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.

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