From KRDO (Dan Beedle):
Rafting experts in Fremont County along the Arkansas River say low waters haven’t hampered business, but the rafting experience has changed, especially when compared to past years.
Water levels on the Arkansas have been high the past three rafting seasons. Despite the lower waters, business remains steady.
“Our revenue numbers are about exactly the same that they were last year,” said Whitewater Adventure Outfitters Owner Tony Keenan. “[The low water level] affects business in some ways. I think the biggest effect is we had fewer people from the Front Range this year because they are a little more knowledgeable of snowpack numbers.”
The low waters are noticeable, and some of the guides say more boats are likely to tip over with shallower waters.
Many state agencies have taken notice, and have taken action.
Kennan says the state will add 10,000 acre-feet of water to the river during the summer months to help the rafting business. However, this past summer, various state agencies have added roughly an additional 16,000 acre-feet. Just last Tuesday, Colorado Springs Utilities donated 1,000 acre-feet to keep the waters higher through August.
The increase in water also helps keep the flow of the river moving at an acceptable rate for rafting. Officials say it’s been a struggle to keep the river at about 550 cubic feet per second; the preferred flow is about 750 CFS.
“Cooperation has been extraordinary this year to keep flows at a reasonable recreational experience and at a level that is manageable for our guides to get down river,” said Keenan.
From The Washington Post via The Denver Post:
The extremes of temperature and precipitation – too much of one, too little of the other – have grounded rafting companies in places that usually offer white-knuckle rides. With water barely lapping over jagged rocks, some outfitters have moved operations to rivers fed by reservoirs higher up in the parched Rockies.
“Boats can get piled up and people can get hurt if they flip, and guides were having to use their backs to pull the rafts off of rocks,” said Alan Blado, owner of Liquid Descent Rafting, which is based about 40 miles west of downtown Denver. “We didn’t want them to get injured.”
Blado hung on there until his usual run, Clear Creek, was just too low. He relocated his school buses and bright blue rafts to the small Rocky Mountain town of Kremmling and now is trying to salvage the late season by persuading clients to drive the extra 72 miles to float a wide blue-green stretch of the Upper Colorado.
“With Clear Creek being cut short, everybody pretty much takes a pay cut,” Blado said.
This state boasts more headwaters than almost any in the country. Heart-stopping rapids, smooth tributaries and deep holes on the Colorado, Arkansas and the Animas rivers, among others, draw outdoors enthusiasts from around the world.
Last year, thanks to the winter’s heavy snows, outfitters served a record number of visitors. Conditions this year are far different – and far more in line with the pattern of recent decades. Since the late 1990s, three intense droughts have buffeted the state’s $193-million rafting industry.
Summer 2018 followed a rough winter in which some areas received 30 percent of what once was typical snowpack. A warm spring thawed drifts early, causing rivers to peak in May, weeks before the busy summer season. Severe to exceptional drought now covers two-thirds of Colorado, and some of the worst wildfires in state history have broken out.
“Not just in Colorado, but U.S. wide and globally, we’re seeing this disturbing warming trend that is amplifying over the last few decades going back to late 1960s,” said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It brings a lot more evaporation and makes semiarid areas like Colorado prone to quick-hitting droughts.”