 percent of normal. We are poised for spring runoff with plenty of moisture still stored in the snowpack.”

The report continued: “Several sunny days and warmer overnight temperatures would significantly increase the rate of snowmelt, and cause river levels to rise.”

That was evident this past week on the Colorado River, where flows in Glenwood Springs “nearly doubled,” according to the conservancy’s report. It noted that the measuring gauge near the confluence of the Roaring Fork showed the Colorado River was running at 5,660 cubic feet per second (CFS).

Here in the upper valley, the Roaring Fork River is just now awakening from its seasonal slumber. The May 12 measurement at a Snowtel site on Independence Pass showed snowpack at 124 percent of median or providing 14.4 inches of “snow water equivalent.”

“There’s a lot of snow up there. And right now we’re doing way better than last year. We haven’t really started dumping any water,” said AWR’s Ingram. Both Aspen Whitewater and Blazing Adventures are offering early season specials on river trips.

On May 11, Ingram checked a gauge near the confluence of Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River about 100 yards below Slaughterhouse falls. It hovered around 270 cfs; Ingram said the company would like levels to rise to at least 500 cfs before sending a commercial trip through there, though he believes optimum range is 800-2,000 cfs. Anything higher than 2,000 cfs can be a little scary, he surmised…

River users may have fond recollections of flooding at North Star Preserve during the summer of 2015. While not a section that rafts use, the surplus of water allowed those with kayaks, paddleboards and tubes to explore channels and nooks and crannies that are usually dry.

A confluence of several factors led to last year’s North Star flooding, according to Medved. Those included a Twin Lakes reservoir at capacity, and latent demand by Front Range users that kept water from being diverted to the eastern side of the Twin Lakes tunnels. Plentiful water statewide helped keep water closer to its origin by reducing the “calls” or demands…

RFC will host its 12th annual river float on Saturday, June 4, beginning at 8 a.m. Tickets are $20 for what is touted as an “informative, fun float down the lower Roaring Fork River.” Lunch at the Coryell Ranch following the trip is included as are “educational river conversation,” gear demos and more. Go to roaringfork.org for more information.

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Rebuilt Green River dam allows movement of boats, fish — The Salt Lake Tribune

Courtesy | Tim Gaylord The Natural Resources Conservation Service has completed reconstruction of the century-old Tusher Dam across the Green River, upstream from the river's Utah namesake town. The $7.7 million project includes fish ladders and a safe boat passage that river-running community has sought for years.
Courtesy | Tim Gaylord The Natural Resources Conservation Service has completed reconstruction of the century-old Tusher Dam across the Green River, upstream from the river’s Utah namesake town. The $7.7 million project includes fish ladders and a safe boat passage that river-running community has sought for years.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

To the delight of river runners, federal authorities agreed to include a boat passage, as well as fish ladders, on the new Tusher Diversion, which becomes operational this week. Recreation advocates hope the project will enable more boaters to float the dozen miles upstream from the river’s namesake town and increase take-out traffic at Green River State Park.

However, the state Department of Natural Resources has concerns about the passage’s safety and wants to study how it performs before encouraging the boating public to run it, particularly at high water.

But melon growers and endangered fish don’t have to wait to benefit from the rebuilt dam, the fruit of a multi-agency collaboration covered mostly by federal dollars.

In a public ceremony Wednesday, the state and federal agencies behind the $7.7 million project will remove the coffers and dedicate the dam. The event is at 11 a.m. on the river’s west bank, accessed from Long Street, north of town.

“This dam will provide a secure supply of irrigation water for the many farmers, ranchers and secondary-water users in this area well into the future,” said Utah agriculture commissioner LuAnn Adams. “Water in the West can make or break a community, and this dam literally keeps the green in Green River, Utah.”

It will also keep the green in farmers’ wallets, since the river supports Grand and Emery counties’ $20 million agricultural industry. The Tusher Diversion waters 5,300 acres that produce many of the cantaloupes, casabas, honeydews, canary and other melons for which the Green River is known.

Settlers built the U-shaped rock-and-crib weir more than a century ago to divert some of the Green’s flow onto fields. But the low structure also obstructed the movement of boats and various fish species that have since come under federal protection. Most boaters had to portage the dam or take out at Swasey’s Beach, a few miles upstream. Intrepid boaters could run over the weir at certain water levels, but such a move was perilous, as the right side of the channel is littered with rebar-studded concrete and the left side is strewn with boulders disgorged from Tusher Wash.

High waters following the wet winter of 2011 hammered the aging dam, putting it a risk of a failure that would have dewatered the three canals exiting the river. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, targeted it for reconstruction under its Emergency Watershed Protection program, which has committed $93 million in recent years to fix and build dams and catch basins damaged in the wake of Utah’s wildfires, floods and other disasters.

The initial Tusher plan did not call for a boat passage and river runners quickly mobilized, lobbying for features that would enable boaters to replicate the Green River portion of the 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell.

