On Thursday, Dec. 14, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) held a meeting where it conducted a public hearing and discussed its 2023 budget and discussed the possibility of a public take-out point along the San Juan River, among other items.
Engineering/Studies/Surveys appeared as the largest line-item expenditure in the proposed 2023 budget, amounting to $45,000. And since the board did not entertain reducing this item, it will “pull $20,000 out of sasvings” to pay for it and also maintain a zero deficit, explained Tedder.
Public access to the San JuanRiver
At the same meeting, the board heard about efforts to have public access to the river on land owned by the SJWCD and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD). [Al] Pfister, and possibly a representative from PAWSD, will be sitting down with representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW ), mainly to discuss fishery issues and potential funding, according to Pfister.
“This is basically being done under the watershed enhancement project,” Pfister said.
Click the link to read the article on the Westword website (Catie Cheshire). Here’s an excerpt:
People who use the South Platte River for recreation, particularly river surfers, are hoping the next iteration of the Colorado Water Plan will include stronger language about the importance of recreation on the river. An updated version of the plan originally developed in 2015 during the John Hickenlooper administration will take effect in 2023, and the public can currently weigh in on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources draft. David Riordon, an avid river surfer in Denver, says he was pleasantly surprised that the draft indicated a positive approach to recreation, but hopes there will be more specifics regarding the use of the South Platte in the final document. While Riordon recognizes that the plan must tackle big issues across the state, he points out that river surfers keep a close eye on the South Platte’s status in metro Denver when they spend time on the waves at River Run Park in Englewood. “We see what comes by us or what doesn’t come by us,” Riordon says. “That could be water. It could be people. It could be fish, it could be trash. It could be plants. All kinds of stuff comes by us.”
Currently, river surfers gauge several factors, such as the discharge from Chatfield Reservoir and the City of Englewood, to see if the water is running at enough cubic feet per second to surf, generally 180 cfs. Riordon thinks the flow of the South Platte should be controlled the way it is on the Arkansas River, where a voluntary flow management program ensures that the Arkansas will be high enough for recreation during summer months, including rafting and fishing…Although the agreement guiding the Arkansas River program is between the Colorado DNR, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation actually operates it, measuring the reservoirs and controlling the outlet gates to ensure a constant flow of at least 700 cfs from July 1 to August 15. It also maintains a 250 cfs level during fall and winter months to improve conditions for trout. To create something similar on the South Platte, Riordon, who’s president of the Colorado River Surfers Association, hopes to connect with other stakeholders to apply for a grant from the Metro Basin Roundtable to determine if the idea would be feasible…
The new iteration [of the Colorado Water Plan] includes goals for protecting and enhancing both environmental and recreational attributes of the South Platte. Compared to the first version, completed before the original 2015 Colorado Water Plan, it takes a stronger stance on social justice and ensuring equitable access to recreation on the river, [Sean Chambers] continues.
It appears that not all, but most people have avoided floating the Upper Slate River during the time the Great Blue Herons were hatching and raising their young this spring and summer. According to Western Colorado University associate professor of wildlife and conservation biology Pat Magee, the voluntary avoidance of the heron rookery through July 15 was successful and as a result, 38 chicks were counted this summer. The number of floaters, especially stand up paddleboarders (SUPs), using the Upper Slate in the early summer appears to have decreased over the last three years as a result of education and awareness.
While as of this week there was still one active nest with three large and nearly flight-ready chicks, the Great Blue Heron colony is now largely gone for the summer and the voluntary period to avoid that stretch of the Slate ended in mid-July. As of early August, two nests remained active in the “lower colony” area and one of those contained three chicks. Three chicks were also counted in one nest located in the “middle colony” area and all four nests observed in the “upper colony” were done for the season by August 6.
Magee said it appears that two new nests were added to the overall colony in 2022…
Crested Butte Land Trust stewardship manager Peter Horgan said that that the community in general definitely seems to understand the situation and is respecting the no-float period. “The recommendation and request to voluntarily avoid floating the upper stretch of the Slate River past the Great Blue Heron rookery was largely honored during the 2022 floating season,” he said. “We want to express our appreciation to river users for respecting wildlife by waiting until after July 15 to float.”
Craig has been awarded a $3.3 million Economic Development Administration Assistance to Coal Communities Grant for construction of the Yampa River Corridor Project. The corridor project is the result of a multi-year planning process with local agencies designed to stabilize and diversify the economy in Craig and Moffat County after the closure of the coal mines and power plant. The city and county collaborated to secure this federal funding for the project, which will upgrade the city’s water intake infrastructure, as well as add new visitor amenities along the river.
The EDA funding will support approximately 70% of the project costs, which were estimated at $4.6 million this year. Yampa River Corridor Project Manager Melanie Kilpatrick said that match partners have committed to the remainder of the project funding, and the only variable could be inflation, which has affected other projects over the years.
The corridor project encompasses several improvements to Loudy Simpson Park, including a new concrete boat ramp, access road and parking area, as well as improving the existing diversion dam site with a whitewater park, access road, parking area and park amenities. According to a statement from Kilpatrick, the project fits into Craig’s master plan for parks, recreation, open space and trails. It also fits within the Moffat County Vision 2025 Transition Plan, which outlines proactive strategies to help the community transition from a coal-centered economy.
The goal of the EDA funding is to support economic resilience by diversifying the region’s economic base. The idea is that having an outdoor recreational amenity so close to town will attract more visitors to spend time in town, creating a ripple effect in the local economy. While visitors bring in tourism dollars, the employees who serve those tourists then spend money on other goods and services in town. There have been studies in other communities where similar projects have taken place to measure the economic impact of whitewater parks.
A 2006 study in Durango estimated that whitewater recreation created 33 jobs for $1 million in annual sales from tourist dollars.
In 2009, the University of Idaho estimated that a whitewater park in Cascade, Idaho, generated $8.2 million annually from this ripple effect.
A whitewater park in Truckee, Nevada, reported economic benefits ranged from $1.9 million to $4.1 million annually.
Good Vibes River Gear and the Craig RV Park, local employers whose businesses would directly benefit from growth in river tourism, have committed to adding over 30 new full-time employees. And it’s estimated that the project will create approximately 129 new jobs in both direct and adjacent industries…
Craig’s current city water intake diversion dam is a 200-foot wide and 10-feet high barrier made of concrete and rip rap boulders. Kilpatrick said in a statement that the existing diversion is in disrepair and needs to be updated. In its current condition, the diversion can also be a hazard for boaters, and it blocks passage for numerous fish species, several of which are federally listed endangered species. Replacing the current diversion dam with a natural channel design will allow the city to continue to draw its allotted water from the river and will improve boater safety and year-round fish passage.
“This sustains the city’s water supply in a fiscally responsible way. That’s hugely important to us,” Kilpatrick said. “We get improved fish passage, and healthier aquatic and riparian habitat. We get better access to the river. And we get the economic development associated with whitewater recreation.”
The town of Basalt has budgeted to spend more than $1.6 million this year to complete a long-awaited park along the Roaring Fork River.
The second phase of Basalt River Park will include construction of a band shell, water-misting and play features, and extensive landscaping and sod. In addition, a new bus station with a bathroom will be constructed on Two Rivers Road at the park’s edge.
The work will require most of the 2022 construction season so the park won’t be fully ready for prime time until possibly late in the year, town manager Ryan Mahoney said. He believes the completed park will be a “crown jewel” for the town since it is so close to downtown…
The park is located at the town’s main intersection at Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road, and a portion of it extends downstream. A contractor finished phase one this winter, including final grading and constructing a sitting wall from large boulders. About $886,000 was spent on that phase…
Basalt struggled for years with its vision for the property. Two roughly equally sized factions duked it out over how much of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site should be developed and how much should be open space and a park. Belinski and Light crafted a compromise that included selling additional square footage to the town for parkland.
FromThe Greeley Tribune (Ken Amundson and Paul Hughes):
The city of Loveland has withdrawn from a state economic-development award process that it hoped to tap to help build a whitewater amusement park and hotel.
The move came Sept. 24; an announcement was made [October 2, 2021].
It puts plans for the state-supported whitewater park in limbo, but the park is only mostly dead and could be resurrected in another form, a city spokesperson said. The withdrawal means the park won’t be built with tourism money from the state…
Kelly Jones, city economic development director, said the city would be talking with local developer Martin Lind, who was among the parties first involved with the regional tourism effort that could have built projects in Windsor, Loveland and Estes Park…
The park’s costs were estimated at $200 million with $12 million coming from state grants.
“We’re not able to show ‘substantial progress’” to this point on the project, said Bruno, assistant to the city manager. The state deadline for evidence of progress would have been Nov. 12…
Three developers had responded to a new request for proposals from the city, and Loveland said in September it wanted to finish reviewing their proposals by early this month.
The three were Stand Rock Partners in Madison, Wisconsin, which developed the Wisconsin Dells Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort; Johnson Consulting Services in Minneapolis, with, its website said, $4 billion worth of project experience; and Lind’s Water Valley Co. in Windsor, which has built projects in Weld and Larimer counties.
A finalist had been selected, and City Council review of a proposal or a development agreement was scheduled for Oct. 19. But the city decided it couldn’t meet the state EDC’s definition of substantial progress and it withdrew.
American Whitewater floated a plan last year to expand protections for recreational river flows in Colorado. Maybe, the nonprofit protector of rivers thought, communities should not need to build whitewater parks to secure rights for recreational flows.
“It definitely, you know, got some ears perked,” said Hattie Johnson, American Whitewater’s southern Rockies stewardship director.
Colorado officially recognized recreation in a river as a beneficial use of water in 2001, enabling riverside communities to file for water rights to support whitewater parks. Those recreational in-channel diversion water rights, or RICDs, set a minimal stream flow between structures to support “a reasonable recreation experience.”
In the 20 years since the creation of RICDs and further legislation in 2006, Colorado communities have built dozens of whitewater parks, with 13 of them using RICD water rights. Some parks have delivered lasting economic benefits to riverside communities. But there hasn’t been a new RICD filing since 2013, when Glenwood Springs proposed three whitewater parks and found itself locked in Colorado water court for more than a year…
The nonprofit river conservation group American Whitewater is advancing a plan that structures in the river are not necessary for river recreation and communities should be able to file for RICD water rights without expensively engineered features that create waves and holes for kayaking, rafting and stand-up paddling. While there are 13 official RICD water rights in the state, there are more than 130 stretches of whitewater that can be rafted, kayaked and stand-up paddled in the state…
Early talks with Colorado’s sharp-elbowed water community have not gone well. No lawmaker took up American Whitewater’s proposed legislation, which has been scrapped. And opposition to a plan that expands recreational protection of water is stiff.
The gist of opposition, which was voiced earlier this month at the meeting of the statehouse Water Resources Review Committee, is this: If any community can file for RICD water rights without actually building anything in the river, the expansion of those recreational rights could muddy Colorado’s already complicated water dealing.
Denver Water met with American Whitewater, where the powerful water utility expressed concerns over how changes to the RICD statute might “impact previous, hard-won agreements” that allowed recreational water rights, Hartman said. There is a lot of water trading that goes on in Colorado as the state’s water users navigate senior and junior water rights while meeting regional requirements to deliver Colorado River water to downstream users in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.
“Reopening the statute to loosen it would probably make for a significant undertaking,” Hartman said.
American Whitewater is adjusting its plan to accommodate flexible exchanges of water and what Johnson called “creative water management we are going to need in a hotter, drier future.”
“Having larger decrees for in-stream flows for recreation would make that really difficult and prevent it when it would be needed to deliver water to people’s homes and fields,” she said. “That is understandable.”
While old-guard water users may be chafing at a plan to expand recreational water rights, they are not dismissing recreation as an invalid use of Colorado’s water.
“Recreational water use and recreational enjoyment of the state’s waters are integral to Western Colorado’s lifestyle and economy,” said Zane Kessler, the head of government relations for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, adding that the current RICD water laws in Colorado “provide a good amount of flexibility.”
Kessler said the 15-county Western Slope river district “is sympathetic to the goals of American Whitewater,” but he wonders about the necessity of amending Colorado water law to allow communities like Craig and Sterling and Del Norte to increase the recreational appeal of their riverfront land.
