Runoff/snowpack news: The snowpack is melting out fast

Click on a thumbnail graphic above to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Things are really melting out fast. Note the uptick in the Rio Grande Basin.

From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):

The Animas River measured at 4,910 cfs Sunday morning, enough to keep some professional guides searching for smoother sailing.

The reports are flooding in: a newly designed Smelter Rapid has been flipping full boats all weekend, making excitement for some with Animas River Days approaching but striking fear in the hearts of others.

Miles north of Smelter, two teenage boys became stranded on an island near Bakers Bridge, unable to swim to shore because of the Sunday afternoon’s sweeping current.

La Plata County Search and Rescue crews employed swift-water rescue experts to make contact the teenagers, who apparently were stranded after trying to help a friend out of the current. They were found unharmed and were rescued by boat, said Sgt. Brandon Tisher of La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

Sunday morning, far form the Animas River, a boat carrying four passengers capsized on Vallecito Reservoir. All were saved by a nearby vessel and later treated for hypothermia, Tisher said.

While adventurous spirits rolled the dice with the high water, some seasoned outfitters are waiting it out.

Molly Mickel, owner of Mild to Wild, said they adjust their trips to the river conditions, simply avoiding the chances of someone getting hurt, often opting to put their raft trips in the river below Smelter Rapid.

“All of our rivers are really elevated right now,” she said. “Safety is always our biggest concern.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A high-water advisory has been issued for the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam. The river has been running very high after gaining momentum over the weekend and has been dangerous in places and led to one man being swept away in the current Monday.

On Wednesday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and Pueblo Fire Department issued the advisory while flows continue to be high.

All along the river, from Pueblo to Leadville, flows are twice average for this time of year as spiking temperatures and heavy snowpack have led to a heavy runoff.

Apparently there is more to come, although temperatures cooled down a bit Wednesday.

“The Arkansas River runs through our park and our city and when it is flowing this high, it becomes a safety concern for all of us,” said Monique Mullis, Lake Pueblo State Park manager. “You must use caution any time you are around the river to recreate, but that’s even more important right now.”

The flows aren’t the only concern.

“When water levels are like this, we see other hazards increase like debris in the water that people can get caught up in; as well as colder water temperatures that put people at risk for hypothermia,” said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor. “Even ankle-deep water can sweep someone downstream in an instant and getting to shore isn’t always possible and definitely not easy.”

Snowpack above the timberline is still ample, based on observations by Division of Water Resources staff, and more hot weather will come in the next few weeks. A fast, early runoff was forecast at the end of April, but more precipitation and cooler weather set the stage for a June peak.

The Arkansas River gauge at Wellsville has been at 4,000-4,200 cubic feet per second for days, while it has climbed to about 4,500 cfs at Parkdale.

There are advisories for rafters through the Arkansas River canyon on certain stretches of the river.

Levels below Pueblo Dam topped out at 4,800 cfs on Monday, and were falling after releases from the dam were cut back to 3,800 cfs over the next two days.

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Aspinall Unit releases were increased this afternoon by 1000 cfs via opening of the spillway gates at Blue Mesa and Morrow Pt dams. This release should bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon up to around 9,000 cfs. Flows in the Gunnison River at Delta are expected to enter the 12,500 cfs to 13,000 cfs range by tomorrow morning.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Looks like we will see the pattern continue tonight [June 4]. Inflows to Lake Estes are forecast to be around 1000 cfs. Outflow through Olympus Dam to the canyon will likely bump up to about 550 cfs. We will continue taking around 500 cfs through Olympus Tunnel. A portion of that is being returned at the mouth of the canyon.

From The Greeley Tribune:

The Poudre River is receding slightly in the Greeley area, although it remains above flood level and the decline is probably not enough to provide relief for Weld County residents who are experiencing floodwaters.

At 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, the gauge on the Poudre in east Greeley was at 9.02 feet. That’s good news after it reached 9.17 feet Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service is forecasting the Greeley river gauge to stay at about 9 feet for the next 24 hours before falling into the upper 8’s by midday Thursday.

The gauge on the Poudre River near Fort Collins was at 8.39 feet this morning, although that is up from 7.8 feet at 9:45 p.m. last night. Flood stage on the Poudre near Fort Collins is 10.5 feet, and in the Greeley area it is 8 feet.

The South Platte River near Kersey is at 9.7 feet this morning; flood stage is 10 feet.

USGS: Bristlecone pine trees can live thousands of years. This one has seen more than half a million sunrises & sunsets.

Durango whitewater park is open for business after recent improvements

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald (Taylor Ferraro):

Change is full of peril and opportunity and a little bit of fun as kayakers and rafters discovered this weekend as they attempted to negotiate the newly redesigned Whitewater Park. Smelter Rapid, as many discovered, has sharpened fangs, and more than a few river runners were bitten.

“We are seeing more rafts flip at higher flows,” said Andy Corra, one of the owners of 4Corners Riversports. “It just takes time to figure out the new rapids.”

This is an exciting prospect for all boaters, both commercial and private, said Jesse Mueller, a raft guide for Mountain Waters.

Devoted paddlers and rafters now have 12 new rapid features to maneuver in Whitewater Park at Santa Rita Park, which is now open for runs after completion of in-stream features.

Changes made to the Whitewater Park can alter the rating of the rapids depending on the river levels, Corra said. At its lowest point, Smelter Rapid is considered a Class 3 rapid. At its highest point, it is considered a Class 4, a big-water rapid.

With current river levels surpassing 5,080 cfs, some of the holes, especially for rafters are more challenging.
These changes have modernized the Whitewater Park, said Scott Shipley, Olympic paddler and designer of Durango’s Whitewater Park…

In 2003, [Scott Shipley] returned to Durango to help create a design to revamp the play features of the Whitewater Park, making it more enjoyable for boaters. After creating conceptual and preliminary designs, Shipley helped the city file for a recreational in-channel diversion water right for the Animas River. In order to officially claim the water right, the water had to be captured in a structure, [Andy Corra] said…

Before the changes were implemented, the Whitewater Park was more of a slalom course with flat waves. Now, it’s more freestyle-oriented, and that likely will draw in more boaters, said Kyle Stewart, a raft guide at Mild to Wild.

These changes will make the rapids more consistent throughout the year, said Drew Kensinger, avid boater and Mild to Wild raft guide.

“The idea was to turn Durango back into the whitewater mecca that it used to be,” [Jesse Mueller] said. “That was pretty well achieved. All of the kayakers and rafters really appreciate it and are quite excited about it.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Water Resources Reform and Development Act approved by US Senate by a 91-7 margin, now heading to Pres. Obama

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune:

Passage of comprehensive water bill drawing wide praise

Lawmakers and a variety of agriculture groups have been in near unanimous praise of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act since the Senate recently approved it by a 91-7 vote, sending it to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) will spend $12.3 billion and authorizes 34 water resources projects across the country that have cleared technical reviews by the Army Corps of Engineers.

WRRDA also eliminates as much as $18 billion in planned projects by the Army Corps of Engineers that have never gotten off the ground. It also is expected to accelerate project planning and development times that have stretched to longer than 15 years in some cases. The Corps would have three years to do feasibility studies and have a $3 million cap.

A number of ag groups — such as the National Corn Growers Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and others — have stressed the measure improves the inland waterways system, which is needed by U.S. farmers and businesses, who rely upon such transportation channels to create economic opportunities at home and supply markets abroad.