Steady as she goes
Post Independent Intern
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Local whitewater rafting companies are diving headfirst into a busy summer, as the Colorado River is flowing at normal levels for the first time in several years.
“The last few years have been high or low water because of high snowpack or drought conditions,” explained Kevin Schneider, president of Rock Gardens Rafting. “But we have great water right now. It’s consistent, and people are having fun with it.”
So far this month, water flows for the Colorado River below Glenwood Springs have been between 3,700 and 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
To put this into perspective, river flow in June of 2011 was around 22,230 cfs in the same area — higher than it had been for at least 45 years. Then, last summer, water flow plummeted to 2,533 cfs in June, creating slow conditions along the Colorado River.
“It has just been a good, smoother start to the rafting season compared to the last two years,” said Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures. “It’s a little bit more of a normal season, where it isn’t super high like two years ago or extremely low like last year. We’re seeing good, normal water flows.”
Late-season snowfall was essential in creating these ideal rafting conditions, according to Schneider, since average Colorado snowpack levels escalated from roughly 70 percent to over 100 percent in April and May.
“Having that late snow really helped us get to normal conditions, so it was fantastic,” Schneider said. “It’s some of the best water we’ve had in years.”
Now that summer has arrived, the combination of soaring temperatures and normal water flows is creating perfect conditions for family whitewater adventures.
“It’s really a good time for families and visitors to get on the river,” Drake said. “It’s not to the level where people get scared away or think it won’t be fun. These normal flows are where a company wants to be operating. We’re really riding a wave of good water flows.”
While drought conditions span much of the state, rafting conditions aren’t largely impacted by the lack of rain so far this summer, according to Erik Larsson, owner of Whitewater Rafting LLC.
The bulk of the river water comes from melting snowpack and runoff. Late-season water flow is dictated by upstream reservoir levels, which Larsson said are high this summer and will allow rafting companies to run the Colorado River through late September.
“We’re pretty much having an average year, and we’re glad to have it,” Larsson said.
This year’s ordinary water flows have also created ideal conditions for the Shoshone rapids, a Class III whitewater stretch in Glenwood Canyon, according to Larsson. In 2011, the high water conditions made Shoshone unsafe for commercial rafting.
Drake agreed that specific water conditions are required to navigate the Shoshone rapids.
“The Shoshone rapids are our bread and butter,” Drake explained. “There aren’t too many springs where it doesn’t get too high, but it hasn’t gotten to where we can’t run it [this year].”
With the ideal water conditions, many of the local outfitters are also seeing an increase in business.
“Our company is having a banner year, setting records left and right,” Larsson said. “We’ve had our best May and our best June ever. There’s a sweet spot between really high and really low, and we’ve hit that. It’s really an ideal season.”
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