The river district’s policy, he said, says that a RICD should not be granted if it would “materially impair” Colorado’s ability to meet its water delivery obligations under the Colorado River Compact agreements of 1922 and 1948. Colorado is part of a coalition of upper basin states — with New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — who must deliver 7.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water to lower basin states as part of a nearly century-old agreement allocating river water that now supports some 40 million users…
Johnson said American Whitewater will continue talks with Colorado water users about how communities can protect recreational flows without having to build whitewater features. The group hopes to craft an amendment to the state’s recreational water rights rules that will both protect recreational use of river water while preventing a flood of applications for RICD water rights.
As coal mining fades, a diverse coalition of Moffat County residents and leaders is planning for the next chapter with a focus on protecting resources while managing recreation and tourism.
How can northwest Colorado entice and manage visitors, protect natural landscapes like the Green River’s stunning Gates of Lodore and prop up an economy girding for the looming departure of coal mining?
“As our coal leaves, what do we have left?” asks Jennifer Holloway, the executive director of the chamber of commerce in the town of Craig, where she grew up. “We have an amazing experience that can change lives. How can we share that, but also protect it?”
Three years ago, Moffat County “had some challenges with our identity,” Holloway says, describing how her father, when she was little, walked away from the family farm to work in the better-paying coal mines. “Not everyone had a coal job, but we focused on coal and neglected other things.”
Those other things — like tourism, agriculture and outdoor recreation — are no longer being neglected. It’s been a year since Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy announced they would be closing their coal-fired electrical plants and nearby coal mines starting in 2028. The closures will cost northwest Colorado as many as 800 jobs.
A community-based transition plan focuses on growing the region’s tourism and recreational amenities while protecting agricultural heritage and natural resources. The communities of Moffat County, downstream from the bustling resort of Steamboat Springs, are essentially a blank slate. They are taking cues from other Western Slope communities, hoping to glean lessons on what works and what does not. And the wheels are turning.
“Our community is on the cusp of doing great things, transformational things,” Holloway says.
Craig has applied for a $1.8 million federal grant for the roughly $2.7 million Yampa River Corridor Project, which hopes to revamp boat ramps and add a whitewater park as part of an effort to bolster the region’s appeal with river runners and paddlers. An additional phase of the plan would build a trail connecting Craig to the Yampa River…
First in line for state’s new rural assistance program
Nathan Fey, the head of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office has joined the Office of Economic Development and International Trade in recruiting students from the University of Colorado to map recreational assets in Moffat County as well as business infrastructure.
That case study will inform a larger project that will include local residents in shaping how northwest Colorado is presented to both visitors and outdoor recreation businesses. That larger project is part of Colorado’s new Rural Technical Assistance Program, or RTAP, which offers rural communities technical education that deploys online tools to help community leaders identify needs and build a plan for future growth. The second phase of the rural program involves technical assistance for planning and finally the state will help the community implement its strategic plan.
Moffat County is among the first communities to go through the new Rural Technical Assistance Program.
Say, for example, a snowmobile business or manufacturer approaches the state with an idea about relocating to Colorado. Fey can suggest Craig and Moffat County, offering maps of snow trail systems where the company can test designs as well as insights into supply chain management, broadband and commercial space. And residents in the community would already have expressed interest in welcoming that kind of business.
As he gazes up at massive sandstone cliffs above the Green River near its confluence with the Yampa River, [Andrew Grossman] riffs on what a shifting valuation for tourism economies might look like. Is it attracting wealthier visitors who leave more money in the community? But what if those high-rollers arrive on a private jet and emit that much more carbon than a less affluent visitor? One thing that is going away: the former yardstick for measuring success that was based solely on numbers of visitors.
“Maybe it’s time we apply a triple bottom line that considers resident sentiments, carbon footprints and economic benefit?” Grossmann says. “We have to reshift our value proposition.”
Powered by a $2 million endowment, the Yampa River Fund is building a more resilient waterway.
…folks whose lives are tied to one of the [Colorado River Basin’s] tributaries in northwestern Colorado aren’t standing by idly. In September 2019, more than 20 regional partners from throughout the Yampa River Valley, including recreation-focused businesses, farmers, nonprofits, and municipalities, joined forces to create the Yampa River Fund. Powered by a nearly $4 million endowment, the fund is doing what individual actors cannot: financing environmental restoration projects, agricultural infrastructure improvements, and releases from nearby reservoirs to ensure farmers, recreationists, and wildlife all have enough water to thrive.
None of this will reverse climate change, but the healthier the Yampa is, the better it will be at weathering a hotter, drier world. This understanding is what brought so many diverse—and sometimes seemingly contradictory—interests together. “We focus on creating win-win-win solutions,” says Nancy Smith, Colorado River Program conservation director at the Nature Conservancy, one of the fund’s founding entities. Smith emphasizes that third “win” because consensus is key: “The working group that created the fund took the time to build trust with one another so that everyone in that valley who depends on the river felt like they had a place at the table.”
Using the proceeds from its endowment, the fund has awarded $400,000 in grants over the past two years. Here’s how it breaks down.
Grant Recipient: Moffat County
Moffat County used a grant to bolster the riverbank at Loudy Simpson Park, which was eroding, in part, due to the growing number of people using the steep shoreline to access the river. A new boat ramp built to handle the crowds will limit future erosion (and open six additional miles of river to boaters by creating a new downstream takeout), and an ADA-compliant ramp helps wheelchair users easily access the water.
Grant Recipients: Trout Unlimited and the Yampa Valley Stream Improvement Charitable Trust
The fund has awarded three grants to rehabilitate sections of the Yampa and its tributaries. The work includes improving fish habitat and riparian zones (the border between the water and the land) and stabilizing shorelines to stop the tributaries from carving away at productive farmland.
Grant Recipient: Colorado Water Trust
To combat rising water temperatures and decreasing water levels—both of which harm wildlife, including four species of endangered fish—the fund pays for strategic releases of cold water from nearby reservoirs. The releases also increase water security for local farmers and help keep the river open for recreationists, who pump tourism dollars into the region.
Grant Recipient: The Nature Conservancy
This outlay pays for the permits needed to rebuild the125-year-old Maybell Ditch headgate, which diverts water from the Yampa into an irrigation canal. The new headgate will be more efficient, meaning more water for farmers and wildlife, and safer for boaters, who often avoid this section of river, in part because of the dangerous hydraulics created by the structure’s weir dam. The new, fish-friendly design will also ease passage for endangered species, like the razorback sucker.
Grant Recipient: The city of Craig
Craig received a grant to help pay for a whitewater park to diversify its tourism economy. A new diversion dam will also sustain the city’s water supply and allow fish to move up and down the river to spawn, feed, and escape to deeper water when river levels drop.
Grant Recipient: Yampa Valley Sustainability Council
Volunteers with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s ReTree program have been planting cottonwoods, alders, and willows along the Yampa for more than a decade. In 2020, the council used a grant to procure an irrigation system to increase the saplings’ survival rates, and this year it received another disbursement to cover 2022’s expenses, such as site preparation. One of the main goals is to create more shade to help mitigate rising water temperatures.
Greenway Master Plan
Grant Recipient: The town of Oak Creek
Oak Creek obtained funds to aid the design of a new greenway along a portion of its neglected namesake waterway. Construction will improve access and include rehabbing the creek’s banks, vegetation, and wildlife habitat. A healthy riparian zone can help regulate water levels by soaking up runoff and slowly releasing it into the creek.
Growing importance of outdoor recreation economy driving push
Three conservation groups aiming to keep more water in rivers for recreation are working on a revision to a state law.
American Whitewater, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates are proposing an amendment to legislation that would allow natural river features such as waves and rapids to get a water right. Under the state’s current statute, in order to get what is known as a recreational in-channel diversion water right, it must be tied to a man-made structure in the river, such as a design feature that creates the waves in many kayak parks.
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers is supportive of amending the existing statute to include natural river features and said so in an April letter to legislators.
“I think it’s kind of ironic that you have to make a man-made engineered structure in a river to make it somehow be of value to have a water right,” said Healthy Rivers board member and boater Andre Wille. “It would be nice to not have to put a structure in the river.”
According to numbers provided by the Department of Water Resources, there are currently 21 recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water rights in the state, all of them tied to an artificial structure. In the Colorado River basin, that includes features in Vail, Silverthorne, Aspen and Avon. Glenwood Springs has an approved RICD for a series of waves. Durango, Steamboat Springs, Salida, Buena Vista and Golden also have whitewater features with RICDs.
This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the man-made river features.
Hattie Johnson, southern Rockies stewardship director of American Whitewater, likens making the acquisition of water rights dependent on the creation of an artificial feature to protecting backcountry skiing by building a ski jump.
“Right now, we can only protect water in the river for recreation if we build a ski jump,” she said. “So, we are looking for a change that protects the resource to provide all the wide-ranging recreational activities that happen on the river.”
Hawaii Five-0 wave
Proponents aim to tie a water right to a specific naturally occurring river feature, instead of a stretch of river — for example, the wave known as Hawaii Five-0 in the lower reaches of the run that begins with Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork, instead of the entire 4.5-mile section of rapids. Slaughterhouse is a whitewater reach that begins at Henry Stein Park in Aspen and ends at Wilton Jaffee Park downstream in Woody Creek. It is a popular after-work run with kayakers and commercial rafting companies. Its many fishing holes also attract anglers.
A water right at Hawaii Five-0 could help keep water in the river for most of this section, since it’s located about a half-mile upstream of the take-out at Jaffee Park.
Scotty Gibsone has been running this section of river for 26 years and is on it nearly every day in the summer. His rafting company, Kiwi Adventure Ko, takes paddlers down the Class IV rapids of Slaughterhouse and the Class III Toothache section on the Roaring Fork in Snowmass Canyon. He said the Slaughterhouse season is short; it’s not usually runnable in boats after July 4. He can sometimes eke out a few more weeks using tubes in low water, but he would like to see higher flows overall.
“More water is always going to help, especially for us in the tourism sector,” he said.
Most RICD water rights are held by municipalities — cities, towns and counties — and many have encountered opposition in water court. When Pitkin County began the process of securing an RICD for the two waves in the Basalt park on the Roaring Fork, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company, two entities that take water from the basin’s headwaters over to the Front Range, opposed the water right.
There will probably be opposition from Front Range water providers to any amended state legislation. That is because an RICD could limit their ability to develop more water from the Western Slope in the future.
American Whitewater has met with representatives from Denver Water, Northern Water and Aurora Water to discuss the legislation.
“We did inform them that we believe there will be significant opposition to the proposal, but Aurora Water would need a draft and go through our process to determine our position,” Greg Baker, manager of public relations for the city of Aurora, said in an email. “There is great potential for unintended consequences from even a modest proposal.”
To appease its opposers, Pitkin County agreed to a “carve out” provision that allowed up to 3,000 acre-feet of new water rights to be developed upstream of the kayak park, without being subject to the county’s new water right. (An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre 1 foot deep.)
Growing recreation sector
A growing recognition of the importance of the outdoor recreation economy to the Western Slope is driving proponents’ push for updating the RICD legislation. And as climate change continues to rob western Colorado of streamflows, there is an increasing sense of urgency to protect and maintain water for recreation into the future.
“What we are trying to do is say that recreation is part of this complex system and we need to take that type of use into consideration,” said Josh Kuhn, water advocate for Conservation Colorado. “When we think about the transitioning economy, especially on the Western Slope, we need to have the security that this economic driver is going to be there in the future.”
Proponents say an amended law would also open up the possibility of RICD water rights to river runners in less-wealthy areas. Rearranging a streambed to create an artificial wave can be problematic: It is expensive, it requires disturbing the river ecosystem with heavy equipment, and engineers don’t always get it right the first time. For example, Pitkin County has spent nearly $3.5 million on the Basalt waves. The county had to reengineer the structures twice after complaints from the public that the waves were dangerous and flipped boats.
Supporters plan to meet with stakeholders throughout the summer and fall to further refine their proposed modifications to the legislation. They hope lawmakers will introduce a bill during the 2022 legislative session.
Water rights for natural river features would represent a shift in a state where putting water to “beneficial use” has traditionally meant taking water out of the river for use in agriculture or cities. It could mean that the often-overlooked river-recreation economy gets a bigger seat at the water-policy table.
