Rivers flowing high: Enjoy it while it lasts | SummitDaily.com

Rivers flowing high: Enjoy it while it lasts

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Kayaker Jason Kreger of Frisco navigates his way through the swift waters of the Blue River just before the takeout at Columbine Landing north of Silverthorne in 2013. Flows on the Blue, Colorado and other rivers are currently well above average, and experts urge caution.
Summit Daily file photo |

SUMMIT COUNTY – Winter’s sub-par snowpack in local basins is melting into early, hearty river flows – for a limited time only.

“Even though things are flowing impressively right now, the overall volume this summer season is still going to be below average,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor with the National Resources Conservation Service.

The Colorado Basin’s snowpack is 57 percent of average, but reservoir storage levels are averaging 114 percent of normal – which means water supply shortages aren’t expected in the foreseeable future.

Snowfall through much of winter was well below normal, but the springtime brought along a few storms that lessened the impact.

“It’s not going to be a great year for anyone, but it’s still not a disaster for anyone, either,” Gillespie said.

The Blue River below Dillon Reservoir and the Colorado River near Kremmling are both flowing at more than double the average over the previous 47 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey at http://waterdata.usgs.gov

But while the white stuff is melting early this spring, last year’s larger snowpack flowed out even more quickly; the remaining snowpack by June 1 this year was 185 percent of 2009.

The Blue River below Dillon Reservoir is gushing at about 1,410 cubic feet per second.

“Last year we saw it as high as 1,850,” Silverthorne public works director Bill Linfield said. “Usually our peak flows in the Lower Blue come in late June, even up to the Fourth of July.”

Asked whether local rivers have reached peak flows, experts vary. But they generally say this is about the time they’ll be at their highest.

Blue River water commissioner Scott Hummer said this weekend’s warm weather – Frisco’s forecast calls for mid-70s – could bring the flush that brings nearby rivers to their peaks.

He said that with stream flows higher than predicted in a year with a low snowpack, it appears another factor is affecting the outcome.

“One of the reasons I think we’re seeing some increased flows … We are really, finally feeling the effect of dead trees not sucking up any water,” Hummer said.

Old gravel pits are filling up and holding more water than he’s seen in “a long time,” Hummer said. The mountain pine beetle has killed a slew of lodgepole pines across the county.

An academic study found that live lodgepoles consume as much as 10 gallons per day – which adds up rather quickly across tens of thousands of acres.

“It’s all theory, but if we just look at strictly snowpack patterns and don’t equate big runoff – but streamflow locally – almost all are running well above average flows,” Hummer said.

Duke Bradford, director of Breckenridge-based Arkansas Valley Adventures, said Saturday that conditions for rafting in the region are just where enthusiasts want them.

“Everything’s going off,” he said. “Right now, you can’t go wrong.”

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.

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