Janice Kurbjun
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April 15, 2012
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Low flows to pass through High Country

Ten Mile Creek is practically in Matti Wade's backyard, so even though flows are just enough to keep him from bumping off every rock in the river (just most of them), he's taken his kayak out a few times.

It flowed at 71 cubic feet per second on March 31.

"I'd never paddled Ten Mile in March, ever. I thought, 'This is my last day,'" Wade said.

So he hopped in his beater boat, put in where North Ten Mile Creek flows into the main channel and navigated from Main Street to the reservoir, shuffling and scooting at times along the way. He did the same in early April, again, because he'd never done it before.

"I would analogize it to pinball," he said. "I call it low-volume creeking. It's for the advanced paddler. I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who doesn't have a beater boat. You are hitting a lot of rocks, but it's still fun. I'm making the most of it because it is where I live and it's my backyard."

The river has been cresting, the owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks said. Sunday's snowfall may help boost what's going to come down, but it may not be much. However, Wade said lower temperatures could help slow the runoff.

"We're at 100 cfs. ... It's going to happen soon this year, and it's going to be a short season," he said. For comparison, rafts typically make their way downriver between 700-1,000 cfs.

Also by comparison, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin was at less than 50 percent of average as of the end of March, which mimicked 2002 levels. April's report becomes available in early June, but unless the snow continues to fall, "Drought" will continue to creep from the lips of water officials. Forecasts don't hold much promise, either, because though precipitation is likely, temperatures begin to rise again today.

Wade said he's chatted with rafting outfitters who are already writing off the Blue River. With predictions of drought on the Front Range and Denver Water likely keeping most of the water in Dillon Reservoir for future needs, releases out of the Dillon Dam - probably only to fulfill Green Mountain Reservoir's needs - will be few and far between.

"If it happens, it'll be a hurrah, and it'll probably be short," Wade said.

Wade also doesn't expect the Snake River through Keystone to run at all.

"There's not much snow up in that drainage. It's smaller than Ten Mile, which has Fremont (and more) that filter in," Wade said.

As of April 1, streamflow forecasts across Colorado had decreased by 20 to 40 percent of average, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service. It closely mirrors the decline in snowpack percentages statewide.

"At this point, all major basins in Colorado are expected to receive well-below average runoff this spring and summer," officials said. With the exception of this weekend, not much precipitation has come through since to help.

Though advanced boaters likely won't get much of a season, Wade said low flows could boost his lesson business. He teaches beginner lessons, and found that last year, things were too pushy and dynamic for beginner boats to develop skills before being washed away in the current.

"Beginners couldn't get skills high enough to get in because it was just scary for a lot of them," he said. "This year will be a great beginner year. We'll still have water. It's not like we won't. The Upper Colorado will still have water, as will the Arkansas River."

Rafting outfitters are eyeing the guaranteed water of the Arkansas and Upper Colorado, as well.

"It will be a low flow there through the season, but there will be water," Wade said of the Arkansas River's guaranteed flows to Colorado Springs.

For Wade, it's not out of the realm of possibility that snow will continue come. This weekend was proof.

"I'm still hoping we'll get some winterish conditions that will add to the snowpack and maybe slow things down a little," he said, explaining that low temperatures help. "The good news is the reservoir is full and it's almost totally ice-free now," he added. "You can paddle past the marina and (to the islands)."

Wade is also excited about the fishing, as is fly-fishing guide Zeke Hersh, who owns Blue River Anglers in Frisco.

Hersh runs trips year-round, but having as many trips in early and mid-April is unusual, he said. He has one to four trips daily these days versus an average of one once in awhile before May typically brings warmer temperatures.

"The warmer weather is a factor for sure, it's got the fish very active and the bug life very active," he said.

Wade said the Upper Colorado's fishing conditions are also ideal.

"Fishing in the Upper Colorado is great right now," Wade said. "Fishing was terrible the whole season last year because (flows) were so high for so long."

Wade remains somewhat concerned for a year from now, should another poor season come through the High Country and reservoirs are low.

"I hope that doesn't happen," he said.


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The Summit Daily Updated Apr 15, 2012 09:11PM Published Apr 15, 2012 09:08PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.