“Recreation is a huge part of Colorado’s economy, it’s a huge part of our future, and yet it’s barely recognized in Colorado water law — and to the extent it is, it’s limited to a real-small class of recreation that only some towns and places can afford,” said John Cyran, senior staff attorney with Western Resource Advocates. “I think it’s time for Colorado water law to catch up with what’s actually happening on the rivers.”
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.
With the impending closure of coal mines and power plants in northwest Colorado, Craig officials and river enthusiasts are hoping a long-overlooked natural resource just south of town can help create economic resilience.
The city has applied for a $1.8 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency for the Yampa River Corridor Project, which will refurbish boat ramps, add parking areas and a whitewater park, in an effort to develop the Yampa River as a source of outdoor recreation and local pride. The project is part of a multi-pronged approach to help rural Moffat County transition from an extraction-based economy to one that includes outdoor and river recreation as one of its main pillars.
“(River use) has definitely grown in the last couple of years,” said Jennifer Holloway, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce. “Awareness that the river could be part of our future has grown. It had just not been on our radar as a town. We had the coal mines, we had the power plants. People tubed the river and fished in it sometimes, but it was not looked at as an economic asset until the last few years.”
An August 2020 preliminary engineering report by Glenwood Springs-based consultant SGM laid out the project components. The first phase of the proposed project would include improvements to Loudy Simpson Park on the west end of town, including a boat ramp, parking, a picnic area and vault toilet. The park is often a take-out point for tubers and boaters who float from Pebble Beach, just a few miles upstream. The project would also create better waves, pool drops with a fish passage, two access points and a portage trail at what’s known as the Diversion Park, as well as improve the city’s diversion structure.
The total project cost is roughly $2.7 million. A second project phase, which is still conceptual, would include bank stabilization and a trail connecting the river to downtown Craig.
Project proponents see the river as one of the town’s most under-utilized amenities and say it can add to the quality of life in the town of about 9,000.
Josh Veenstra is the owner of Good Vibes River Gear in Craig. The company rents paddle boards, rafts and tubes, runs shuttles on the Little Yampa Canyon and sells hand-sewn, mesh bags and drying racks, which are popular among the boating community. This is the fourth season for his company and Veenstra said the momentum is unbelievable.
“What it’s going to do is give Craig a sense of identity,” he said.
Transitioning from coal
Two of the region’s biggest employers and energy providers, Tri State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy, announced in 2020 that they would be closing their coal-fired plants and mines. Tri-State, whose plant is supplied by two local mines, Trapper and Colowyo, plans to close all three of Craig’s units by 2030. Xcel, whose plant is located in nearby Hayden, plans to close both its units by the end of 2028.
According to Holloway, the closures represent about 800 lost jobs.
“All of our restaurants survive off the power plant workers, all of our retail, all the rest of our businesses,” she said. “Most of our small businesses downtown are run by women whose husbands work in the mine. So I think we are going to see a mass changeover of people leaving.”
Holloway is focusing on ag-tourism, the arts and outdoor recreation as industries that can help replace lost jobs. Although she recognizes that tourism jobs generally don’t pay the high wages of extraction industries, outdoor recreation has been identified as an industry with a large potential for growth and is identified as a priority in Moffat County’s Vision 2025 Transition Plan.
In addition, the pandemic has shown that many white-collar workers can work remotely from anywhere that has internet. It has also increased interest in outdoor recreation. Project supporters say improving the river corridor could help attract a new demographic interested in the outdoors but who don’t want to pay the premiums of a resort community, like nearby Steamboat Springs.
“Entrepreneurs in the rec industry would be a great fit,” Holloway said. “A warehouse here would be so much cheaper than Steamboat. If we could get some of those entrepreneurs, that would attract those that have a remote job or business elsewhere but that want the rural outdoor lifestyle.”
Recreation water right
Although city officials are moving forward with plans to build the whitewater park, they are — for now at least — forgoing a step that could help protect their newly built asset and keep water in the river.
Many communities in Colorado with whitewater parks, including Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Durango, Silverthorne and Vail, have a water right associated with the man-made waves, known as a recreational in-channel diversion or RICD. This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the river features.
A RICD can help make sure there is enough water in the river for boating, but it also has the potential to limit future upstream water development. Under Colorado water law, known as the prior appropriation system, older water rights have first use of the river and therefore, a RICD does not affect existing senior water rights.
“It’s something that we have had some discussion about and we are looking closely at; it can be kind of political,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius. “I have not personally heard from folks, but I know people are opposed to it.”
Brixius said the conversation about a RICD is on hiatus at least until the fall.
Without a water right, which would secure the whitewater park’s place in line, future upstream water development could jeopardize having enough water for the park.
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that while he can’t speak specifically for Craig, it makes sense for a municipality to protect its place in the prior appropriation system with a water right.
“If there may be some risk in the future that somebody is going to develop some water upstream that would either reduce or eliminate entirely the benefit of this expenditure, then yeah, you go to water court and try to protect this investment you have made,” he said. “Even if you don’t see anything on the horizon that is going to impact you, who knows what’s going to happen in 20 years.”
Looking to the future
The city expects to find out if it got the EDA grant in early fall. The project has also received funding from Moffat County, Friends of the Yampa, Trapper Mine, Northwest Colorado Parrotheads, the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, Resources Legacy Fund and the Yampa River Fund.
City officials are hoping the Yampa River Corridor Project will attract visitors, contribute to marketing efforts to rebrand northwest Colorado and build morale around the area’s economic future. For river gear shop owner Veenstra, that future can’t come fast enough. He hopes to hold swift water rescue courses and do environmental education using the new river corridor area.
“Craig is one of the coolest little towns,” he said. “The closure of the power plant, everybody says it’s going to be the downfall of Craig. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to us because it made people snap out of it and go, ‘oh, we need to do something different.’ That’s why the whitewater park is getting built. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Middle and high school students from around Colorado competed May 15 and 16 in the 2021 FIBArk RunOff, a series of slalom and downriver races.
“The weekend of racing was a huge success, although water levels were lower than normal,” Alli Gober, FIBArk river events coordinator, said. “It’s always exciting to see younger paddlers stepping into the competition mind-set. Some of these young paddlers may go on to race internationally in the future, and it all starts here.”
Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Rafting, said Friday, May 14, that recent reports he has received from Denver Water indicate the organization is likely to prioritize filling the Dillon Reservoir.
“What we are being told is, right now, the reservoir is low and snowpack is below average, so their model this year going to be more fill and spill,” Foley said.
Each spring and summer, Denver Water determines how much water it will release into the Blue River north of the Dillon Dam based on how much water is needed in different locations throughout an intricate network of water systems and reservoirs that service water users.
Foley said current conditions and a low water level in Dillon Reservoir point to Denver Water filling the reservoir with any new snow or rain in the coming weeks, rather than diverting flows downstream into the Blue River.
Foley said he will find out more from Denver Water at a meeting next week, but as of now, he said it’s unlikely there will be an extended season on the Blue…
The Class 2 to 3 Blue River stretch, which usually takes just over an hour for commercial trips, runs 5 to 6 miles from a U.S. Forest Service put-in at Hammer Bridge through Boulder Canyon down to a take-out at Columbine Landing. Foley said Performance Tours and KODI Rafting’s cutoff for the stretch is usually 500 cfs, signaling when they can start and stop. He said the best rafting on the Blue is at 1,000 cfs.
The commercial rafting season on the Blue is notoriously fickle, sometimes very short at just a couple of weeks in dry years to up to two months of rafting in wet seasons…
Foley said drainages down on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista are looking much better than the Blue. He credited the voluntary flow management program on the Arkansas that enables commercial companies to raft on good, augmented flows deep into summer. Trips out of Buena Vista have been operating for some commercial companies since May 1.
Here’s the release from the Vail Recreation District via The Vail Daily:
The 2021 Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Vail Whitewater Race Series is almost here.
The Vail Recreation District offers five events on Gore Creek on Tuesdays from May 11 to June 8. This is a chance to test your paddling skills and compete against others. Register for individual races or the whole series.
For 2021, the Vail Recreation District is excited to introduce a new title sponsor for the series, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
“The Vail Whitewater Race Series is a great example of how our community thrives on water. Whether it’s snow, our rivers, or the safe water we deliver to homes and businesses every day, clean water is vital to our quality of life,” said Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s Diane Johnson. “As stewards of our rivers, we encourage everyone to reduce their impact on local streams by reducing their outdoor water use.”
The Vail Recreation District also partners with the Town of Vail and Alpine Quest Sports to put on these exciting races, held at the Vail Whitewater Park on Tuesday evenings beginning at 5:30 p.m. The first four races start at the Covered Bridge in Vail Village and end at International Bridge.
The last race on June 8 will start at the Ampitheater Bridge in Ford Park. Overall series prizes will be awarded following the final race.
The races will be divided between three categories including kayak (under 9-feet-6), two-person raft (R2) and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with different course challenges every week. Open to paddlers ages 16 and up with intermediate to expert abilities, the skills to run Class III whitewater in your chosen craft are required. The two-round format will consist of an individual time trial with results determining the seeding for the second round, a head-to-head race.
Please note that for 2021 the Vail Recreation District has limited rafts for use, so the R2 category will be limited to 15 teams. Preregistration is highly encouraged.
An after-party will also be hosted in Vail Village each week with prizes awarded to the winners of all three categories. For the first race on Tuesday, the after-party will take place at the Altitude Bar & Grill. All race participants over 21 will receive free beer courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company!
Registration is available at http://www.vailrec.com/register. Series registration for kayak and SUP participants is $60 and series registration for R2 participants is $80 per team.
Individual race registration for kayak and SUP participants is $15 preregistered or $20 day-of, and $20 preregistered or $30 day-of for R2 teams. Preregistration is highly encouraged and ends at 5 p.m. the day before each race. If space is still available, on-site, day-of registration will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Whitewater Park and all participants should be present at the safety talk at 5:15 p.m.
Every registered participant at each race will be entered to win a $1,000 gift certificate from Hala Gear that can be used towards a board and paddle package of their choice. The winner will be drawn after the final race so make sure you attend that last after-party!
The Vail Recreation District will be following all state and county COVID-19 guidelines for this upcoming race season.
For more information, visit vailrec.com, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or email email@example.com.
It’s hard to imagine, but for some rafting company owners, COVID concerns did not decimate business last summer. In his 10 years at the helm of Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, owner Brandon Slate has never been as busy as he was last summer despite the global pandemic.
“Last year (in the spring) phones were not ringing at all and we ended up having the busiest season since I’ve been running the company,” Slate said. “It was crazy.”
Andy Neinas, Echo Canyon River Expeditions owner, said he is ready to put the challenging year of 2020 behind him and focus on the upcoming summer season. It was the restaurant portion of his business and the high costs of transporting customers to the river that hurt his bottom line…
According to the Colorado River Outfitters Association’s annual report, the late start to the rafting season was compounded by the health regulations which forced rafting companies to run at partial capacities…
“Reduced rafting participation is reflected in the 2020 economic impact on the state’s economy,” the report reads. “Due to high unemployment, the downturn in travel and reduced discretionary spending, this report reflects the significant impacts our industry encountered.
“However, outfitters displayed resiliency and adaptability in an unprecedented environment.”
Overall number of rafters taking to Colorado waterways totaled 430,175 last summer, a reduction of 112,230 customers or a nearly 21% decline. On the Arkansas River, the impact was not as stark.
There were 182,005 rafting clients boating the Arkansas in 2020, down just 8,241 customers or 4.3% less when compared to 190,246 rafters in 2019.
The statewide economic impact for commercial rafting in 2020 was $148. 7 million, compared to a 2019 impact of $184.9 million. Although there was a $26.2 million difference, the numbers were “much more robust than anticipated,” according to the report.
In the Arkansas River Valley, rafting brought $24.5 million in direct expenditures to rafting companies in 2020, down just $1.3 million from 2019’s $25.8 million. All totaled, the economic impact of rafting — when other expenditures such as lodging, restaurant, dining and gasoline sales are figured in — was $62.9 million to the area in 2020, down $3.1 million for 2019.
Work currently underway in the Roaring Fork River between old town Basalt and Willits will make for a smoother ride for boaters beginning this spring.
The project, with an estimated price tag of $935,000, requires a temporary cofferdam during construction across much of the river’s channel, with heavy machinery in the exposed river bed. It will create two new “grade-control” structures to replace a weir that was used to channel water toward a diversion for the Robinson Ditch. That weir created a difficult passage for boaters that was often referred to as Anderson Falls.
