Commercial rafters unsure how much Blue River will run next month |

Commercial rafters unsure how much Blue River will run next month

Rafting season already underway out of Buena Vista

Guests get splashed on a commercial rafting trip on the Blue River north of Silverthorne with Performance Tours Rafting in a previous summer.
Photo from Lauren Swanson / Performance Tours Rafting

Local commercial rafting companies remain unsure if or for how long they’ll be able to guide trips this summer down the traditional 6-mile portion of the Blue River north of Silverthorne.

Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Rafting, said Friday, May 14, that recent reports he has received from Denver Water indicate the organization is likely to prioritize filling the Dillon Reservoir.

“What we are being told is, right now, the reservoir is low and snowpack is below average, so their model this year going to be more fill and spill,” Foley said.

Each spring and summer, Denver Water determines how much water it will release into the Blue River north of the Dillon Dam based on how much water is needed in different locations throughout an intricate network of water systems and reservoirs that service water users.

Foley said current conditions and a low water level in Dillon Reservoir point to Denver Water filling the reservoir with any new snow or rain in the coming weeks, rather than diverting flows downstream into the Blue River.

Foley said he will find out more from Denver Water at a meeting next week, but as of now, he said it’s unlikely there will be an extended season on the Blue.

“The way things are shaping up, we may see flows above 500 cubic feet per second for no more than a very, very short period of time.”

Foley said the low water levels were not only cause by a relatively dry winter, but also by a dry spring, summer and fall in 2020 — conditions that drew down Dillon Reservoir.

Foley said one positive variable has been the number of snow- and rainstorms helping to fill reservoirs down on the Front Range in recent weeks. He said those levels could change models affecting how much water needs to be sent down Robert’s Tunnel to Denver, but he expects to find that out next week.

“It’s wait and see,” Foley said. “We’re hoping there will be raftable flows because it’s a great section.”

The Class 2 to 3 Blue River stretch, which usually takes just over an hour for commercial trips, runs 5 to 6 miles from a U.S. Forest Service put-in at Hammer Bridge through Boulder Canyon down to a take-out at Columbine Landing. Foley said Performance Tours and KODI Rafting’s cutoff for the stretch is usually 500 cfs, signaling when they can start and stop. He said the best rafting on the Blue is at 1,000 cfs.

The commercial rafting season on the Blue is notoriously fickle, sometimes very short at just a couple of weeks in dry years to up to two months of rafting in wet seasons.

“What we found over the years when the Blue reaches a point of unraftable flows, most of our guests to the county realize the Buena Vista area is their best option,” Foley said. “It’s only an hour and 10 minute drive. Few people decide not to do it because of proximity.”

Foley said drainages down on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista are looking much better than the Blue. He credited the voluntary flow management program on the Arkansas that enables commercial companies to raft on good, augmented flows deep into summer. Trips out of Buena Vista have been operating for some commercial companies since May 1.

“We’re looking forward to a strong season on the Arkansas,” Foley said.

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