Grand Junction: Las Colonias River Park update #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The 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.

Las Colonias Park. Photo credit: The City of Grand Junction

Public asks Pitkin County for Basalt whitewater park to be safer

The second wave in the Basalt whitewater park, on June 19, 2019. There is a small sneak far river left, but otherwise, it’s just churning foam. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

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.

An excavator works at low water in the Roaring Fork River to modify the structures in the Basalt whitewater park. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

County committed

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.”

The concrete blocks that form the wave in the Basalt whitewater park are visible during low-to-moderate flows. Boaters are asking Pitkin County to make the waves safer after several rafts flipped during 2019’s high water. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Safety first

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.

Videos and photos: #ColoradoRiver drone flight, August 2019 — @TheWaterDesk #COriver

Rafters on the Colorado River near the Pumphouse Recreation Site. Photo credit: Mitch Tobin/WaterDesk.org, Creative Commons

From The Water Desk (University of Colorado):

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.

Check out the photo gallery.

Fish ladders and boat chutes part of a massive dam rebuild on the #ArkansasRiver — @ColoradoSun

Homestake Arkansas River Diversion. Photo credit: Colorado Springs Utilities

From Colorado Springs Utilities:

Project Overview / Background

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.

#Runoff news

A raft, poised for action, on the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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.

#Runoff news: #Tubing season starts on the #YampaRiver

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

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.

#ArkansasRiver streamflow: “We have come down to what we really refer to as the sweet spot” — Andy Neinas #runoff

Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

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.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Ryan Osborne):

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.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

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.