Lower Colorado, Roaring Fork river flows near peak levels
June 8, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Recent above normal temperatures have caused the rivers and streams near Glenwood Springs to swell to extremely high levels.
Many rivers across Colorado, including the Eagle River in neighboring Eagle County, are flooding despite what was considered a low snowpack year.
According to Bryon Lawrence, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Grand Junction, the high water levels and flooding were a surprise with a well-below average snowfall this past winter.
“To be totally honest, it was not expected,” Lawrence said of the high water levels.
Hydrologists predicted a mediocre runoff season in May, anticipating river flows on the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers near Glenwood Springs to be about half of average. The average peak flow for the Colorado River is reportedly about 10,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).
According to the United State Geological Survey (USGS) the Colorado River at Dotsero was running at about 13,900 cfs Monday. The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs was reportedly running at about 9,350 cfs, Monday. And the Colorado, below Glenwood Springs where the Roaring Fork dumps into it, was reportedly running at a whopping 22,600 cfs.
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While the predictions of peak runoff occurring between June 3-18 are right on target, predicting the runoff peak level can be a difficult thing to do, Lawrence said.
“The peak flow forecast is very weather dependent,” he said. “This year we’ve
been talking about not having good snowpack, but in March and April we had several snowstorms that replenished the snowpack levels and below normal temperatures that helped maintain that snowpack.”
The temperatures remained relatively low until recently, when temperatures surged near record highs for much of the region, and state. The high temperatures melted the snowpack at a rapid pace, causing the river levels to surge.
“The snow that is up there now is really melting very quickly,” Lawrence said.
The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for parts of the Crystal River, near Redstone, on Sunday. And, while the Eagle River near Gypsum is running at record levels and is classified at “above flood stage”, the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers near Glenwood Springs are still being classified as “normal”, despite the higher than average peak flows.
The Colorado River is currently at record levels.
According to the USGS, the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs reached a record flow of 22,400 cfs in 1997. The river at Dotsero, above the Glenwood Canyon reached a record flow of 17,100 recorded in 1952.
The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs is flowing this year at 9,350 cfs, well above the record levels of 7,140 cfs recorded in 1984.
“It’s been a while since we’ve gotten to the river levels that we got to [Sunday],” Lawrence said.
The Glenwood Canyon Bike Path remains closed from Shoshone to the Hanging Lake rest area, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, due to high water levels in that area.
Even with flooding elsewhere, Lawrence was confident it would not occur near Glenwood Springs.
The USGS measured the Roaring Fork River at a depth of 7.28 feet, Sunday, Lawrence said. The river reaches the flood stage at 9.3 feet, he said.
The Colorado is even less likely to flood near Glenwood. The river has a current depth of 10.2 feet, with a flood stage threshold of 16.5 feet.
“We are still well below flood stage there,” Lawrence said.
But the peak flow season is good news for river rafting companies.
According to Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures rafting company in Glenwood Springs, the river is running similarly to years past.
“It always seems to be related to temperatures,” Drake said. “It’s been really nice and warm the past several days. And in terms of water levels, it’s on par for what we’ve seen on the Colorado the past few years.”
Drake said that the peak flow periods can make for a fun time on the river, but he suggests going with a commercial rafting company or an experienced guide.
“It’s a good time to go,” he said. “But we always stress safety.”