#Runoff news: Raft companies ready for rising rivers — Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

In some ways, 2016 is mimicking last year which was marked by a moisture-laden spring that allowed for an extended, and prosperous, 
season for outfitters.

In 2015, Colorado’s whitewater rafting industry hit 508,728 user days, which was considered a “healthy season,” according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association, a group that represents between 80 and 85 percent of the state’s commercial operators.

While that total was about 5 percent off of the statewide record year of 2007, when 533,166 rafters paid to float, local companies would be happy for a repeat of 2015.

“We had a fantastic rafting season last year,” Ingram said. One measure of that was the ability to run the Slaughterhouse section of the Roaring Fork, known for its Class IV waterfall, deep into July…

The Arkansas River…remains the state’s most popular rafting river, hogging about 39 percent of the total market share, according to CROA. Last year there was a 3 percent increase, or almost 5,700 more people who used the “Ark,” as compared to the prior year. Because it is heavily regulated, there’s little room for growth on some of the season’s “bumper days,” according to CROA executive director David Costlow.

Commercial user days on the upper Roaring Fork (above Basalt), at 5,038, represented only a fraction of the busy Arkansas in 2015, according to CROA data.

Slow going, for now

A slow warm-up rather than a rapid meltdown is highly preferable for flooding concerns and also to better serve tourists, who are in short supply right now. So far, the snowpack has cooperated by remaining stubbornly high in the hills.

On May 12, the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s snowpack and stream flow report summarized that “snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed is 102 percent of normal. We are poised for spring runoff with plenty of moisture still stored in the snowpack.”

The report continued: “Several sunny days and warmer overnight temperatures would significantly increase the rate of snowmelt, and cause river levels to rise.”

That was evident this past week on the Colorado River, where flows in Glenwood Springs “nearly doubled,” according to the conservancy’s report. It noted that the measuring gauge near the confluence of the Roaring Fork showed the Colorado River was running at 5,660 cubic feet per second (CFS).

Here in the upper valley, the Roaring Fork River is just now awakening from its seasonal slumber. The May 12 measurement at a Snowtel site on Independence Pass showed snowpack at 124 percent of median or providing 14.4 inches of “snow water equivalent.”

“There’s a lot of snow up there. And right now we’re doing way better than last year. We haven’t really started dumping any water,” said AWR’s Ingram. Both Aspen Whitewater and Blazing Adventures are offering early season specials on river trips.

On May 11, Ingram checked a gauge near the confluence of Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River about 100 yards below Slaughterhouse falls. It hovered around 270 cfs; Ingram said the company would like levels to rise to at least 500 cfs before sending a commercial trip through there, though he believes optimum range is 800-2,000 cfs. Anything higher than 2,000 cfs can be a little scary, he surmised…

River users may have fond recollections of flooding at North Star Preserve during the summer of 2015. While not a section that rafts use, the surplus of water allowed those with kayaks, paddleboards and tubes to explore channels and nooks and crannies that are usually dry.

A confluence of several factors led to last year’s North Star flooding, according to Medved. Those included a Twin Lakes reservoir at capacity, and latent demand by Front Range users that kept water from being diverted to the eastern side of the Twin Lakes tunnels. Plentiful water statewide helped keep water closer to its origin by reducing the “calls” or demands…

RFC will host its 12th annual river float on Saturday, June 4, beginning at 8 a.m. Tickets are $20 for what is touted as an “informative, fun float down the lower Roaring Fork River.” Lunch at the Coryell Ranch following the trip is included as are “educational river conversation,” gear demos and more. Go to roaringfork.org for more information.

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

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