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High temps bring high waters

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson Rafters with Blue Sky Adventures end their trip on a calm stretch of the Colorado River near Two Rivers Park Tuesday. High temperatures are causing snowpacks to melt quickly and the rivers to run swiftly.
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River runners are rejoicing in the high runoff this week, but an early and swift peak in runoff does not bode well for ranchers and farmers.High temperatures have released the snowpack early, setting area rivers and streams roiling with runoff.Dennis Davidson, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the effects of such rapid runoff.”If you dump (all the water) out all at once it’s gone,” Davidson said.

Slow runoff allows moisture to soak into the ground, which is a boon for ranchers and farmers that look to irrigate their burgeoning crops in the spring.John Sikora, assistant water engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Glenwood Springs, said the Colorado River probably peaked Tuesday. The river was running a strong 7,100 cubic feet per second at the Dotsero gauging station on the Colorado River on Tuesday, he said. Flows measured at 12,300 cfs just below Two Rivers Park. The mean average for the river at Two Rivers at this time of year, based on 38 years of keeping records on that station, is 8,780 cfs, Sikora said.The Roaring Fork River is also expected to peak this week.”It’s still headed up” in volume, Sikora said.

Flows where the Roaring Fork spills into the Colorado at Glenwood Springs stood at 5,780 cfs Tuesday. Historic average daily flows there, which have been recorded over the last 98 years, were 3,560.”It was a decent snow year, but it came off faster than last year and in previous drought years,” he said. “We really don’t have any snow left above 10,500 feet. The general rule of thumb is when the snow below 10,000 feet is gone the rivers have peaked.”Above 10,000 feet it’s still cold at night and the snow melts at a slower rate, Sikora added.Although the runoff is high this year, Sikora said there is no danger of flooding in the Glenwood area. Dangerous areas in the county are Battlement and Cache creeks in western Garfield County, which have been fed in part by high snowpack on the Grand Mesa. Snowpack in the upper Colorado Basin above Dotsero, where the Eagle River merges with the Colorado, is 75 to 80 percent of normal, Sikora said.



“We hear in the media that the averages in the Colorado River Basin are near normal, (but) because the Grand Mesa is 100 to 150 percent of normal, that percentage is skewed,” he said.The Grand Mesa snowpack has charged Plateau Creek, which runs into the Colorado on the west edge of DeBeque Canyon near the Cameo power plant. On Tuesday, Plateau Creek was running five times higher – at 3,350 cfs – than its usual average flow of 750 cfs this time of year, Sikora said.Vega Reservoir near Collbran is expected to fill and operators will likely release water in the next day or so to prevent water from breaching the dam, Sikora said.High water is the lifeblood of the rafting industry. Susi Larson, owner of Whitewater Rafting in Glenwood Springs, said business is booming. Her company is offering trips on the Crystal River near Colorado Rocky Mountain School to the Roaring Fork, and from Grizzly Creek on the Colorado.

“It’s a fun level right now,” she said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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