From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Summer rains have prolonged river flows in Southern Colorado beyond anyone’s expectations this year.
It’s been great for rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, a blessing for farmers and helped to replenish reservoir levels after years of drought.
“We’re seeing an increase in private boaters,” said Stew Pappenfort, lead ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “A lot have taken up kayaking or canoeing after going on a commercial outing.”
Caution was needed during the very high flows that occurred earlier this year, he added. There have been 11 deaths on the upper portion of the river, including seven drownings from boating accidents and one medical emergency.
Flows above Canon City remained above 1,000 cubic feet per second Friday, thanks to both wet conditions and releases to make even more space for imports in Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Boustead Tunnel brings water from the Roaring Fork watershed into Turquoise Lake.
So far, nearly 80,000 acre-feet (26 billion gallons) of water has been brought over, which is about 25 percent more than Reclamation forecast in June. Snowpack was about 25 percent above the median this year in Colorado’s central mountains. But regular summer rains, missing in 2012 and 2013, have boosted flows to more normal levels, Vaughan added.
For farmers, the wet conditions are welcome.
“We were dry early,” said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar. The Fort Lyon Canal has had 16 runs of water so far this year, compared with 12 total in 2013 and just seven in 2012. “We had a slow start, because it had been so dry, but it picked up in mid-June. We ran out of snow water on July 4, but then it started raining. You need rain. It really makes a difference.”