Rivers rising along with the spring temperatures — early peak, or maybe multiple peaks possible
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Rivers are rising faster than usual throughout the Colorado and Roaring Fork river watersheds, as warm temperatures have led to early melting of the high-country snowpack.
Higher river flows have also drawn paddlers to the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park, as the facility officially reopened this week with public health guidelines in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We will close the park immediately if guidelines are not being followed,” the city advises in a posted notice.
Commercial rafting is on hold until later this month or early June while guidelines are being developed for that and other tourist activities. Private boats are allowed on the rivers, but with social-distancing and other health guidelines in mind.
The higher river flows are the result of warmer-than-normal temperatures across Colorado’s Western Slope, and the lack of precipitation to add to the mountain snowpack in April, according to Ken Leib, hydrologist with the United State Geological Survey in Grand Junction.
“It is associated with the temperature,” Leib said of the daily river flow volumes and depth recorded by the USGS. “When we had the warm snap over the weekend, the flows came up, and when it cooled down they leveled off some.”
Leib said the Colorado River could see peak flows earlier than usual if the warmer weather continues, or possibly an early peak and then a second peak in June if temperatures modify.
After the record snowpack during the winter of 2018-19, the peak flow on the Colorado River below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs didn’t come until July 1, 2019, according to USGS historical data.
The flow last year topped out at 20,800 cubic feet per second (cfs), at a depth of 9 feet, 8 inches at the Glenwood measuring station.
Dating back to 1967, the highest peak flow at Glenwood was 31,500 cfs on May 25, 1984. The earliest peak flow came on May 20, 1996, at 18,200 cfs.
As of Thursday evening, according to realtime USGS data, the Colorado at Glenwood was flowing at 5,150 cfs with a depth of 5 feet, 8 inches — down from the Monday high this week of 6,000 cfs and 6 feet, 1 inch.
Just above the confluence on the Roaring Fork River at Veltus Park, the flow in the Fork was topping out at 1,200 cfs with a gage depth of 3 feet, 3 inches. The peak flow on the Roaring Fork at that location last year also came on July 1, at 8,960 cfs.
USGS data goes back to 1906 for that location on the Roaring Fork. The earliest recorded peak came on May 12, 1934, when the flow topped out at 4,100 cfs.
The West Glenwood Whitewater Park has been reopened and will remain open as long as users follow the “Safer at Home” guidelines.
• Follow the CDC, state and Garfield County guidelines to protect yourself and others. The “Safer at Home” recommendations are to wear masks, socialize less and proceed with extreme caution.
• Users agree to not enter the park if they have any symptoms or exposure risks as listed by the CDC guidelines.
• If you are an at-risk population (65 or over), it’s highly recommended you stay home through May.
• Maintain proper social distance (6 feet apart) at all times whether engaged, waiting or observing.
• At this time, multiple users are only allowed with people from their own household.
• One user at a time is required if users are not from the same household.
• No sharing of equipment. Participants must use their own equipment only. Helmets are required at all times.
• Limit your use of the park to one hour; no gathering in groups of more than 10 when waiting to enter water.
• When not in water, wearing of face masks is encouraged for inward and outward protection of all users, especially when waiting to rotate on to the water.
• No handshakes, fist bumps or physical contact between users.
• Outdoor recreation must be within one’s community and/or no further than 10 miles from your residence.
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