Instead of that steep drop with no clear passage around or through, the project has been designed by Carbondale-based River Restoration to create a gradual riffle drop between the grade-control structures. The Robinson Ditch diversion structure, which delivers raw water for outdoor irrigation from April through October to customers in the Mid Valley Metropolitan District, will also be rebuilt as part of the project.
Work on the project, which was approved for funding in March by Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board of directors, began in December and is permitted to take place through March 15, said Quinn Donnelly, an engineer with River Restoration.
The weir, he said, created “probably one of the bigger navigation hazards” on the Roaring Fork, resulting in many boaters avoiding that stretch, which is just above a boat ramp near the FedEx facility off of Willits Lane.
“We are trying to make a natural riffle here” that meets the needs of boaters, Donnelly said. Making that stretch of the middle Roaring Fork more accessible might also have the added benefit of taking pressure off other stretches of river and more crowded boat ramps farther downvalley, he said.
The project should also improve fish habitat as water scours the riverbed around the newly placed boulders.
The cofferdam is blocking the river across most of the channel, funneling the Roaring Fork’s winter flow into a series of culverts on river right. On Thursday morning, an excavator was picking up 3- to 6-foot-diameter boulders and arranging them in a line to form the upper grade-control structure. The site is visible from the bike path connecting Willits Lane to Emma Spur.
Donnelly said that most of the boulders that were being placed this week will be buried by alluvium below “scour depth,” with more rocks placed on top. The project has been designed to keep the ditch headgate clear of sediment and debris carried downstream.
Once the grade-control structures are completed, the current cofferdam will be removed. A second temporary cofferdam will be installed at river right to allow for the new headgate to be built. That, too, will be removed before the project is complete and the river flows unimpeded through the section.
As of last year, project planners had secured $256,200 in grants, including a $171,216 Colorado Water Plan grant and a $45,000 Water Supply Reserve Fund grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, as well as a $40,000 Fishing Is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers fund, supported by a 0.1% sales tax, will cover the difference when all grants have been applied, said Lisa MacDonald, who works in the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office and provides staff support for the Healthy Rivers program.
MacDonald and Donnelly credited the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance for supporting the project. Donnelly noted that in any river project, there are myriad interests in play involving water users, riparian habitat and recreation. It is a balancing act, he said, but a successful model involves bringing stakeholders together and that has been the goal here.
Robinson Ditch Co. president Bill Reynolds, who is also the director of the Mid Valley Metropolitan District, said he’s happy to see the project making progress and believes it will enhance the experience for river users.
The ditch company paid for the engineering and design of its diversion infrastructure, he said. That infrastructure makes it possible for users in a wide swath of the midvalley to irrigate using raw water, as opposed to more-expensive treated potable water, which the district also provides via a series of wells, he said.
Ditch companies typically rely on government grants to make infrastructure improvements, he said, expressing gratitude for Pitkin County’s model of supporting river projects.
“Pitkin County and the funding mechanisms they’ve been using have been a blessing,” Reynolds said.
This story ran in The Aspen Times on Jan. 30.
The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
The Robinson Diversion, located just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane has long presented a hazard for boaters on the Roaring Fork River. Pitkin County Healthy Rivers has secured roughly $256,000 in grant money to permanently fix the area. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
A view of the headgate on the Robinson Ditch and the boulder structure in the Roaring Fork River that maintains the grade of the river so water can reach the headgate. Pitkin County has received a water-plan grant to help repair the diversion structure and improve boating passage. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today a new initiative to increase public safety around low head dams which have caused a number of accidents and fatalities on Colorado rivers in recent years. The effort includes new and planned signage around targeted low head dam sites, emergency responder education, public outreach and partnerships with private and non-profit organizations, local municipalities, and landowners and the launch of a new interactive map and webpage on DNR’s website: https://dnr.colorado.gov/colorado-low-head-dams
“DNR’s low head dam initiative is a positive step to increase public safety and awareness around low head dams across Colorado,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Colorado has seen an increase in outdoor recreation in recent years, particularly on our rivers and streams, but this has also led to tragic fatalities on some of our low head dam structures. These fatal accidents are avoidable and are a strong motivation for our Department to increase our public outreach and education initiatives. While some of our efforts are already underway, we know we need to do more to educate Coloradans to reduce these unfortunate accidents and ensure all Coloradans can safely recreate in our great outdoors.”
Low head dams are engineered structures built into and across Colorado’s stream and river channels for a variety of purposes, including to divert water from streams for agricultural purposes, protect stream channels from degradation and provide recreational amenities.
Low head dams, sometimes referred to as the quintessential “drowning machines,” can be dangerous because water flowing over dams produces recirculating currents that can trap recreators. Rafters, kayakers and those floating our rivers for recreation are often unaware of these structures and the dangers resulting from them.
Low head dams can be difficult to detect by river users approaching from upstream due to their height, and the fact that the relatively tranquil pool they create provides no indication of the dangers just beyond the visual horizon created by the dam and ponded water. This can limit reaction time and boaters’ ability to exit the river upstream of the dam.
“I appreciate the work being done by the Department of Natural Resources to address public safety at low head dams. Colorado rivers and streams are an enormous amenity for both water enthusiasts and fishermen,” said Ruth Wright, former Colorado legislator, public safety advocate and founder of Wright Family Foundation. “The low head dam initiative will provide valuable information to the public to help to prevent tragic and needless harm from the dangerous hydraulics of low head dams.”
Several high profile incidents in Colorado in recent years, including 4 fatalities, and 13 since 1986 point to the need for increased education and outreach efforts as well as closer coordination with local emergency responders. The average ages of those involved with low head dam-related incidents are between 13 and 30 years of age. DNR and a private ditch company recently installed warning signs at a low head diversion dam on the South Platte River adjacent to the Jean K. Tool State Wildlife Area. This diversion dam between Ft Morgan and Brush is the site of unfortunate drowning fatalities in 2016 and 2019.
“The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) is proud to work alongside the Department of Natural Resources and the water community at large through this initiative,” remarked Amber Weber, DARCA Executive Director. “Some of DARCA’s members have been touched by the loss of life due to a low head dam structure, and irrigators know the dangers a low head dam has. DARCA is glad to take part in this effort as agriculturalists join with recreationalists to make our waters safe to traverse.”
In response to these incidents, the DNR formed the Colorado Low Head Dam Safety Steering Committee to address safety issues around low head dams. The team of experts included; Colorado Water Conservation Board, Division of Water Resources – Dam Safety Branch, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Mile High Flood District, and Wright Water Engineers. The Steering Committee oversaw the inventory study of Colorado low head dam sites, which identified and digitized the locations of diversion, grade control, and recreational structures across Colorado.
The Low Head Dam webpage on DNR’s website includes an interactive map produced from the inventory study enabling Coloradans to research and locate potential low head dam structures before embarking on trips down their favorite river or stream. The webpage includes additional resources on low head dams, links to partner organizations, and a feedback form for Coloradans to help identify missed features on Colorado Rivers which could be included on the interactive low head dam map.
“American Whitewater has been pleased to partner with DNR on this low head dam inventory project. Safe enjoyment of our nation’s rivers is central to our mission,” said Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies Stewardship Director, American Whitewater. “We hope to integrate the data into our web based national whitewater inventory to help river users plan for and avoid these hazards. We are hoping to help crowdsource information to prioritize low head structures and to find solutions to improve their safety.”
DNR’s low head dam outreach initiative is funded in part from a $31,250 Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Water Plan grant, matched with $20,000 from FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program state assistance grant and $15,000 of in-kind services from Wright Water Engineers, and a generous $20,000 donation from the Wright Family Foundation for additional signage. These donations will help future efforts including ongoing public education, increased outreach during spring months, when the Colorado recreation water season is in full swing, installation of warning signage both above and below highly visited low head dam structures, and additional outreach and education for emergency responders.
From the Business for Water Stewardship (Claudia Hensley):
New study finds Colorado’s waterways support over 100,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue across the state
AnewstudyreleasedbyB usinessforWaterStewardshiptodayfoundthat water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado produces $18.8 billion in economic output, and contributes $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product (GDP) overall. According to the study:
6.7 million people participate in water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado annually, whether in the form of hiking, jogging, camping, fishing or other water-related activities on or around Colorado’s waterways.
Water-related recreation supports over 131,000 jobs a round the state that provide $6.3 billion in household income and generate an estimated $2.7 billion in tax revenue.
“The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”
“The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”
The study, conducted by Southwick Associates, presents economic contributions based on estimated retail spending in Colorado attributable to time on or along the water spent engaging in one of nine target activities (trail sports, camping, picnicking or relaxing, water sports, wildlife-watching, fishing, snow sports, bicycling or skateboarding and hunting or shooting) across nine river basins (Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, San Juan / Dolores San Miguel, South Platte, Yampa / White Green). Of the nine basins surveyed, the Colorado River mainstem alone generates $3.8 billion in economic output annually and supports 26,768 jobs.
“We believe it’s critically important to promote the outdoor industry’s importance to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. These figures are staggering, but not surprising,” said David Dragoo, founder of Mayfly Outdoors. “At Mayfly, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our community in Montrose as well as across the state. We think it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. Protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In releasing this study BWS has partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association to promote the critical need to protect Colorado’s rivers and waterways. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in the state and Colorado is home to many outdoor businesses and to our industry’s largest gathering, Outdoor Retailer, said Lise Aaangeenbrug, executive director, Outdoor Industry Association. “While we can’t gather as an industry this summer in Denver, watching the growth of people going outdoors during the pandemic and the release of this important data gives the industry great hope for the future. Protecting our state’s public lands and waterways are more important than ever to provide places to go outside and support the health and wellbeing of our communities.”
“We know that our great outdoors, including Colorado’s beautiful rivers, are a huge part of what makes our state such a great place to call home, drawing millions of people from around the globe every year and bringing industry and business here. But we can’t stop at enjoying nature – we must also protect it for the future. This study shows how much our state’s economy depends on preserving our rivers. We must continue to protect our quality of life and keep our environment as a top priority,” said Kelly Brough, President and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
FromThe Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
The report released Monday by Business for Water Stewardship said 6.7 million people participate in water-related recreation annually, supporting more than 131,000 direct and indirect jobs. That translates to $6.3 billion in household income, $2.7 billion in tax revenue and roughly $10 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the analysis by Southwick Associates.
“The general message is the importance of rivers, waterways, to our economy,” said Molly Mugglestone, director of Colorado policy for the business organization. “We need to preserve and protect these areas that people want to go to and spend time on.”
The report relies on spending data collected by Southwick Associates for the Outdoor Industry Association and a survey that looked at where people recreated. The report includes responses from 1,252 people and targets such activities as swimming, rafting, kayaking and other sports on the water as well as trail running along the water, fishing and wildlife watching.
The report analyzes statewide data and date for nine river basins in the state…
The Business for Water Stewardship’s promotion of keeping waterways healthy is a big benefit for the outdoor industry, [David] Dragoo said. “As an industry, we don’t really have any infrastructure, if you will. Our corporate infrastructure is our public lands and our waters.”
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday afternoon that the Blue River had returned to safe conditions would be reopening for recreational activities immediately.
On June 1, the Sheriff’s Office and the town of Silverthorne were notified by Denver Water that flow levels were rapidly increasing to 1,000 cubic feet per second, presenting safety concerns for river recreationists.
Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor decided to temporarily close the river from the base of the Dillon Dam to the Sixth Street Bridge, where the water was high enough to injure someone floating past that point.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office and town got the thumbs up from Denver Water that flow levels on the river had significantly decreased and were once again safe for recreation. At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Blue River below Dillon Dam was flowing at 301 cfs.
While the river has opened back up, officials are reminding anyone heading out on the water to use caution. Members of the public are encouraged to review the Summit County Swift Water Safety and Flood Preparedness Guide available on the county’s website. The guide contains information on the history of high water events in the county, along with instructions for building sandbag levees, household checklists, flood insurance information, safety tips for recreating and more.
With warming temperatures in Colorado’s mountains and spring runoff in full swing, the whitewater boating season should be off to a roaring start.
But Colorado’s stringent COVID-19 travel and recreation restrictions are forcing commercial rafting companies to create social distance on unruly rivers and face the potential for smaller crowds.
