As the Animas River approaches peak flow, concerns are being raised that the city of Durango created a hazard when it added two new rapids to the Whitewater Park, resulting in many rafting companies choosing to bypass the park for safety reasons.
“It’s an unnatural hazard at the entry of the park, and it creates a rafting experience we’re not selling to our guests,” said Alex Mickel, owner of Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours. “It’s just been unfortunate.”
Since the 1980s, the city has made tweaks to the Whitewater Park, which flows alongside Santa Rita Park.
But in summer 2016, the city spent $1 million to create two new features just above the park with the sole purpose of diverting more water into the city’s water intake for municipal use.
It’s these new features that are drawing criticism and concern as the Animas River rises to higher-than-normal flows for the first time since the ledges were built. As of Friday, the river had usurped 6,000 cubic feet per second (the Animas usually peaks at around 4,700 cfs).
“They’re manmade nightmares,” said James Wilkes, co-owner of Mountain Waters Rafting. “They’re just not natural, and it’s very difficult for a raft to pass through it.”
In Lake City this week, a small team finished building a deep channel 1,000 feet long — a diversion in case Henson Creek’s banks are breached, said the team’s Michael Davis. Another berm is being built closer to town to protect the historical buildings and unpaved roads.
Converging streams near Lake City always have posed flooding risks, but this unprecedented threat is seen in aerial photos of new avalanche fields packed with big trees and boulders. The timber is about 300 years old, Davis said.
“That means they’re coming from areas that have not slid in the past 300 years, and that also means we’re changing the topography of the mountains. So where we once had a dense forest of mature trees that held the snow and the rains, we now have a new slide chute.”
It’s a slide chute for that debris to come rushing with water down into the creek, potentially building up, clogging and starting a chain of events that people on this side of the San Juan Mountains haven’t dealt with in generations…
In several basins, about half of the accumulations are waiting to melt…
San Juan County’s rivers are high enough to create “minor flooding,” [Jim] Donovan said. “But we still have a lot of snow in the mountains, so we’re not assuming anything.”
Heading into June, the Colorado Water Conservation Board warned that the delayed snowmelt might heighten the flooding risk, as June is expected to be a wet month statewide. Predicted long-lasting high water, the board said unforeseen conditions, such as sustained warmth or rain, have led to floods even in years of low snowpack…
Flash flood advisories and warnings have lingered in several parts of Colorado this month. In Huerfano County. fear of washouts and mudslides remain after last year’s major wildfire.
On the other end of the San Luis Valley, residents of Del Norte and South Fork can’t remember when the Rio Grande looked so high…
Stretches of the river have been closed to boating and fishing, and RV parks were on voluntary evacuation last weekend. First responders are preparing equipment and sandbags, as in Lake City.
Pueblo officials restricted access to the Arkansas River Tuesday, one day after a Texas man lost his life farther upstream.
The river has now been restricted to whitewater canoes and kayaks from Lake Pueblo’s dam east to the Pueblo-Otero County Line by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Pueblo Police Department, and the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office. Swimmers, rafters, and innertubers, no matter how well equipped, will be ticketed if they are discovered in the water.
According to the National Weather Service, the Arkansas River exceeded flood stage early Tuesday afternoon in the town of Avondale just downstream of Pueblo. Minor flooding is occurring…
Above Lake Pueblo, more snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains is already on its way downhill. The NWS predicts the Arkansas will reach flood stage in Canon City shortly after midnight Friday, and stay above it for at least two days.
Even farther upstream, rafting companies are voluntarily avoiding three sections of the Arkansas between Granite and Buena Vista, and in the Royal Gorge, following high water warnings.
The Arkansas River near Salida will welcome thousands of spectators and competitors this weekend to FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas River). Many crowd favorite events, however, have already been scrapped due to rising waters.
The cubic feet per second reading on the Arkansas on Monday in Salida was measured over 4,000 sending water close to the top of the historic concrete bridge on F Street in downtown. This isn’t even peak runoff flow yet.
FIBArk announced the list of canceled events which includes the Hooligan Race, the Stand Up Paddle board event on Friday, the SUP Cross on Saturday, and the Crazy River Dog Contest on Sunday — all canceled because of unsafe conditions.
High water advisories are in place in Pine Creek and The Numbers, both located between Granite and Buena Vista, as well as the Royal Gorge section of the river just west of Canon City. The advisories mean commercial rafters are voluntarily avoiding those sections of the river because water levels are considered dangerous.
For example, in the gorge, that cutoff level is 3,200 cubic feet per second. The river initially exceeded that level Saturday at the Parkdale gauge when it hit 3,220, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By Sunday, the level was 3,720; and on Monday, the level was pushing 4,000 cubic feet per second.
“I talked to the Board of Reclamation Sunday and the cool weather Sunday helped, but there is still an awful lot of snow up top. They said they are going to have to release additional water from Twin and Turquoise Reservoirs this week and then they should be able to hold steady,” said Rob White, who manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area on behalf of Colorado State Parks.
