Snowpack/runoff news

May 19, 2015

Remember to look at the Basin High/Low graph for your favorite basin to get an idea about snowpack there. The % of normal measure loses most of its meaning after runoff starts.

From CBS Denver:

Denver Water says because of the high levels of rain they have had to create some room in several reservoirs so they’ve allowed some to spill over. That allows them to keep some space for any additional spring runoff.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson says they’re expecting quite a few benefits from all the rainfall.

“It’s always good to fill up our reservoirs and what it really does is it gives us more flexibility and more opportunities for some other things, and this year we’ll see some great opportunities to provide additional flushing flows into the rivers and streams below our reservoirs to really help out those fish habitats,” Thompson said. “We’ll also see a great kayaking and rafting season, so great year to be kayaker or rafter in Colorado.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Stephen Meyers):

The Poudre River’s commercial rafting season began Friday, and thanks to the river ripping three times as fast as normal for this time of year, the early season should provide a thrilling whitewater ride for guests.

The roaring water is also a boon for Fort Collins’ economy.

Commercial rafting on the Poudre pumped $4.6 million in direct expenditures into Fort Collins in 2014, making an $11.8 million economic impact, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

Commercial rafting companies took 37,225 rafters down the Poudre River last year, a slight bump from 2013 (37,214 rafters) and an enormous jump from the drought and fire impacted year of 2012, when the river shut down for a month.

The Poudre River, which typically peaks in late May or early June at 3,000 cubic feet per second, was running at 2,020 cfs Friday at a height of 5.32 feet. Normal flow at the canyon’s mouth for May 15 is about 700 cfs.

“The water is already high enough to run all sections of the river. Some years it’s too low (for the Class IV sections) on opening day,” said Bob Klein, manager of A Wanderlust Adventure. “All signs point to us having another great year.”

From 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

Water levels at Chatfield have risen eight feet since May 1, but that’s nothing compared to Bear Creek Lake, which rose 40 feet since the start of the month. Some roads there are completely submerged, but water managers say that’s how it’s should work.

“The whole purpose is to kind of capture the water as it comes down in big flood events and then release it slowly, so we don’t flood anything downtown,” Maxwell said.

Bob Steger is the manager of Raw Water Supply with Denver Water. He said while they’re keeping an eye on the rain expected this week, it’s also a welcome addition to their system of 10 reservoirs. They are now at 93 percent of capacity, 10 percent higher than they usually would be at this time of year.

“This is the time of year when we are trying to fill up our reservoirs, so wet weather is a good thing,” Steger said. “Not only can we fill our reservoirs, which is what we’re trying to do this time of year, but it gives us the flexibility to help with some environmental things and recreation as well.”

That means benefits to fisheries, like trout habitat, to recreation, like rafting, and to the rivers themselves.

“The wet weather also means we don’t have to divert as much water from the Colorado River basin into the metro area,” Steger said.

That can be significant because the less water diverted from the Colorado River for the Front Range, the more that’s left for the western slope and other states that get water from the Colorado River. That includes California, which is in the midst of a severe drought.

Best rivers for whitewater paddling in Colorado – The Denver Post

May 17, 2015

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

If you are looking for wild and scenic, that would be northern Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River, a Front Range jewel that offers Class II to Class V whitewater slicing through granite corridors.

Rafting on the state’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic River is typically divided into two sections: the lower, easier runs and the upper, more difficult sections. Outfitters on the lower half — check out A Wanderlust Adventure (4120 W. County Road 54G, Laporte, 800-745-7238, — can float kids as young as 7 through Class II and Class III rapids. Trips on the upper section are rowdier, with adrenaline-churning drops and waterfalls that cut through some of Colorado’s most scenic gorges…

The Arkansas River from Granite to Cañon City is the most trafficked stretch of whitewater in the country. For good reason. The river, which hosted more than 190,000 rafters last year, can thrill every type of whitewater fan, from the most grizzled kayaker to the novice rubber rider. The Arkansas River is truly one-stop shopping for every river lover.

Above Buena Vista, the Arkansas tumbles through a ravine bisected by the boat-eating Pine Creek Rapid. Anyone venturing through this Class-V stretch best be prepared. A swim in Pine Creek is never pretty. Downstream, the Arkansas meanders through seven distinct rapids, known as The Numbers. Kayakers love this stretch year-round as the current allows passage through granite boulders even in winter. The rafting options grow as the river enters Buena Vista, where the town’s river play park is a hive of paddling action.

