Drought Watch 2012: Low-water effects on Colorado’s commercial boating
Ryan Summerlin September 9, 2012
Editor’s Note: This is the 14th in a series of articles that the Summit Daily will run over the summer to keep the community informed about ongoing drought conditions in the county.
In mid-April 2012, it looked as if we were headed down another dry riverbed season, and another “2002,” where commercial boating user days were down 40 percent from the previous year. We will not know until January, when all the final numbers are in and compiled, what the toll of this year’s drought took on commercial boating and in turn the economic impact on the state. However, initial thoughts are that it will not be as grim as it was in 2002. What may have hurt the industry the most in 2012 was not necessarily the drought itself, rather the perception of water levels throughout the state.
Commercial boating is the largest tourism-related economic draw for Colorado in the summer months and just last year 508,644 guests enjoyed the rivers of Colorado, and it created an economic impact of $155,157,888. Add in the private boaters that enjoy the rivers of Colorado, and that impact to our state grows to even greater numbers.
In 2012, the Blue River, Summit County’s backyard class III run, was doomed for any commercial or private boating activity. Reservoir levels were too low and the need for water on the Front Range was too great to see any significant water trickle out of the bottom of Dillon Reservoir. The only release we saw all summer long, was the small amounts to keep the water cool enough and the fish alive. This is in stark contrast to 2011, when the economic impact from commercial boating (an exceptional season on the Blue River) brought in $761,384 in direct expenditures and had an economic impact of $1,949,143. In 2012 those numbers equal zero, as visitors who were interested in rafting needed to travel outside Summit County to enjoy a day on the river, leaving direct expenditures and the economic impact elsewhere.
On a brighter note, water levels and warm temperatures in 2012 saw many families choose to raft that had decided not to brave the higher flows of 2011. This year, water levels on many rivers provided them with more viable options and great beginner trips such as the ones commercial outfitters run on the Colorado River. The Colorado is a river that typically runs well in a drought year and boasts steady flows throughout the summer months. And it prevailed to do so once again in 2012. Due to reservoir storage, senior water rights and calls from downstream users, the water on the Colorado traveled west and as a benefit of being close to the headwaters, the commercial and private boaters were able to float on “average” flows this summer. The good boating opportunities stretched all the way from Kremmling to the Colorado State Line, and beyond.
As river outfitters, we don’t sell the depth of the water, just as the ski resorts don’t sell their mid-mountain bases. We sell the Colorado experience to visitors and locals alike. While 2012 was not exactly an epic year in terms of river levels, we, as outfitters, hope that we turned some guests on to an incredible experience. We are here to offer that Colorado experience – which as we all know, is better than sitting in an office somewhere.
Data and statistics are from the Colorado River Outfitters Association annual commercial boating report and can be found at www.croa.org. The 2012 report will be available in early February 2013.
Look for this column every Monday throughout the summer. Articles will
focus on drought, water conservation and the perspectives/realities of water management in Summit County.
Due to drought conditions in the Blue River watershed, water providers in Summit County are implementing increased levels of water conservation. Please go to your water provider’s website to see how these changes will affect you. For additional water conservation tips, visit: www.blueriverwatershed.org.