“The snowpack’s in good shape,” said John Kreski, rafting coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Arkansas River Headwaters Area. “But the phones aren’t ringing. This is very frustrating.”
Colorado’s highest flows, as of mid-May, are in the northern part of the state, with the Poudre and North Platte at 100 to 120 percent of normal, according to Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The upper Colorado, Gunnison, Green and lower Colorado rivers are all flowing at between 70 to 80 percent of normal, while the Arkansas River, from Buena Vista to the Royal Gorge, is flowing at 80 percent of normal.
Because of an unusually warm and dry April, flows are trending downward in the central and southern mountains.
The South Platte River and Clear Creek are running at 64 to 70 percent of normal, while the Rio Grande and San Juan River are just 45 percent of normal.
Northern Colorado rivers, such as the Poudre, will have enough snowmelt to extend flows for boating into late summer. Elsewhere in the state the best floating will occur from May into early July. “Get down into that 70 to 75 percent and you’re looking at a reduced season,” Strautins said. “There’s just not enough snow to extend it.”
Hoping to maximize the early season flows, outfitters are anxiously waiting to see how many visitors will show, according to Bob Hamel, executive director of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, a trade group.
“Who’s going to travel? Who’s got money? Will we even be traveling or flying to destinations?” he asked.
Still, Hamel is hopeful that the state’s waterways can be opened for commercial use by early June, bringing some much-needed economic activity to the state.
Colorado’s rafting industry is the No. 2 contributor to the state’s recreation economy, behind skiing. Centered on the Colorado, Rio Grande, Arkansas and Platte rivers, it contributed nearly $188 million to the state’s economy, according to a report of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. Visitors spent an average of $135 on a river adventure, including food, lodging, gas and souvenirs.
These numbers don’t include hundreds of homegrown rafters and kayakers who recreate on Colorado’s rivers or the large numbers of boaters from out of state that bring their own gear to the hallmark waterways.
How COVID-19 will impact the industry this summer isn’t clear yet, though major changes are underway.
“Every river floating company will have to adapt their own safety procedures to the kind of trips that they offer,” said Hamel. “A half-day trip down the Taylor River can’t be handled the same as a multi-day trip down the Gunnison Gorge. Some rafts are bigger. Some are smaller. The rafting industry can’t do a one size fits all.”
One set of COVID-19 rafting guidelines developed by Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Resort in Almont, Colo., includes daily screening of employees, non-touch guest check-in, and hand sanitizer in all office and retail areas.
In addition, directional signs will guide visitors to wherever they need to go, with group size monitored by employees. The number of people on a raft will be reduced to maintain proper social distancing, with spaced seating and open windows on vans and shuttles, disinfection of equipment after each use, and instructions to clients to bring their own water bottles and food.
Andy Neinas, a river running veteran with Echo Canyon Outfitters in Cañon City, said the rafting industry is well-equipped to handle the COVID-19 restrictions.
“All of us are juggling things to make it all work. We’re going to being doing it differently, but nobody does it better than Colorado,” Neinas said.
Dean Krakel is a photographer and writer based in Almont, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Alex Zorn):
According to the National Weather Service, rising temperatures this week led to rising river levels.
In fact, in the past week, river flows at the Colorado/Utah border have climbed from just over 7,000 cubic feet per second to nearly 13,000 cfs, according to flow data from the United States Geological Survey.
NWS service hydrologist Aldis Strautins said warmer days and nights helped the snowpack melt in the beginning of the week, resulting in higher river flows.
“Most sites will stay below any flood concerns. A few areas in the northwest part of Colorado, including the Yampa Basin and some of the smaller rivers, may reach higher levels,” he said. “We’re monitoring it right now.”
Wednesday’s river flow data for the Colorado River at the Utah border had the river flowing at 12,900 cfs. The average for May 20 at that spot in the river is more than 15,100 cfs.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent via The Sky-Hi News (John Stroud):
Rivers are rising faster than usual throughout the Colorado and Roaring Fork river watersheds, as warm temperatures have led to early melting of the high-country snowpack.
Higher river flows have also drawn paddlers to the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park, as the facility officially reopened this week with public health guidelines in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic…
Commercial rafting is on hold until later this month or early June while guidelines are being developed for that and other tourist activities. Private boats are allowed on the rivers, but with social-distancing and other health guidelines in mind.
The higher river flows are the result of warmer-than-normal temperatures across Colorado’s Western Slope, and the lack of precipitation to add to the mountain snowpack in April, according to Ken Leib, hydrologist with the United State Geological Survey in Grand Junction…
Leib said the Colorado River could see peak flows earlier than usual if the warmer weather continues, or possibly an early peak and then a second peak in June if temperatures modify.
After the record snowpack during the winter of 2018-19, the peak flow on the Colorado River below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs didn’t come until July 1, 2019, according to USGS historical data.
The flow last year topped out at 20,800 cubic feet per second (cfs), at a depth of 9 feet, 8 inches at the Glenwood measuring station.
Dating back to 1967, the highest peak flow at Glenwood was 31,500 cfs on May 25, 1984. The earliest peak flow came on May 20, 1996, at 18,200 cfs.
As of Thursday evening, according to realtime USGS data, the Colorado at Glenwood was flowing at 5,150 cfs with a depth of 5 feet, 8 inches — down from the Monday high this week of 6,000 cfs and 6 feet, 1 inch.
Just above the confluence on the Roaring Fork River at Veltus Park, the flow in the Fork was topping out at 1,200 cfs with a gage depth of 3 feet, 3 inches. The peak flow on the Roaring Fork at that location last year also came on July 1, at 8,960 cfs.
USGS data goes back to 1906 for that location on the Roaring Fork. The earliest recorded peak came on May 12, 1934, when the flow topped out at 4,100 cfs.
Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board is moving ahead with a nearly $1 million project to fix a problem spot on the Roaring Fork River between old town Basalt and Willits.
For the past few years, the board has been steadily accumulating grant money to fix the Robinson Diversion, an area known to boaters as Anderson Falls. The diversion is a line of rocks across the river, designed to help water flow into a channel on river right and into the headgate of the Robinson Ditch.
The spot, just upstream of the small boat ramp on Willits Lane near the FedEx outlet, has long presented a tricky obstacle to boaters, especially at low water.
And although repairs last April by the ditch company created a much-improved boat channel, the area remains vulnerable to winter ice flows and spring runoff, which could rearrange the rocks. Pitkin County is hoping to fund a more permanent fix.
Last month, Healthy Rivers board members informally decided to move forward with restoration project “option A” with an estimated cost of $935,000.
The work, by Carbondale-based River Restoration, would include creating two smaller drops in the river, instead of one large drop, which would still allow water to reach the Robinson Ditch’s headgate. The project also would make some improvements to the diversion structure and result in better fish habitat.
River Restoration also presented Healthy Rivers with an “option B,” which would modify the existing rocks and extend the drop downstream to make for a more mellow ride in a raft, ducky or kayak. That option would cost roughly $586,000 but would not include fish-habitat work or improvements to the diversion headgate.
Board members decided to stick with the more complete “option A.”
“We might be wasting money if we don’t go big on this project,” said Healthy Rivers board member Lisa Tasker. “Going big means finding a solution to the Robinson Ditch rearranging the river bed year after year. One of the biggest goals is to have less equipment get into the river.”
Pitkin County commissioners have to approve expenditures from the Healthy Rivers board, which is a recommending body.
Blazing Adventures runs commercial river trips from Snowmass Canyon to just below the Robinson Diversion structure, usually starting in July as spring runoff fades. Owner Vince Nichols said the boat chute last year was a great improvement, but he would welcome a more permanent fix.
“Our main takeaway would be safety and having a boatable passage,” he said.
It’s unclear yet whether the Robinson Ditch Co., which owns and operates the structure and headgate, will contribute monetarily to the project, but manager Bill Reynolds said he is in support of fixing the structure.
“I welcome anything that helps all the boaters, fisherman, all the users on the river,” he said. “And if the ditch company can gain a better structure out there, that will help everybody. It’s a win-win.”
These are matching grants, with the county currently committed to contributing at least roughly $246,000 toward the project.
According to Lisa MacDonald, a paralegal in the county attorney’s office, Healthy Rivers has no other grants in the works for the project, but it continues to look for more opportunities and funding. The project is still short of funding by about $430,000, and as time goes on, project costs continue to rise.
The price tag on the project in 2017 was $800,000. By this year, it had increased to $935,000.
“(The project) has a large footprint and we have to move the river during construction,” said Quinn Donnelly of River Restoration. “There are so few contractors that do the work, and it’s involved. There is risk involved.”
To make up the funding gap, MacDonald said the county could seek contributions from Eagle County, the town of Basalt, the ditch company and grants from Great Outdoors Colorado.
“The board does need to talk about exactly where the rest of that funding will come from,” Tasker said. “We are moving forward and will have discussions about how to cover what our grants do not.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 8 edition of The Aspen Times.
Pitkin County will begin construction next week on the latest fix to a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt that some said was too dangerous during high water last summer, sources said Wednesday.
“The primary goal of the adjustment is to improve high-flow navigation from runoff,” said Quinn Donnelly, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the park. “(High water) was creating big holes and people were flipping.”
Contractors next week will begin altering two man-made concrete wave structures in the riverbed to make them less difficult to navigate during high-water conditions, Donnelly said. Crews will move around boulders and create ramps to better flush water through the area and create a wave-train, he said.
“The goal of this winter’s work is to strike a better balance between the fun surfability of the waves and their high-water navigability,” Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille said in a news release Wednesday. “The end result will be wave features that are easier for river runners to bypass at high flows.”
Despite repeated requests Wednesday for how much the project will cost and where the money will come from, a spokesperson for the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board declined to release it. The park was initially built for $770,000 with Healthy Rivers funds, though it’s not clear how much has been spent since then to tweak it.
This winter’s project will mark the second time the whitewater park has had to be re-engineered because of safety concerns.
As the river dipped to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the crew outraced a pulse of water released from the Glen Canyon Dam upstream, the record slipped away…
The team of eight arrived at Phantom Ranch, at mile 88, at 11 a.m. on Friday, about 11 hours after they pushed into the Colorado River from Lees Ferry. That was only four minutes off their pace to reach the Pearce Ferry takeout around 10:20 a.m. Saturday. But that was also the peak of the surge released from Glen Canyon Dam. Holding close to a 5 mph rowing speed, the water slowed down with each mile. By midnight, the river had dropped from a daily high of close to 14,500 cfs to around 10,500 cfs…
Speed records have a long history in the Grand Canyon, dating back to 14-day descents in the late 1800s on log rafts captained by adventurers who likely weren’t racing but simply rowing. In 1951 Grand Junction brothers Bob and Jim Rigg set out to purposely set the speed record. They pushed their wooden row boat into the river at Lees Ferry when the river was roaring at 43,100 cfs and finished in 52 hours and 41 minutes. That record stood until 1983, when Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek and Steve Reynolds caught another flood-stage flow and rowed their wooden dory, the “Emerald Mile,” down the canyon in 36 hours, 38 minutes.
In January 2016, Orkin, an accountant in Aurora, paddled his carbon-fiber race kayak solo down the canyon, finishing in 34 hours and 2 minutes. That record was even more remarkable considering he flipped in Lava Falls and swam from his kayak, alone and at night.
The team this weekend had a clean run with zero mishaps.
“We got our revenge on Lava. The boat was fantastic. Everything and everyone held up perfectly. We ran the lines we wanted,” Seelig said. “The water just wasn’t there for us.”
Orkin was paddling a narrow, sleek craft that sliced through water. The Emerald Mile was a wooden dory meant to cut through the river. The raft carrying eight — even with a pair of narrow pontoons beneath a lightweight frame — pushes water out of its way. It might not be possible for a raft to set a speed record in the Grand Canyon…
“OK, if someone was like ‘Hey, I have a permit on this date and it’s going to be this flow’ and we have a crew that is training — that’s a lot of variables — maybe who knows,” Seelig said. “But right now, I’m like ‘No way. Never again.’”
The city of Durango plans to get back into the Animas River this winter to fix human-made rapids at the Whitewater Park that drew criticism for posing too great a risk to boaters during high water last summer.
Tweaks have been made to the Whitewater Park, which flows along Santa Rita Park, as early as the 1980s. But a full-scale $2.6 million project to enhance the park and build a series of rapids began in 2014 and was finished in 2018.