More whitewater coverage here.

“[T]he snow has been flying in the upper elevations that feed the Arkansas River” — Monica Ramey

May 16, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Arkansas River rafters are anticipating a banner summer of white-water fun thanks to late April and May snowfall in the high country.

Arkansas River Outfitters Association members attended an annual meeting last month to gear up for the season and nervously eyed snowpack figures. Instead of fearing the worse, they were celebrating the recent designation of national monument status bestowed on Browns Canyon, one of the most popular sections of the river, located between Salida and Buena Vista.

“Since that meeting, the snow has been flying in the upper elevations that feed the Arkansas River. As of May 11, the Fremont drainage is at 117 percent of normal and the Independence drainage is at 125 percent of normal, which will provide great water for summer activities,” said Monica Ramey, outfitters association spokeswoman.

Rafting is big business in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Outfitters experienced a 7 percent increase in business last summer and are hoping for more success this summer.

Last summer’s 191,307 boaters spent $23.7 million in direct expenditures, which rolls over to a $60.7 million economic impact when accounting for spending on things like lodging, gas and food. “The outlook for the 2015 season on the Arkansas River is great. With the recent snow and overall snowpack conditions, we anticipate an awesome high-water season early in June for the adventure thrillseekers, but more moderate water levels throughout August to provide a longer season for the families,” said Mike Kissack of American Adventure Expeditions.

Kissack said there should be rafting through the end of August, which will provide opportunities for people attending the Gentlemen of the Road Festival in Salida featuring Mumford and Sons on Aug. 21-22.

“The water conditions may be moderate compared to 2014, but more moderate flows are much better for families as parents have a lot less concerns when the water conditions are a bit lower,” said Mike Whittington of Independent Whitewater.

The Arkansas River Outfitters Association website shows daily water conditions at four locations on the river including The Numbers above Buena Vista, Browns Canyon below Buena Vista, Bighorn Sheep Canyon below Salida and the Royal Gorge from Parkdale to Canon City. To see updated conditions, log onto

More whitewater coverage here.

Vail Whitewater Series Kicks Off May 12 — Vail Recreation District

May 9, 2015

Here’s the release from the Vail Recreation District:

The Vail Recreation District will kick off the Vail Whitewater Series Tuesday, May 12 at the Vail Whitewater Park in Vail Village. This is the first race in the five race series, which is presented by the Town of Vail and Howard Head Sports Medicine, with course design by Alpine Quest Sports.

Races will begin at 5:30 p.m. and offer competition featuring kayaking (under 9’6″), two-person raft and stand up paddleboard (SUP). Races will start at the Covered Bridge and finish at the International Bridge. The course for each week will be determined the day prior based on river flows. Each week, the two round format will consist of an individual time trial with results determining the seeding for the second round, head-to-head race. Check or Vail Whitewater Race Series Facebook page at for updates. Lakota Guides will be onsite with rafts available for R2 Teams to use. Spectators will enjoy viewing from the banks of Gore Creek.

Participants can register for all five races for $40, preregister for $10 for individual races or register on race-day for $15. Preregistration ends at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11. Onsite day-of registration will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Whitewater Park.

The Covered Bridge will be under construction during Tuesday’s race and competitors will need to access the start on the south side of Gore Creek by crossing the river on Vail Valley Drive or the International Bridge. Participants and spectators are asked to park in the Vail Village parking structure during the event. Short-term gear drop off/pick up will be available at Checkpoint Charlie before and after the race.

An after party will be hosted at Vendetta’s in Vail Village where cash and product prizes will be awarded to the top three winners of all three categories. All participants and spectators over age 21 will receive a free beer courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company, the race series’ new beverage partner.

Four additional races are scheduled throughout the spring and will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, May 26, June 2 and June 9 at the Vail Whitewater Park.

Also new for 2015, the Vail Recreation District and Alpine Quest Sports will raffle off a Hala Atacha SUP board (retail value $1,350). The board will be raffled off on June 9 at the Pazzo’s Vail after party for the final race of series. Everyone who competes in a Vail Whitewater Series event will be automatically entered, once for each race they participate in (up to five entries). Spectators can enter to win by taking a photo with the board at any of the five races, then posting it on Facebook and tagging Vail Whitewater Series and Alpine Quest Sports. Additionally, between May 12 – June 8, anyone can go into Alpine Quest in Edwards to take a photo with the board and posting and tagging will get them an entry. Must be present at Pazzo’s Vail on June 9 to win.

