Decent flows at Breck whitewater park
BRECKENRIDGE – Whitewater has been pumping at the highest levels in recent memory in many parts of Colorado, and thanks to decent runoff in the Blue River Basin, local kayakers have also benefited.This year marked the first runoff season with decent flows for phase 2 of the Breckenridge whitewater park, located between Highway 9 and the recreation center, said town open space and trails planner Heide Andersen.Flows this year in the vicinity of the whitewater park peaked at about 150 cfs on May 24, shortly after Goose Pasture Tarn filled and spilled May 21, said Gary Roberts, Town of Breckenridge water division manager. Optimum flows for the park range around 250 cfs, he said.Those peak flows came even as Colorado Springs was diverting up 130 cfs from the headwaters of the Blue River through the Hoosier Tunnel, Roberts explained. Currently, Colorado Springs is diverting about 130 cfs and slowly lowering its diversion rate.
Roberts said there is no single gage to measure flows at the park, so he uses a combination of measurements from three gages to calculate the flows. After the 150 cfs peak, Roberts said flows had dropped off to 120 cfs by June 2. At the end of last week, the flow was at about 90 cfs.And that’s not enough for the Breckenridge venue, said Blue River paddler Kyle Hagadorn.”It’s strange to see it didn’t pan out with the flows this year. It’s been better in past years with similar snowpack,” Hagadorn said. “I know the town spent a lot of money on that park. It would be cool to get some return.”Hagardorn said there’s been talk about what has happened to flows, with changes in river hydrology or upstream diversions mentioned. After several years of below-normal snowfall, the extensive wetlands in the Blue River drainage above Breck are probably recharging, possibly holding back part of the snowmelt as it trickles into the aquifer.”I’d be curious to know where the water is going,” Hagadorn said.
Breckenridge built the first phase of the park in 2000, adding phase 2 several years later. The design was tweaked in between to try and maximize lower flows, Andersen said.Hagadorn said he paddled the park when phase 2 opened at about 120 cfs, a tolerable level, but said there is general agreement among paddlers that at least 200 cfs are needed to sustain whitewater play activities.During peak runoff this year, up to 15 people used the park on busy days. “I think it’s been successful for us, in what we wanted to do, to broaden the amenities and add another feature to the town,” Andersen said, explaining that the park has become a popular spot to stroll, fish and picnic. Along with building instream features that enable kayakers to surf standing waves and perform other maneuvers, the project also served to restore a section of the river that was seriously degraded by historic mining activities.”We knew with the flows and season we have that we weren’t building a world-class park. But it’s a great after-work local’s spot, so kayakers from around here don’t have to drive to Salida or somewhere,” Andersen said.Looking back at a series of wetter years, Roberts said runoff in the Blue peaked in the 200 500 cfs range during the mid-1990s, flow levels that would be welcomed by kayakers right now.
The town has filed for water rights on a so-called Recreational In-channel Diversion (RICD) to protect park flows from any future upstream diversions, “protecting from any future diversions that could take away flows,” Roberts said. Based on historic flow records, the town’s RICD protects up to 500 cfs in June, 281 cfs in May, 343 cfs in July, and even up to 205 cfs in August.Current flows could even bump up again this summer if Colorado Springs turns off its diversion at the Blue River headwaters, where the Front Range city has rights to take up to 200 cfs through the Hoosier Tunnel, Roberts said. This time of year, the city generally ramps down its diversion as high mountain reservoirs are flush with stored water.
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