The most recent issue, which requires the city to get back in the river in the coming months, started three years ago and is considered separate from the Whitewater Park, which was led by the Parks and Recreation Department.
In summer 2016, the city’s Utilities Department spent $1 million to build several new features in the river, just above the Whitewater Park, for the sole purpose of diverting more water into the city’s water intake for municipal use on the east side of the river.
Since then, some members of the boating community have said the new features, which span the entire width of the river, function like low-head dams, one of the most dangerous hazards on a river because of the strong, recirculating water that can flip and trap boats, as well as people.
And if people fall out at the new drops, they have a long, cold swim through the actual Whitewater Park, which includes several major rapids and water temperatures in the low- to mid-40s…
This past summer, [Shane] Sigle said the only way to permanently fix the rapids would be to use grout to cement boulders in the river to ensure a safely designed flow. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which issues permits for work in any waterways) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, however, oppose using grout on river bottoms because it can adversely affect aquatic life.
City officials have said it’s unrealistic, and costly, to get back into the river every year to move boulders and rocks. But without being able to use grout, options are limited.
As a result, while long-term solutions are sought, it appears smaller maintenance projects are the city’s only way to make the river safer.
Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director, said the plan is to get in the Animas River as early as February to start the project, which could cost around $140,000 to $160,000.
Without grouting, though, the river will eventually move the boulders and nullify the improvements the city plans to make this year.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):
Since the River Park at Las Colonias now under construction is intended as a true collective asset — it’s not a raging whitewater course on some far-flung stretch of river, where only ardent and expert paddlers could realize the benefits — it certainly fits the community bill.
“Having done these projects for years around the country, you always think, what makes them popular, what makes them successful, what are all the ingredients that go into these?” Lacy said. “And location is extremely important.”
Even though previous efforts targeted other Grand Valley locations — Lacy still has concept drawings for projects that never got off the ground in Palisade and Fruita — he knew Las Colonias, where the city’s activation of the former uranium-tainted riverfront is front and center, is the right spot.
“I kept going, no, this Las Colonias thing — right there — and it’s developing, and it’s near downtown,” [Gary] Lacy recalled. “In the big scheme, all things being equal … that’s the best location.”
“You need infrastructure, and you need parking and restrooms. You need, ideally, restaurants — everybody gets hungry and thirsty and (wants to) get a beer and all that stuff,” he said.
“So in the heart of communities is by far the best.”
As Lacy puts it, river parks need two things — water and gradient. In the case of Las Colonias, you’ve got the biggest river in the state in the Colorado, and surveyors found that there was just enough gradient “for a good project,” Lacy said.
“We’re not talking world-class whitewater, but to be honest, you look back at the most successful ones, they (don’t have) the big, pounding whitewater that’s intimidating. Rivers and projects are for everyone,” he said. “I mean everyone, from a ducky to kayakers to stand-up boarders, or just people reading a book or having lunch along the river.”
“Those are the successful (projects), not the ones just for the 2% that are surfing,” he summarized…
TURNING TOWARD THE RIVER
It turns out lots of Gary Lacy’s projects are personal.
The office of his Boulder-based company, Recreation Engineering and Planning, fronts the whitewater park on Boulder Creek that he built in the ’80s.
The company is in the middle of a multiyear project to improve the river park in Salida, where his dad raced some of the first fiberglass boats in the ’40s and ’50s.
The Clear Creek Whitewater Park in Golden goes right by Colorado School of Mines, where Lacy’s dad encouraged him to enroll to become an engineer. He discovered his passion for civic and hydraulic engineering there, and built a unique-for-the-time business that initially focused on bike path construction a short time after.
A quick glance of the REP project list also includes Colorado river parks in Montrose, Buena Vista, Lyons, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Pueblo, Longmont, Florence, Breckenridge, Gunnison and Durango…
Many of the company’s projects in other parts of the country — like in Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Oregon, among other states — involve taking dangerous dams out to create amenities where they were once liabilities. It’s a theme that also includes the rehabilitation involved at the previously tainted Las Colonias.
“All these communities are now turning toward the river, instead of turning their backs to the river,” Lacy observed.
Pitkin County needs to make Basalt’s whitewater park safer. That was the refrain from most of those who spoke at Wednesday night’s public meeting.
“We are not asking for a big change to the kayak park,” said Glenwood Springs resident Elizabeth Bailey. “What we are asking for is a way to get through these monster features.”
Bailey was among those boaters whose rafts were flipped by the lower wave during some of the Roaring Fork River’s highest flows of the season. Bailey, an experienced rafter, said that because the river pushes boats to the right-hand side of the lower wave feature, there needs to be a boat chute to the right, between the hydraulic that forms at high flows and the river bank.
Currently, the only way around the wave is a narrow, hard-to-spot “sneak” on the left side.
The injuries Bailey sustained June 16 sent her to the hospital.
“For that to happen in a manmade park, there needs to be some responsibility,” she said.
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams hosted Wednesday’s meeting at the Basalt Town Hall to gather public comment about the whitewater park’s two consecutive wave features, which some say became dangerous during this year’s high runoff. The lower of the two waves seemed to present the bigger challenge, even for experienced boaters.
The two structures, built with concrete during the winter of 2016-17, were re-engineered the following winter after complaints that the artificial waves were dangerous. But the low flows of the spring and summer of 2018 did not provide a fair test to see whether the problems had been fixed.
The features are supposed to create fun, recreational play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs. The river was flowing at about 2,500 cfs the day Bailey was thrown from her boat.
Healthy Rivers Chair Andre Wille said the county’s ultimate goal is to make the best whitewater park they can.
“We are pretty committed to getting it right,” he said.
Quinn Donnelly of Carbondale-based River Restoration, the firm that designed the park, led the public meeting and presented a few options for making the lower wave safer. Crews could lower the “wings” on both features, creating a path around the wave on either side, or a channel could be created around the left side of the wave.
Another idea was to create a “catcher’s mitt” eddy just below the second wave so that boaters who get tossed from their crafts can more easily swim to shore.
But some said creating a way for boaters to get around the waves didn’t go far enough — the waves themselves need to be made safer.
“Here you have two terrifying holes,” Kirk Baker said. Baker is the founder of the Aspen Kayak School and is an expert kayaker. “You should not have to go around. You should be able to go through. … You have to fix the hazard you created.”
Royal Laybourn agreed. Laybourn was also the victim of a flipped boat — he said the wave put him in the hospital.
“You can’t create a hazard and it doesn’t matter what water level it is,” he said. “You’re under a mandate to correct that. … Let’s just make it so any dummy can roll down through there.”
Pitkin County chose the site for the whitewater park, which is just upstream from downtown Basalt, in part because it is just above the Roaring Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River. That made it a good place to establish a recreational in-channel diversion water right.
But that part of the river is also steep, Donnelly said, meaning hydraulics will not wash out, but, rather, become bigger as flows increase.
Any new modifications to the wave features that the county and River Restoration decide on will probably come this winter.
“We want it to be as safe as possible,” Donnelly said. “It is a river and there are hazards, but this was put in by people and it’s held to a higher standard.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the Oct. 17 edition of the Times, as well as in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Drone footage is one type of free content we’ll be offering in our multimedia library.
This page features drone-captured footage and photos of the Colorado River, near Radium, Colorado.
The imagery shows the Colorado River after it emerges from Gore Canyon, a popular whitewater rafting location that includes some Class V rapids.
Date: August 13, 2019
Location: Gore Canyon and the Colorado River, near Radium, Colorado. (map)
Photographer: Mitch Tobin, FAA Remote Pilot Certificate #4002345
Organization: The Water Desk at the University of Colorado Boulder
Rights: Free to reuse under Creative Commons license, with credit to “Mitch Tobin/WaterDesk.org”
Colorado River Drone Footage August 13 2019 Edit 1: Aerial footage of the Colorado River emerging from Gore Canyon, near Radium, Colorado. Video by Mitch Tobin/The Water Desk.
Colorado River Drone August 13 2019 Edit 2: Aerial footage of the Colorado River downstream from Gore Canyon, near Radium, Colorado. Video by Mitch Tobin/The Water Desk.
The Homestake Project is a trans-mountain raw water collection, storage, and delivery system co-owned and operated by the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, Colo.
The Homestake Arkansas River Diversion (ARD), between Granite and Buena Vista, Colo., was constructed in 1964 as the original intake for the Otero Pump Station. Water is now primarily withdrawn from Twin Lakes, however the ARD remains an alternate point of diversion. The ARD has deteriorated and requires repair. The ARD was not originally designed as a navigable facility.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) which includes the site of the ARD. CPW expressed interest in partnering with Springs Utilities on a rehabilitation project to include a boat chute for downstream navigation as this location is currently considered the only non-navigable reach of the Arkansas River between Leadville and Canon City, Colo.
The Upper Arkansas River is both one of the most heavily used rivers in the United States for whitewater recreation and is a Gold Medal Trout Fishery. The river is managed to support multiple objectives including water supply and delivery and outdoor recreation.
The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are constructing a rehabilitation project that will replace the intake and diversion, provide a boat chute for downstream navigation, and provide upstream fish passage for spawning of brown and rainbow trout. The project also included improving river safety for recreational users and providing whitewater boat portage. User safety was an extremely important design consideration.
A physical model was constructed to test and refine hydraulic elements to optimize performance, maximize user safety and meet design guidelines for recreational whitewater for all three components: boat chute, fish passage and the new intake structure.
The $9 million construction cost of the project is being jointly funded by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. $1.2 million in grants is coming from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board through grant funding to support the Colorado Water Plan (Water Supply and Demand Gap and Environmental and Recreation Grant Programs). The Pueblo Board of Waterworks is donating the easements necessary to construct and maintain the diversion.
Here’s a report from Jason Blevins writing for The Colorado Sun:
But just below the former riverside mining camp of Granite, where a dilapidated dam built in 1964 has long blemished the Arkansas River’s beauty, rebar jutted from concrete blocks, preventing raft passage and spawning trout battled the steep wall of blasted rocks to reach upstream pools.
“Not a lot of thought went into recreation or fish when this dam was built,” said Ronald Sanchez, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities.
A lot of thought is going into fish and recreation now, as water managers in Colorado Springs and Aurora join the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in rebuilding the diversion that directs water to the Front Range.
The $9.1 million project will make the entire river from Leadville to Cañon City navigable for rafts for the first time in at least 55 years.
It’s part of the vast Colorado Springs- and Aurora-owned Homestake Project that brings Eagle River Basin water from the Holy Cross Wilderness to the Arkansas River Basin, through the Homestake, Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs for delivery to the Front Range cities.
The cities started construction of the Arkansas River diversion in July 2018, creating three distinct channels below a rebuilt intake that serves as a backup water diversion to the Otero Pump station downstream of Twin Lakes Dam. Before the Twin Lakes Dam was built in the late 1970s, the diversion was the original intake that collected and directed water to the Otero Pump station for delivery to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
One channel is a fish ladder for spawning brown and rainbow trout. Another channel is a spillway to accommodate flood-level flows like the ones that swelled the Arkansas River this spring. And a third is a series of six drops allowing rafts safe passage.
The project marks a new era of collaboration between the diverse interests on the Arkansas River between Leadville and Cañon City, one of the most recreated stretches of river in the U.S.
“For me the coolest thing about it is that you have these large water utilities in Colorado going above and beyond to do the right thing for the next 50 years,” said Salida-based whitewater park engineer Mike Harvey.
Ten years ago, Harvey helped the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area craft a report urging Aurora and Colorado Springs to consider recreation and fish when it came time to rebuild the Granite Dam diversion…
The Arkansas River accounts for more than $74 million of the $177 million in economic impact created by commercial rafting in Colorado. The 102 miles of river in the Upper Arkansas River Valley also ranks among the 322 miles of Colorado waterways that qualify as Gold Medal Fisheries that can yield a dozen large trout per acre. It also supplies a large percentage of water to Colorado Springs and Aurora via the 66-inch pipeline that runs from the Otero Pump Station.
Rebecca Mitchell, the executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the project exemplifies the collaboration of the Colorado Water Plan, which gathered perspectives from all types of water users in the state to create a policy roadmap for future water planning across the state.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the conservation board provided $1.2 million in funding through Colorado Water Plan grant programs.
