Water release may pump up Blue River
SILVERTHORNE – A Labor Day weekend release of water could help local boaters whitewater raft and kayak on the Lower Blue River on the reach north of Silverthorne during the popular holiday weekend. Denver Water, which owns Dillon Reservoir, is expected to decide today on whether to release the extra flows. The release would drop Dillon Reservoir by one foot and provide about 500 cubic feet a second (cfs) on the Blue from that Friday night, Sept. 3, through Sunday with flows tapering off Monday, the last day of the holiday weekend.Usually, Denver Water only releases 50 cfs from the dam to maintain a streamflow in the Blue until it owes Green Mountain Reservoir water or the dam spills after a good snow year.Denver Water’s Travis Bray said the utility is aiming to help the area’s recreationists with its plans. A similar release last year was met with positive community feedback, he said.
“We are trying to figure out how it will work,” he said. “We haven’t made a decision one way or another.” Accelerated releases are happily anticipated by rafters and kayakers because it means increased streamflows on the popular stretch between Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir at Heeney.”It’s been a long, dry summer as far as kayaking goes in Summit County,” said Summit Kayak School owner Chad Gorby. “The low snowpack kept most of the local kayak runs to levels that are more or less unrunnable, so any opportunity to paddle within the county is always exciting and should bring a lot of folks from the county and the Front Range out to paddle the Blue.”In the past four years, drought and increased demand for water on Colorado’s Front Range reduced flows in the Lower Blue to the point where outfitters no longer depend on the river for business, transporting customers instead to Clear Creek in Idaho Springs, the Upper Colorado near Kremmling or Brown’s Canyon in Buena Vista – destinations that require a 45- to 90-minute one-way shuttle.”(We can) do three trips a day,” Campton said of the business potential on the Blue. “It’s great for Summit County as a whole because it’s something (tourists) can do in a couple hours. You get your rafting in and then go biking or hiking in the afternoon.”
The Blue from Silverthorne north to Green Mountain Reservoir historically had flows up to 2,000 cfs during high-water season in the spring. Several hundred is needed, but through the last few years, the flow has typically been 50 cfs. Water for the Lower Blue is sourced at Dillon Reservoir where Denver Water stores water for diversion to the Front Range and its 1.2 million customers.”(The low flows) affected our business quite a bit,” Gorby said. “Without a run for local paddlers to use, they tend to travel and shop in shops that are closer to the water they’ll be paddling.”Rafting outfitter Christian Campton is looking forward to the release. When the water is up, it is Summit County’s closest commercial stretch of river.”Over that weekend, it would be a fantastic end-of-season trip for our guests,” said Campton, owner of Frisco-based Kodi Rafting. “The scenery is unbelievable.”
Five local outfitters hold permits to raft the Blue. It provides a close venue for companies to run up to three trips daily through the Class III Boulder Canyon section. Denver Water’s decision will be based on a new rule issued by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which for the first time is requiring a transit loss accounting to account for evaporation and bank storage.It was first estimated the state may charge a 10 percent transit loss on the release, but state water engineer Hal Simpson said Tuesday he is recommending only a 1.6 percent transit loss on the Blue, so Denver Water may decide to go ahead. At the higher transit loss percentage, Denver Water was likely to pay its water debt with water stored in the Wolford and Williams Fork reservoirs in Grand County. That water takes care of Green Mountain’s obligation to the Colorado River, but it doesn’t do much for the Blue.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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