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River runners loving second peak

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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The rivers are roaring out there. “We have better water now that we’ve had in years,” said Susi Larson, a partner with Whitewater Rafting in Glenwood Springs. The rafting business is booming, the weather is warm and the skies, for the most part, are blue, portending a possibly harsh fire season and a happily raucous rafting season. “It’s going to be a wonderful season,” said Rock Gardens Rafting owner Ken Murphy. “One of the best seasons we’ve had in a number of years.”With the snowpack quickly waning – it’s now sitting at 22 to 26 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin – and draining down the Colorado River like the remains of an ice cream cone, the area is experiencing a second peak runoff, making the rapids more of an adrenaline rush now than both a week ago and probably a week from now.On Wednesday morning, the Colorado River below Glenwood was running at 9,870 cubic feet per second (or CFS), up from 7,500 CFS on May 31, according to United States Geological Survey data.

Likewise, the Roaring Fork River was living up to its name at 4,970 CFS Wednesday, up from 2,500 CFS on May 31. “Probably the next couple days things will be heading down,” said Gary Hansen, owner of Blue Sky Adventures, a Glenwood rafting company. “This is kind of the last surge.”Indeed, the river originally peaked during the last week of May at about 9,800 CFS, he said. While warm temperatures, excellent water and good weather conspire to lure tourists to local rivers, don’t let it fool you – things are drying up fast, the snowpack is nearly gone and most of the state is in a drought. New drought statistics are due to be released today, but on June 1, northwest Colorado was listed as “abnormally dry” by the University of Nebraska’s drought monitoring service, while the remainder of Colorado was experiencing drought conditions ranging from minor to extreme.”Much of our much-ballyhooed snowpack is now in the rivers and reservoirs,” said Ross Wilmore, East Zone fire management officer for the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, which monitors wildfires on public lands in Colorado. He called the snowmelt “swift,” leaving behind a rather parched landscape. The White River National Forest, on whose land most of the remaining snowpack sits, expects a generally warm and dry summer, he said.

Some rivers, mostly in southwest and southeast Colorado, are running well below normal for this time of year, according to the USGS, but flows in the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers are normal. The first peak this year came earlier than in the past, said Hansen. “We peaked out about May 26 last year, and this year’s peak was May 23,” he said. “Historically, you could count on June 8-14 that it would peak. It just seems to be getting earlier and earlier.”Locally, the water flow is more consistent this year than in previous years, said Murphy. “It’s enough whitewater to get you wet, but not to get scary.”Temperatures, he said, have been perfect for rafting, he said. It reached into the mid-90s in Glenwood on Tuesday, and above-average temperatures are expected to stick around all summer, said Grand Junction National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Frisbie.



“High temps drive people to the river,” Murphy said. But warmer temperatures don’t necessarily correlate to a dryer summer. Frisbie said that it appears that the chances are the same for the area to have a wetter-than-normal summer or a dryer-than-normal summer. Ebbing rivers pose no worry for Hansen. “I like it when the water gets down lower,” he said. “The best months are July and August.”Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com


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