Officials agreed a boat passage was warranted and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL) put up the $153,000 to help cover increased costs. As a result of such investments, the replacement diversion is far superior to the historic structure.

“That shows the benefit of taking time. It was over two years. Some might look at it as a downside, but the positive is it allows partners, community and interest groups to express their interests and allows us to incorporate it into our design,” said Dave Brown, the Utah conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We showed up and participated in the discussion,” said Nathan Fey of American Whitewater. “The state advocated for boater safety. It was no longer an issue of fish versus boaters.”

An archaeologist monitored the historic dam’s demolition in an effort to document its construction and design for an exhibit proposed for Green River’s John Wesley Powell River History Museum.

The new design also features screens to keep fish out of the diversion canals, as well as three fish passages — one for upstream swimmers and two for downstreamers — equipped with readers to count fish that have been injected with tiny electronic tags. This aspect of the project was funded and designed by state and federal wildlife agencies hoping to recover native humpback chub, Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker and bonytail.

The state secured water rights that should ensure that water passes through the 25-foot gap at a rate of at least 147 cubic feet per second.

Now that the project is complete, however, the passage does not appear to be functioning as hoped, according Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

“Something about the dam looks a little more treacherous than intended,” Curry said. “It doesn’t look like it’s 100 percent safe for all boats. We would like it to be negotiable for all traffic. The main thing was to make it safe. We will do test runs to see how the hydraulics work. … It might need some modifications.”

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

South Platte: River Run Park set for summer opening

Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.
Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.

From The Denver Post (Joe Rubino):

Local officials are anticipating the summer opening of a park along the South Platte River that will provide some fresh opportunities for a cooldown.

River Run at Oxford will be a multifaceted park and trailhead offering access to the metro area’s river, improved riparian habitat and unique recreational and educational opportunities officials hope will make it a regional draw.

The site is just west of Broken Tee Golf Course, along West Oxford Avenue on the Sheridan-Englewood border. When the first phase of the estimated $14 million project opens this summer, it will bring a rocky beach, in-water recreation features and a picnic pavilion with flush-toilet bathrooms to the east bank of the Platte, as well as improvements to ensure safer flood flow passage and a state-of-the-art sand filter for water running into the river.

“The point of this project was to engage the river for recreation but also from an ecological and function standpoint, as well as education,” said Laura Kroeger, an engineer with Urban Drainage and Flood Control Districtand manager of the River Run project.

Last week, earth movers shuffled boulders along the river bank as crews with contractor Naranjo Civil Constructors worked on a pair of drop structures that will create features for kayaking, paddleboards or inner tubes. One of the structures includes an adjustable concrete plate that can create a standing wave, a feature that Kroeger said exists only in one other place in the country, to her knowledge.

“Right now, if you want to kayak or play in the river , you would need a flow of about 1,000 (cubic feet per second) and that might only happen a few days a year,” she said of water flows required for river recreation. “With this, we can adjust the drop structure based on the release from Chatfield Reservoir to get more use. It’s designed for 200 cfs.”

River Run is about half a mile from the Oxford Avenue light-rail station and a short walk from the Englewood Recreation Center. The golf course is nearby and its parking lot has grown by 70 spaces to accommodate future River Run visitors.

Englewood has publicly accessible water at the lake at Centennial Park, but city open space manager Dave Lee said, “I think river access is the big thing we’ve never had before.”

“That’s one of the reasons people want to live in Colorado — for these unique opportunities,” added Dorothy Hargrove, Englewood’s director of parks, recreation and library.

The project continues to evolve. Kroeger said partners are pursuing funding to add safety signs as well as educational information to help teachers from area schools who could bring students to River Run to learn about riparian habitat.

River Run has two future phases: completion of a trail along the east side of the Platte, connecting it to the Big Dry Creek Trail near Union Avenue; and additional upstream flow improvements. It should conclude in 2018, Kroeger said.

Kroeger and others applauded the collaboration that went into the large-scale project. Aside from the cities and Urban Drainage, the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Arapahoe County Parks and Open Space are partners.

Arapahoe County Open Spaces grants and acquisitions manager, Josh Tenneson, said that collaboration dates to 2006 when the 21-member South Platte Working Group was convened. The group has allocated more than $25 million to various projects, including recent work at Littleton’s South Platte Park and the upcoming Reynold’s Landing Park project. All told, the county has dedicated around $5 million to River Run, he said.

Sheridan recently secured a $350,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to build a playground at the River Run trailhead. Sheridan City Manager Devin Granbery said he could see the park delighting city residents and boosting business at the city’s marquee shopping area, nearby River Point at Sheridan.

“I think it will serve as a regional draw similar to the way that (Denver’s) Confluence Parkdraws users into that area,” Granbery said. “Hopefully, after people use the amenities there, they’ll eat at a Sheridan restaurant or do some shopping.”