The Whitewater Series is brought to you by the Town of Vail, Alpine Quest, Howard Head Sports Medicine, New Belgium, Vail Recreation District, Altitude Billards & Club, Stolquist, Hala SUP, Red Lion, Vendetta’s, Pazzo’s, Optic Nerve, Astral and Kokatat.

To register or for more information, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or visit

More whitewater coverage here.

“Whitewater park features are not suitable fish habitat” — Jim White

April 28, 2015
Durango whitewater park plans

Durango whitewater park plans

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Whitewater advocates have anecdotally noticed more fishermen near whitewater rapids, and they are working on gathering data to show how the parks can benefit fish.

But Colorado Parks and Wildlife data show the parks degrade fish habitat and their ability to migrate upstream, said Jim White, a biologist with the department.

“Whitewater park features are not suitable fish habitat,” he said.

Human-made parks create fierce velocities that make it hard for fish to migrate over them. Fish must also battle a washing-machine effect in the human-made pools, he said.

The parks are also being built in or near towns, where whitewater rapids would be less likely to occur.

“By the time you get down to broader valleys … they are not typically natural features,” he said.

However, engineers and advocates – including Scott Shipley who designed the improvements to Smelter Rapid – argue whitewater parks can be built to improve fish habitat, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is basing its conclusion on limited studies.

“As far as hard science goes, there is very little hard science on the issue,” said Shane Sigle, with Riverwise Engineering.

Despite the disagreement, proponents on both sides are interested in compromises that help protect fish. Some 30 whitewater parks are operating across the state, and they are boosting tourism and driving local economies, according to professionals in the field.

Smelter Rapid in Durango is an example of such a compromise. It was not quality-fish habitat to begin with, so it made sense to build permanent structures in that section, White said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also supported the Whitewater Park, saying construction of the permanent features secured a recreational-water right that helps protect fish from low flows, he said.

The city already was maintaining Smelter Rapid for whitewater features prior to construction of the park. The Army Corps of Engineers anticipates the grouted structures will limit the disturbance from continued maintenance, said Kara Hellige, senior project manager for the corps.

In addition, the corps requires the city to monitor the stability of the structures and banks, water quality and the movement of sediment after construction.

The monitoring required at Smelter Rapid and other parks should help engineers better understand how human-made rapids impact rivers.

More whitewater coverage here.

Cattlemen disheartened by Browns Canyon designation — The Mountain Mail

February 23, 2015
Browns Canyon via

Browns Canyon via

From The Mountain Mail:

Officials with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) said in a press release they were “disheartened” to learn of the presidential declaration of Browns Canyon as a national monument.

“We worked in good faith with former Sen. Udall and others to find a way to prevent a presidential declaration,” Tim Canterbury, chair of the Public Lands Council, said in the release.

“Now, all we can do is ask for a seat at the table and hope that the voices of ranchers will be heard and respected in the designation’s implementation process,” he said.

After learning about the designation, CCA officials spoke to Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper, both of whom agreed to work on ensuring grazing would continue without changes or restrictions.

According to the release, CCA will work to ensure the following points are included in the declaration and clarified:

  • Motorized access must continue to be allowed for permit administration, range improvements and water maintenance.
  • Explicit language must be written into the designation that allows sheep and cattle producers to trail their livestock to and from federal grazing allotments through portions of the designated area.
  • Weeds and weed control must also be addressed in the rules of implementation, particularly in headwaters areas.
  • Language must be included in the designation implementation to ensure that changes in the numbers of authorized livestock are based on facts and not the whim of individual land managers.
  • Language that would explicitly ensure permits will be transferable to new permittee/owners in the same manner as was the case prior to the designation of the national monument is also required.
  • Water rights must be expressly recognized in wilderness acts that further codify states’ water laws.
  • The changes must be applied throughout the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service so that administration at all levels carry out the intent of the law without personal deference that subsequently limits or harms livestock grazing through administrative bias.

    “We stand by the fact that a presidential declaration is not in the best interest of the agricultural community, and we sincerely hope that the president and his administration have heard our concerns and will ensure that the rule-making process addresses the concerns of landowners and ranchers,” said Canterbury.

    He emphasized the organization will keep pushing for legislation that will clarify grazing permit rights for Browns Canyon and any future designation.

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

    February 22, 2015


    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

    Browns Canyon via


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