Water’s up in the Upper Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – Rafting companies have a reason to rejoice. Despite the gloom and doom of the current drought, water levels are up.
It’s true. Because of water releases from surrounding reservoirs, the water levels in the Upper Colorado River near Kremmling have increased significantly in recent weeks.
According to Rich Rosene, outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management, the river below Kremmling is running approximately 800 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Though that’s less than the 1,000 to 1,200 cfs seen in a normal year, it’s “really a decent level for us,” Rosene said. Especially considering flows in that section of the river were as low as 250 cfs in May and June.
“The lowest I’ve got recorded is 226, and that was in May,” Rosene said.
The increased water levels are good news for local rafting companies.
“The water level on the Upper Colorado came up probably about two to three weeks ago and they’ve been holding steady at that level,” said Christy Campton, owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco.
Campton said her company normally rafts four rivers; Clear Creek, the Blue, the Arkansas and the Colorado. This year, the Blue and Clear Creek are not high enough for rafting, and the company has been using the Arkansas and the Colorado.
Now that the water on the Colorado is up, the company is focusing attention there.
“It’s really the only river basin in the state that has a good amount of water in it,” said Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Rafting in Breckenridge. “As a result, it’s probably one of the better raft trips in the state right now.”
Foley said the Upper Colorado provides a milder rafting experience (class I – II waters) than other rivers, but “it’s a great trip. It’s a very scenic, isolated, remote canyon.”
Despite lower water levels before now, the river still was raftable, Foley said. The increased water “just makes the waves a little bit bigger and covers just about all the rocks on that section. It’s made it a little wetter ride, because the waves are bigger,” he said.
Though the bulk of Campton’s, Foley’s and other rafting companies’ trips are on the Colorado now, they still are rafting elsewhere. Foley said there is a perception that rivers are not high enough for rafting this year.
Not so, he said. Water levels might be down, but they still are rafting.
“With more water in the river, the waves and the hydraulics are more powerful,” Foley said. “Whereas in lower flows, there are more obstacles to maneuver around and the river becomes more technical, so it presents a different set of challenges.”
As outdoor recreation planner, Rosene works with the various water providers and monitors flows. He said the increased flows on the Upper Colorado mainly come from water released from Green Mountain Reservoir. There also have been releases from Williams Fork and Wolford reservoirs, but to a lesser extent.
Peter Roessmann, education specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said those releases are for a variety of reasons. Much of it is in response to satisfying senior water rights downstream – in the agricultural area near Grand Junction, for example.
“Also, we’re doing water releases for endangered fish species,” Roessmann said. “Those are located in an area east of Grand Junction called 15-mile-reach. We need to have adequate flows in these areas to have adequate habitat for the fish species to recover.”
Rosene said he expects the flows to remain close to 800 cfs for July, August and September.
Roessmann isn’t too sure.
Due to water shortages, Green Mountain Reservoir was expected to be drained “as far as they can, to what they call the dead pool,” Roessmann said.
Now there are concerns that doing so might create a landslide in Heeney, and work toward a resolution has ensued.
“That’s really the big variable right now in river management,” Roessmann said.
Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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