Runoff has already peaked from Vail Valley-area rivers; there’s concern for summer | SummitDaily.com

Runoff has already peaked from Vail Valley-area rivers; there’s concern for summer

Scott N. Miller
smiller@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — Local rivers seem to have hit peak flows. That isn't good.

The Colorado River at Dotsero hit its peak seasonal flow Tuesday, May 15. That peak was just more than 3,000 cubic feet per second. The median figure for that date — based on 77 years of data — is about 5,000 cubic feet per second.

This year's May streamflows aren't the lowest ever recorded, but the news isn't good. Still, local water supplies and recreation will survive for the season.

At Minturn Anglers, guide Alex Garnier said fishing on the Eagle River has been good so far this season. The water is clearer than usual, and the flows are low enough to fish in a number of spots.

The river this time of year "is usually so big we can't get on it," Garnier said.

But even good fishing now can't keep local fishing guides from being nervous about the summer to come.

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Monsoonal rains

A warm, dry summer means water temperatures could rise to the point of being dangerous to trout. A water temperature higher than 65 degrees is dangerous. Temperatures of 70 degrees or higher will prompt guides to stop fishing outside the early-morning hours.

That may not happen, of course. Garnier said if the region gets its usual monsoonal rains this summer, a shot of cold water could temporarily help streamflows and help out the fish — and people who are trying to catch them.

This is usually a good time of year for raft companies, but firms can work around low flows.

Carl Borski, a co-owner of Avon-based Lakota Guides, said streamflow requirements will keep rafting in operations.

The season will be short on the Eagle, Borski said.

"It's not the first time we've been through this," he added.

Still, Borski said the Colorado and Arkansas rivers should have fairly stable flows, thanks to releases from reservoirs.

'A good season'

"We're blessed with the fact we have permits on various watersheds," Borski said. "The (Upper) Arkansas (River) is fantastic right now, and we'll still have a good season on the Colorado," thanks to streamflow requirements and releases from upper-basin reservoirs.

Borski added the news gets worse in the southern part of the state. The San Miguel, San Juan and Animas rivers have already peaked.

While the Colorado River has probably hit its seasonal peak, there could be some spikes to come on Gore Creek and the Eagle River.

In an email, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson wrote that a string of warm days could accelerate snowmelt in the upper reaches of Gore Creek and the Eagle River. That more-rapid snowmelt could spike flows above current peaks. Those peaks are now running ahead of seasonal medians.

No one wants the snow to come off any faster, though, since snowpack makes up a major portion of the district's water storage.

"If it stays a little cooler we get to keep (runoff) flowing a little longer," Johnson wrote.

Cooler, cloudy weather would be a good thing, but given the current forecast for warm, dry weather, Johnson said the summer season could be "challenging."

"People need to concentrate on using outdoor water efficiently … because what is used outdoors has a direct connection to how much water is flowing in local waterways," Johnson wrote.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 and smiller@vaildaily.com.

By the numbers

May 18: Current peak flow for the Eagle River below Gypsum.

May 14: Current peak flow for the Colorado River at Dotsero.

May 15: Current peak flow for the Colorado River at Kremmling.

May 14: Current peak flow for the Colorado River at the Colorado/Utah border.

Source: Colorado River Water Conservation District