The Arkansas Headwaters offers access to water ranging from Class II (moderate) rapids to Class V (extremely difficult) rapids so when the water levels exceed the safety cutoffs in some sections, outfitters move their guests into different sections. That means boaters are taking on Browns Canyon north of Salida and the Big Horn Sheep Canyon west of Canon City where high water is ensuring there are still plenty of thrills.
The water keep rising in the Arkansas River, bringing with it the promise of the best whitewater river rafting season in years, but also the threats that come along with deep, cold, fast-flowing water.
Discharge through Centennial Park now exceeds 4,000 cubic feet per second, or the equivalent force of 4,000 basketball passing a single point per second. “It’s awesome for our tourism, it’s great for the boaters, rafters, and fishermen as well,” said Fremont County Emergency Manager Mykel Kroll. “With the historic snowpack we had in the high country, we’re seeing all of the runoff from that as our temperatures have warmed up.”
The fast, rough waters are the ideal conditions for swift-water rescue training as well. Members of the Colorado Springs Fire Department heavy rescue team practiced rescues from the foot bridge spanning the river on Monday. “For us rescuers, it’s pretty treacherous water, so we’re just getting some experience in swimming in this water,” said Brian Kurtz, head of the program. “This is a good training day that we can see lots of hydrology, different things that the river is doing, different things that we go through as rescuers, and different ways to put systems across the river so we can safely affect a rescue.”
The water is also extremely dangerous. “If you don’t have to be in the water right now, don’t be,” Kroll said, “but if you do, make sure you’re prepared, be safe, know how to swim, wear your life jacket, your helmet, have a plan.” Three sections of the Arkansas River — Pine Creek Rapid, Numbers, and Royal Gorge — are under a High Water Advisory, meaning commercial rafting companies are recommended not to run those sections due to dangerous conditions.
FromThe Vail Daily (John LaConte) via The Summit Daily:
Dane Jackson has been called the world’s best kayaker and, on Thursday, he bested boaters from all over the globe to prove the title true.
Jackson was the only American man in the top five at the Steep Creek Championship, a timed race down Homestake Creek that doubles as the kick off to the GoPro Mountain Games every year.
International competitors outnumbered Americans in the women’s event, with only four female competitors completing both of their preliminary round runs through the tight section of class-5 whitewater.
Adriene Levknecht, of Greenville, South Carolina, was the fastest woman on the day.
Colorado was well represented in the competition, with Glenwood Springs paddlers Kenny and Dally Kellogg, Peter Farmelo of Silverthorne and Alex Tansey of Kremmling holding it down as the most local kayakers in the 37-person field.
Tansey said if they had any “home water” advantage, it was the fact that they were already acclimated to the elevation and the cold water.
“Some of these folks aren’t used to true snowmelt water,” Tansey said. “As cold as cold can get.”
Traveling to Colorado for the first time from Costa Rica, Arnaldo Cespedes said the water nearly paralyzed him at first.
“Even though I was wearing a wet suit, I thought that I was going to get frozen,” he said.
Cespedes said as a result, he didn’t perform as well as he was expecting…
Paddlers from Chile, Argentina, Canada, France and Norway also competed.
Second-place Gerd Serrasoles, a native of Catalonia, now calls the Columbia River Gorge home in White Salmon, Washington…
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge tests competitors across six events of their choosing, with at least one biking and paddling event mandatory. It wraps up on Sunday with the Pepi’s Face Off, also mandatory, which sets a clock to 30 minutes and pits runners against each other in a challenge to see who can complete the most laps up the steep, 40% grade ski run at the base of Gondola One in Vail.
Last month was the snowiest May in Aspen since 1999, with 20 more inches added to the already substantial snowpack. Meanwhile, forecasters are predicting a wet June.
Total snowfall for May was four times the average, according to city of Aspen water department figures. It follows the second snowiest March ever recorded — and the records go back to the winter of 1934-35. Only 6 inches fell in April, but with May’s snowfall, the water department has recorded 210 inches thus far, well above the winter average of 155 inches.
The water department also tallied 3.8 inches of rain for the month, which is double the average. One factor behind the heavy winter and wet spring can be found in the Pacific Ocean, said Erin Walter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Winter and spring storms were fueled by weak El Niño conditions that shifted atmospheric rivers laden with moisture farther south than in an average year. (El Niño occurs when, among other conditions, sea-surface temperatures are warmer than average.)
Unceasing storm systems that usually blanket the Northwest, Alaska and Canada instead inundated California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range…
he weak El Niño “definitely influenced the track of storms and the general circulation of our low and high pressure systems,” Walter said. “It’s been a very abnormal winter and spring for us.”