From the Colorado River Outfitters Association via The Valley Courier:
Mid-season Colorado rafting conditions are ripe and there are still plenty of adventures to be had this summer. With late season snow, cooler temperatures, slow runoff and higher water levels dominating most of June, July is bringing more steady water flow levels that promise to run for an extended season into at least early fall.
Temperatures throughout the state have warmed up, and with flows returning to more moderate levels, rafting trips with professional outfitters are starting to book out. In 2018, Colorado’s commercial rafting companies hosted more than 520,000 rafters over the course of the season, resulting in a nearly $176 million economic impact across the state. Members of the Colorado River Outfitters Association collectively raft more than 30 distinct stretches of river across eight major water basins.
“Water conditions vary by the river – all geographic areas have different levels of rafting, but we’re anticipating many runs will be open later this season than they have in several years,” said CROA Executive Director, David Costlow. “Durango has family to wild rafting, as does the Buena Vista to Canon City area. The Cache la Poudre outside Fort Collins, the Rio Grande near Creede, all sections of the Colorado and the Taylor near Crested Butte are enjoying consistent and full level flows. Talk with an outfitter of choice and take their suggestions, they know the best route for your preferences.”
Rafting outside of Glenwood Springs, Winter Park/Steamboat and Grand Junction will continue into the fall; most likely lasting until into October; the traditional close of the regular rafting season. The Animas in Durango should flow through September and the Poudre should have rafting to early September. In some sections, the Arkansas River will flow through September and Clear Creek will be raftable at fun flows to the middle or late August.
For comparison, last year at this time, some trips were unavailable due the low water levels. This year the steady melt and temperatures have delayed low water and is allowing outfitters to offer a range of moderate level trips for the next several weeks. Except for a few extreme runs, most all sections are available for rafting.
The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) offers the following tips for both tourists, and locals alike, looking to book a rafting trip this season:
Raft close to where you are vacationing. There are many types of rafting options out there – if you have a vacation planned, it could be the perfect opportunity to check with an outfitter nearby to see if they have availability. This is a great starting point to get you out on the water. Then, discuss options with them to tailor your trip experience.
Choose a trip that is appropriate for you. Once you know where you are located either due to a planned vacation or day trip, most outfitters offer a variety of trips from more family friendly options to more extreme adventures, which can be selected based on experience level, fitness and desires for the trip.
Bring the kids! Rafting can be a wonderful experience for children, and Colorado outfitters offer many trips appropriate for kids. This time of year, some trips allow children as young as four. Still, be sure to verify any age and weight restrictions in place for the given conditions on the trips you’re considering.
Listen to the guide. Rafting guides are specially trained and experienced, as well as knowledgeable about local history, culture, geology and wildlife.
Know what to bring and wear. Some items are generally considered standard for any Colorado rafting trip. The outfitter will give you a list of what they have and suggested additional items you may need to bring. For example, an outfitter will have life jackets (PFDs), splash jackets, wetsuits and paddles but suggested items to bring may include quick drying shorts or swimsuits, river sandals or old tennis shoes, sunscreen, lip balm, change of clothes, etc.
The Yampa River has finally fallen to a level that allows for commercial tubing.
On Monday, the river dropped below 700 cubic feet per second through downtown Steamboat Springs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the flow rate that typically kicks off tubing with commercial outfitters…
Though lower than it has been all summer, the river is still running quickly, with water temperatures around 60 degrees. The city of Steamboat Springs — and commercial outfitters — recommend wearing a life jacket on the water, even when on a tube.
The extreme water flow in the Arkansas River through Southern Colorado is finally dropping, It is now half of what it was a month ago. “We have come down to what we really refer to as the sweet spot,” said Echo Canyon Rafting, Owner, Andy Neinas, “So all sections of the Arkansas are open.”
Through the month of June there was arguably too much of a good thing. Water so high some potential customers staying away. Water was running over 5,000 Cubic Feet Per Second (CFS). Rafting companies agree to avoid certain sections of the river when the water is that high.
The flow dropped to 2,800 CFS this week. It means all sections of the river are now prime for rafting…
There is still a lot of snow on mountain peaks that feed water to the Arkansas River. Similar to the extended ski season this year, rafting will likely run longer than normal. Above average flows could continue into September.
We knew the June snowmelt would boost Colorado’s thirsty reservoirs, and now we can see just how much: Statewide, the reservoirs went from 59% capacity at the end of May to 76% at the end of June.
That still leaves plenty of room for more water, but the reservoirs are now sitting above average, at 105% of the normal capacity…
The Gunnison River, Upper Colorado River and Upper Rio Grande basins all saw significant upticks in reservoir levels. The Gunnison jumped from 60% to 85%; the Upper Colorado from 67% to 92%; and the Upper Rio Grande more than doubled, from 26% to 54%.
“It took a little while for the melt to happen (which was generally a good thing to mitigate any flooding concerns), but now that the melt has nearly completed, the streams and rivers are really flowing, and the reservoirs have started to fill nicely,” Russ Schumacher, a climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, wrote in an email…
The Dillon Reservoir is now at 97% capacity, up from 73%. The Blue Mesa Reservoir is now at 84%, up from 54%. Lake Granby is at 91%, up from 64%. The McPhee Reservoir, which was already at 88% capacity, is now full…
Further down the Colorado River, Lake Powell in southern Utah has seen its levels rise slightly, Schumacher said, but it’s still below average. The levels there should rise as the uptick in Colorado and Utah rivers travels south. But it could take one more wet year to see Lake Powell return to normal levels, Schumacher said.
The moisture in Colorado has had another benefit: The state is still 100% drought-free. And there’s been even more improvement in that area. The Palmer Drought Severity Index in Colorado , which sat at -0.72 in May, jumped into positive territory, at 2.28, indicating normal levels for the first time since the latter half of 2017.
Big water flows remain on the Arkansas River but the level has finally subsided enough for commercial raft trips to return to the Royal Gorge section of the river west of here…
The high water level advisory was lifted Wednesday after the water level went below 3,200 cubic feet per second for the first time since June 8. The advisories mean commercial rafters voluntarily avoid certain sections of the river because water levels are considered dangerous…
To put this year’s river levels into perspective, when the water level dipped to around 3,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday, it was well above the average level of 1,730 CFS for this time of year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The river flow has varied wildly this time of year from a minimum flow of 254 CFS in 2002 to a maximum flow of 4,600 CFS in 1983.
The Wildwater and Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships returned to Salida last weekend, welcoming some of the best boaters in the country with high water.
“I was very happy with the way everything went,” said Nate Lord, president of Team Colorado Whitewater Racing and race director for the national championships.
“When I originally put in the special activity use permit, I had very different race courses in mind. When the water came up so high, we had to rethink everything, but we found race courses that were fun and exciting.”
The high water also ended up being good preparation for some of the younger boaters who will be racing internationally later this summer.
“Many of the young athletes are also on the U.S. junior wildwater team and will be racing in Bosnia in July,” he said. “We needed to give them a good experience in big water.”
Developing that junior program has been a focus in recent years, he said. “Even though the water was high, we were able to work on some important skills for the junior athletes. I felt we did a good job building that base.”
Boaters came from Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, Arizona, California, the Penobscot Nation in Maine and Colorado for the championships.
Team Colorado, Lord said, “did really well.”
“Down in Durango there’s a really strong wildwater program,” Lord said. “Cully Brown and Nate Foster dominated the wildwater competition. They are outstanding.”
Foster won the men’s combined title, which included the classic (downriver) and sprint, while Californian Amanda Creek, who got started paddling at the Dawson School in Lafayette, won the women’s combined wildwater championship.
Athletes from Maine and the Penobscot Nation dominated the open canoe competitions, Lord said.
Lord also won the solo open canoe 55-plus championship to represent Colorado…
The competition was the fifth time Salida had hosted the open canoe nationals, while Lord said the town has also hosted the wildwater nationals “many times.”
Here’s the release from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):
Sweetwater revival: High water and Sugar & the Mint return to 2019 Ridgway RiverFest
Festival goers and river racers are in for a sweet time this Saturday at the 12th annual Ridgway RiverFest due to high river flows and the return of 2018 crowd-pleasing band, Sugar & the Mint. Plus, Ute cultural presenter Regina Lopez-White Skunk, the River Rat Marketplace (silent auction) with great deals, snow cones by Voyager Youth Program, beer from Colorado Boy Brewery, margaritas from The Liquor Store, and all the food and fun of past festivals will be back at Rollans Park in Ridgway.
One of the RiverFest’s highlights is the Junk of the Unc homemade watercraft race, at about 1:30 p.m. when competitors build and ride their crafts down a short stretch of Class I river with style, ingenuity and speed. Competitors will be eligible to win as long as they start and end the race on their crafts, and awards are given to fastest, most original design, best use of recycled materials, and best in youth.
The River Races from the park to the Ridgway Reservoir will be particularly exciting this year with the increased runoff from the record-breaking snowpack this year. River runners are encouraged to come compete in the hard shell, inflatable and stand-up paddleboard categories. The top team that finishes the fastest in each category will be awarded one of the coveted RiverFest trophies, with a new design this year created by Ridgway artist Joann Taplin.
“The high river flows mean less rocks to navigate around but more large rapids over the top of rocks. We won’t be allowing inner tube entries this year due to the high, swift water and the still very cold temperatures,” said RiverFest Coordinator Tanya Ishikawa. “We welcome kayaks and rafts. Canoes and SUPs are also allowed this year, but we recommend only advanced riders on those due to conditions. Wet or dry suits are also a good idea this year. You can see race rules at ridgwayriverfest.org.”
Another planned river activity is the Safety Rope Bag toss contest where a “willing victim” hangs out in the middle of the Uncompahgre as contestants attempt to toss a safety rope bag to them, practicing an important river rescue skill. This event as well as the Rubber Ducky Race may be cancelled if conditions are deemed too difficult to keep the “victim” safely in the water or to capture all ducks at the end of the race.
“The Ouray Mountain Rescue Team will be on boats in the water and on the banks, ready to assist as necessary, but we want everyone to practice safe river etiquette, so we continue our accident-free festival record,” Ishikawa added. “Parents need to watch their children at the river’s edges. Anyone getting in the river must have a PFD (personal flotation device aka life jacket) and helmets are recommended (as well as being required of racers).”
Besides the river activities, the live band performance from 3 to 6 p.m. is always a highlight of the RiverFest. The 2019 headlining band, Sugar & the Mint from Prescott, Arizona, is being brought back by popular demand. The five-piece band’s music is informed by everything from bluegrass to baroque to current pop and country. It was the first-place winner of the Band Contest at the 2017 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and were invited back to perform at the 2018 Bluegrass Festival. Since then, they have been traveling nationally and recorded a second album.
Ute Mountain Ute Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and her father Normal Lopez will provide a cultural presentation from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Lopez-Whiteskunk advocated for land, air, water and animals from an early age, and has traveled extensively throughout the nation presenting and sharing the Ute culture through song, dance and presentations. Lopez, her father who will play flute, has been a student of life and carries great respect for the land, environment and Ute way of life. He learned to make flutes by his grandfather and uncles from the hearts of the cedar trees, has played the traditional style, from his heart. The birds and wind inspire his unique sounds.
Festival sponsors include Double RL Ranch at Class V and five Class IV sponsors: Alpine Bank, BEP EarthWise Foundation, Ridgway Mountain Market, Town of Ridgway, RIGS Adventure Co., and San Miguel Power Association. The radio sponsor is MBC Grand Broadcasting: 92.3 The Moose, Magic 93.1, KNZZ, 96.1 K-star, The Vault 100.7, 95.7 The Monkey, The Team Sports Radio 101FM-1340AM, and 103.9 The Planet
As the flow in the Roaring Fork River at the Basalt whitewater park has climbed over 2,500 cubic feet per second this week, the park’s two “play” waves, produced by concrete structures embedded in the river, are still proving capable of flipping rafts and sending people for long, cold swims.
The two structures, built in late 2016 and early 2017 by consultants and contractors working for Pitkin County, were re-engineered last winter after complaints by experienced local boaters that the artificial waves were hazardous.
But the low flows in 2018 did not provide a fair test to see whether the rearranged waves were still a menace for rafters.
With the return of more-typical high spring flows, the two waves — meant to be fun to surf at low water and located in a section of river not otherwise considered difficult to run — are showing they can still be a challenge even for experienced boaters.