And that may not change anytime soon. Walter said the federal Climate Prediction Center’s one-month outlook for western Colorado, as of May 31, “falls within a 40 percent probability of being above average for precipitation.” The center also is predicting average temperatures for the region.
While the wet, cool spring has meant little snowmelt and allowed for continued skiing, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and local emergency managers are keeping a close watch on river levels…
CWCB also cited a forecast for June that indicates a “wet month for the entire state,” and adds that areas downstream of recent burn scars, like those on Basalt Mountain and surrounding environs from the Lake Christine Fire, are at heightened susceptibility to flash floods, and mud and debris flows. The board reminded “individuals and business owners [to] consider, be aware of, prepare for, and insure against flood threats.”
“It is also important to note that Colorado’s worst flood events have historically occurred from general spring rainfall and summer thunderstorms, which are completely unrelated to snowmelt flooding resulting from mountain snowpack,” the summary says. “For this reason, even residents in areas with lower snowpack should exercise caution in evaluating flood risk.”
Floods directly related to the melting snowpack are possible but unlikely, and for boaters, “an extended season of high water is a near certainty this year,” the board reported.
FromThe Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:
A 10-day whitewater boating release is planned for the Dolores River below McPhee dam and reservoir, managers said this week.
The recreational water flows will be let out from Tuesday to May 30 and are scheduled to accommodate boaters over Memorial Day weekend.
“Timing the release early for the three-day holiday was a big interest for the boating community,” said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Beginning Tuesday, the managed “spill” will increase at a rate of 400 cubic feet per second per day to achieve a 1,200 cfs flow by the morning of May 24. The high flow will be maintained through May 27, then ramp down to 800 cfs through noon May 30. A gradual ramp down over a few days will follow.
However, the managed release is expected to continue after May 30, but to what extent has not yet been determined, water officials said.
Winter snowpack that reached 140% of normal is enough to fill McPhee Reservoir and provide the boating release below the dam. Recent cooler and rainy weather in Southwest Colorado has slowed the snowpack runoff, creating uncertainty about the final timing…
The inflow rate will depend on hard-to-predict temperatures and potential rain in the coming weeks. McPhee is expected to reach full capacity by mid-June, said district engineer Ken Curtis, and all irrigators will get a full supply for the season…
The 97-mile stretch of the Dolores River below the dam from Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock is revered by boaters for its challenging rapids and remote, red-rock canyon wilderness.
The three- to five-day Slick Rock-to-Bedrock section through winding Slick Rock Canyon offers a pristine river running experience. The 18-mile, one-day Ponderosa Gorge has convenient access and fills with locals and tourists when the river runs. No permit is required to boat the Dolores River.
The expert Snaggletooth Rapid is especially notorious for drenching boaters and occasionally flipping boats. A road along the river accessed from Dove Creek is a popular spot to spend the day watching boaters negotiate the wild hydraulics created by the rapid’s “fangs.”
Also this week, temperature suppression flows of 100 cfs were released from the dam to benefit the downstream native fishery. The strategy is to delay the spawning of the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers and roundtail chub until after the whitewater release.
The 17-acre Two Bridges property and 10-acre State Bridge property were acquired by Eagle County in 2011 to improve public access to the river. Additionally, the Eagle County Open Space Program financed improvements at both sites, including boat launches, bathroom facilities, and developed parking areas. During the county’s ownership, the sites were managed collaboratively with the BLM, together with nine existing BLM recreational sites within the Upper Colorado Special Recreation Management Area.
Sticking to the plan
While county officials decided eight years ago that it was important to purchase the formerly private parcels for public use, it was never the county’s intention to keep the sites as part of its open space inventory.
“They always intended to be an interim owner,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund. “Everything has now come full circle. The parcels are in the BLM’s hands.”
“It’s also a win for the county because they have recouped $1.8 million through the sale,” Quinlan added.
“This sale fulfills our plan to enhance these two recreational properties for the public, while returning funds to Eagle County Open Space for future uses,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “We are proud of our partnerships to protect land and water while supporting excellent recreation management on the Colorado River.”
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for permanent protection of the State Bridge and Two Bridges properties. Permanently reauthorized by U.S. Congress this winter, LWCF is a 50-year-old bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties — not taxpayer dollars — to acquire critical lands and protect natural resources.
The State Bridge and Two Bridges properties are heavily used for boating and recreation. The Two Bridges property provides a popular put-in and take-out site on the 10-mile stretch between State Bridge and the Catamount Bridge Recreation Site.
The conservation of the Two Bridges and State Bridge parcels complemented the previous addition of the 9-acre Dotsero Landing site to the Upper Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area. In 2016, in cooperation with Eagle County and The Conservation Fund, the BLM used similar federal funding to acquire Dotsero Landing, providing continued river access where the Eagle and Colorado Rivers join. Quinlan noted that together, the three river access sites are helping to secure the significant scenic, recreational, cultural, and wildlife resources along the upper basin of the Colorado.