3 of 9
On Sunday, three rafts in a group of nine boats piloted by noncommercial rafters, or “private boaters,” flipped in the upper of the two waves.
Both of the waves have steep drops that lead directly into a nearly riverwide wall of churning foam, save for narrow and hard-to-spot “sneaks” through relatively calm water on far river let, or the left side of the river looking downstream.
Emergency personnel from the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority responded Sunday to a 911 call about the flipped rafts and numerous people in the river.
“One of the first boats, if not the first, flipped in that first wave, and it’s a keeper, and it didn’t let them out,” said Robert “Sardo” Sardinsky, a volunteer with the rescue authority and who was downstream of the incident and was relaying the information he was given. “So, all of a sudden, there is a bunch of people in the water. And then, two more rafts flipped. And it sounds like the boats were being held in there.”
Sardinsky helped retrieve two of the flipped rafts, several miles downstream of the whitewater park, and he also talked with a number of the boaters in the party.
He said the group included boaters from both the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys, and he described them as calm, knowledgeable, experienced and well-equipped, wearing both wetsuits and personal flotation devices.
“They all appeared to be quite capable,” Sardinsky said.
The river was flowing through the whitewater park on Sunday at 4 p.m. at about 2,800 cfs, which can be calculated by subtracting the flow of the Fryingpan River from the flow of the Fork as measured downstream of the whitewater park in Emma.
“In my 30 years with the fire department and swiftwater rescue, it is the most dynamic rescue we’ve had,” he said. “It was the most number of people in river spread out over the most distance. And it’s incredibly fortunate that everyone got out.”
Sardinsky said about a week before Sunday’s events, a woman he knows had fallen off a paddle board into the first wave, at lower water, and had been trapped in the wave’s circulating hydraulic. The woman escaped by diving down to the bottom of the river, out from under the wave.
All of the boaters thrown into the river on Sunday either self-rescued or were rescued by their fellow boaters. None of them required emergency personnel to fish them out.
According to Kyle Ryan, who also volunteers with the rescue authority and was helping to coordinate Sunday’s response, the rafts that flipped were normal-sized whitewater rafts with oar frames, and were not especially small or lightweight.
“They were normal-looking whitewater rafts,” he said. “And everyone seemed to be pretty well-experienced.”
Ryan said two members of the rafting party asked to be transported to the hospital, but he said they did not appear to be seriously injured.
Also on Sunday, a raft being run as a paddleboat by another group of experienced boaters flipped in the first wave of the whitewater park, throwing six people into the river for a “frigid and scary swim.”
According to a public post on Facebook by Mary Sundblom, she and the five other boaters, including at least one former raft guide, set out Sunday to paddle from Northstar, east of Aspen, to Glenwood Springs.
Along the way, they ran the Slaughterhouse section of the Fork below Aspen and the most technical part of the river, as well as the difficult Toothache section in Woody Creek before heading for Basalt.
She wrote that the group scouted the river before their run, “got intel from longtime river rats,” and had “great lines” and “no swims” through Slaughterhouse and Toothache.
“Then the Basalt ‘play’ wave got us, flipped the raft, dumping 6 of us in for a frigid and scary swim,” Sundblom wrote. “After floating through some big waves and getting tumbled over some shallow rocks … I was stoked to find myself next to my captain when the boat floated down to us after a few surfs of its own … where he was able to flip it back over and pull my ass in! Such a beautiful feeling of RELIEF!
“We all made it out just fine, slightly rattled, with a few bumps and bruises, but continued on. That’s how the river goes.”
Tyler Manchester, who grew up in the valley and has rowed the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon without difficulty, was in the boat with Sundblom on Sunday.
He said via text on Thursday that “we were told to sneak left, but it came up fast and we weren’t ready. We hit it a little sideways. Definitely got washing-machine tumbled in both (waves), but everyone was flushed immediately.
“Had to swim upstream to get the boat,” Manchester noted.
The Basalt whitewater park is located below the low Basalt “bypass bridge,” which crosses the Fork at the junction of upper Two Rivers Road, just upstream of downtown Basalt. Floating beneath the bridge is often dark and spooky, but the current does not usually send boats directly at the bridge’s pylons.
The whitewater park also can be described as being just below Fisherman’s Park, which has a small boat ramp, across from the entrance to Elk Run and upstream of the 7-Eleven in Basalt.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who has overseen the development of the whitewater park for the county, said Wednesday that he was aware of the recent raft flips, and he’s in touch with the consultants at River Restoration in Carbondale who designed the structures, oversaw their re-engineering and have been keeping a close eye on this year’s emerging waves.
Ely said he didn’t yet have enough information to determine whether the county needs to ask the consultants to do more work on the structures in the river.
The county chose the location for the park in large measure because it is just above the Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River, making it a good place to establish water rights tied to the wave-producing structures. Such water rights are called recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, rights.
County officials have said their highest priority in developing the park was to establish the recreational water rights, which carry a 2010 priority date, and that the resulting recreational experience was a secondary concern.
The water rights are tied to the design of the structures, which are supposed to create fun, recreational play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs. The river on Sunday in that section of river was flowing at about 2,500 cfs, which is not unusual for June.
At higher flows, the wave structures are not necessarily meant to produce fun play waves, but they also are not supposed to produce big keeper waves, either.
Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
The expanded park, affectionately dubbed WKRP-Canon City has been expanded to both the west and east of Centennial Park. In addition to beautification of the river corridor, workers removed existing hazards, stabilized stream banks, improved access points and fish passage, plus enhanced the river for rafting, kayaking, tubing and other in-stream activities. Work was designed and implemented by Scott Shipley’s Design and Engineering firm.
Shipley, a Lyon-based kayaker, is a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion who is known locally for his prowess as a long-time competitor in Salida’s FIBArk boat races.
“Canon City has an incredible resource with the Arkansas River running through town,” Shipley said. “We’re thrilled to deliver a whitewater park that gives residents and visitors better and safer access to this iconic river.”
The river improvement project was led by the local whitewater park committee thanks to funds the group raised along with city of Canon City and Fremont County funds as well as a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and private donations.
The park initially opened in 2010 along the section of river next to Centennial Park, but work this year has expanded it between the bridge and the old Reddy ice plant, said Ryan Stevens, Canon City’s interim city administrator…
Unlike other whitewater parks that often suffer flow issues, the Arkansas River boasts predictable flow rates year-round. This balances both the magnitude of the recreational experiences for different user groups as well as the duration, providing attractive flows for users and events later into the season when flows have dissipated in other rivers.
For the first time, Canon City’s river park will be a draw for slalom paddlers, with boulders strategically interspersed throughout its length to great eddies. S2O Design also incorporated a system that will allow for hanging of slalom gates which can be adjusted for different configurations and flows…
The whitewater park will be used next Friday and Saturday during the 11th annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival. The festival features a variety of boating events, live music, a running race and more.
“You’re all here at a momentous time,” guide Trey Roberts said before the drop. “You’re about to raft a big, famous, rare river.”
Jeanette Healy of Utah had been waiting 10-plus years for this chance on the Dolores. Doug Nie, a kayaker from Albuquerque, had been waiting even longer. Also here were Rick and Beverly Anderson, a young couple from Albuquerque as well.
“We figured we could do the Las Animas and Arkansas out in (Buena Vista) any year,” Rick said. “But this is our one chance to do Dolores.”
Chances have been tough to come by since the 1980s, when the McPhee Dam began trapping the water that Dominguez and Escalante found to be rushing during their 1776 expedition. El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores, they called it — the River of Our Lady of Sorrows…
Most joyful now are the boaters who had hoped this year’s snowpack would grant McPhee’s occasional controlled “spills.” As of last week, the Dolores Water Conservancy District expected releases to remain at or above 1,200 cubic feet per second through June 23, keeping the river fun until then at least.
That would mean a rafting season of almost one month here, which seems a short window. But longtime river rats regret to say that’s long for the Dolores.
Bill Dvorak, who’s frequented the state’s rivers since the ’60s, can’t recall a longer season. He ran the Dolores in 2017; his last time before that was 2009. “Every six to eight years is about when I get on it,” he said.
And he gets on it almost every floatable opportunity. The Dolores, after all, is easily his favorite river in Colorado…
Provisions are still vague. Releases are indeed unpredictable, said Michael Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. The Bureau of Reclamation factors in current reservoir levels with never-perfect forecasts. Then there’s juggling ever-increasing demand: Farmers combine for the largest allocation of the supply, recent spreadsheets show, followed by the downstream fishery, tribe and municipalities.
“McPhee is a hard-working reservoir,” Preston said. “We use every inch of our active storage capacity to take care of things.”
The height of that arch is reached at Snaggletooth, the legendary Class IV rapid aptly named. Swirling eddies are like mouths ready to inhale, the jumble of rocks like jaws ready to chomp.
From an embankment, we stopped to analyze the beast. And yes, [Christian] Wright was scared. “If someone says they’re not scared, don’t get in their boat,” he said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Entities including Front Range water utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation on Friday began coordinating water releases from upstream reservoirs in a voluntary effort to prolong peak runoff flows in what’s called the 15-Mile Reach upstream of the confluence with the Gunnison River. It’s a critical stretch of river for four endangered fish — the humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.
River flows at Cameo exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second Saturday. The coordinated reservoir operations are intended to slow the decline of high flows, sustaining those flows for three to five days this week. The first releases from the coordinated program were expected to arrive Monday night; the flows at Cameo earlier Monday were at 18,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Strong flows help remove fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also help reconnect the river to backwaters where the fish, especially at the larval stage, can find refuge from the stronger river flows, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the agency.
The releases are being made possible by this year’s ample winter snowpack, which means reservoir operators can release reservoir water without risking the ability to fill the reservoirs.
Anderson said that in some years the releases are coordinated with the goal of raising peak flows to beneficial levels, but this year the peak flows were high enough it was decided that the reservoir water instead could be used to prolong those flows.
According to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release, under the coordinated operations:
The Bureau of Reclamation is increasing releases at Ruedi Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, with the Green Mountain releases including inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water.
Denver Water is likely to increase releases from Williams Fork Reservoir.
Homestake Reservoir, operated by Colorado Springs Utilities, may participate in the releases after peak flows on the Eagle River recede.
The Windy Gap Reservoir and Pump Station, operated by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will delay pumping water to Granby Reservoir.
The current effort follows reservoir releases by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this spring on the Gunnison River to boost flows for endangered fish there. In both cases, the efforts are planned in a way intended to keep from resulting in flooding impacts downstream.
Anderson said the coordinated spring operations on the upper Colorado River started in 1997, and by his count have occurred in 11 years since beginning…
He said that while the coordinated releases target the 15-Mile Reach, their benefits extend as far as Moab, Utah, improving management of a river floodplain wetlands there that is being used to help in the recovery of razorback suckers.
Entities including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Grand Valley Water User Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District, National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Xcel Energy also participate in the coordinated reservoir operations effort.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The river is flowing so fast right now that people can float the entire 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch in a day — even as few as four or five hours, Baier said. He said his company is running guided one-day trips there right now and he thinks some people are realizing they can float the stretch in a day rather than needing to make reservations for Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.
In Glenwood Canyon, raft companies currently aren’t running the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River due to strong flows, as is typical this time of year. Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said that closure might last perhaps a week longer this year than in a normal year. He said the Shoshone rapids have a brand appeal and people want to raft there, but high water provides lots of other good rafting options. Last year, the Roaring Fork River didn’t provide much of a rafting season, but this year is different. While it usually offers good rafting until maybe the first or second week of July, “now we’re going to be on it we hope maybe until August,” Murphy said.
He said the Roaring Fork offers beautiful scenery away from Interstate 70 and sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. And rapids that are usually rated Class 2 are currently Class 3.
“It gives people enough whitewater to get wet but not scare them,” he said.
Colorado River trips that put in at the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon below Shoshone also are heading farther downstream than normal right now, to New Castle, due to the fast-flowing water, Murphy said…
Murphy said his company also owns Lakota Guides in Vail. He said the Eagle River in Eagle County will be good for rafting for longer this summer due to the big water year, meaning the company can continue offering trips to guests there rather than having to bus them to Glenwood Springs or the upper Arkansas River. He said the Blue River in Summit County also will benefit from a longer boating season.
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.