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April 29, 2012
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Boaters should be paddling while they can

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - "Go" is an action verb, and if you're a boater, you should be going.

Now would be a good time to get going, too.

"Instead of waiting for the river to start raging, then complaining that it's too high, they should be out there right now," said Ken Hoeve, a local television personality and competitive kayaker and stand-up paddler.

There are good years and not-so-good years, but as long as there's water where water's supposed to be, there are no bad years, Hoeve said.

So far, the Colorado and Arkansas rivers are "dam" good - they're dam controlled.

The Arkansas River and the Colorado River are running at 100 percent because they're fed from reservoirs, and those reservoirs are full because last year's snow and water levels were so high.

"They're augmenting the rivers by running water out of these dams," Hoeve said.

Not getting out on the river because you think the likely summer drought is already here is a bad idea, Hoeve said.

"People are misinformed, I think," he said.

Local rivers are starting to run steadily, said Kris Lambert, with Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards and Glenwood Springs.

"There are some sweet spots right now," Lambert said.

In huge water years, like last year, the river will make a couple of serious attempts to inflict severe bodily harm on a rookie.

This is your year if you're learning or sharpening your paddling skills, Lambert said.

"People who are new and want to get into it, it was kind of intimidating last year," Lambert said. "This year is the year to do it."

Alpine Quest is doing kayak lessons, as are many other companies.

"Pump House to State Bridge is awesome right now," he said.

When we caught up with Hoeve, he was on the Colorado River to try his stand-up paddle board near the Shoshone Dam. The river is fine so far, he said.

Local kayakers are running Eagle-Vail's Dowd Chutes every day.

"There's enough water to get down there and have fun," Hoeve said. "It's there; you just have to go get it."

Locally, Homestake Creek, where they hold a Teva Mountain Games event, is running at 61 cubic feet per second. You can run at it at 25 if you don't mind getting knocked around a little.

"You wanna get your nasty on? Go take a run at that," Hoeve said.

The water is even warmer this year than normal for this time of year, Hoeve said.

"Usually there is ice on those reservoirs and the water feeding the rivers is cold. It's been warmer than normal," Hoeve said.

The Eagle River is definitely chilly because it's direct runoff from snowmelt. The Colorado River is warmer because it's fed by reservoirs.

"We're lucky to be so close to the Colorado. We're 30 minutes from there. There are places that are much worse off than us," Hoeve said. "It's not optimal, but it could be worse. Still, I'd like to see it snow five feet in May than hit summer."

Hoeve's not the only one.

After a lean snow year, the snowpack is about half of average for this time of year, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The average snow accumulation in February that boosted the snowpack across the state was short lived. March brought dry, warm and windy weather to Colorado, resulting in significant declines in the snowpack, the NRCS reported.

When that warm and windy March hit, that February statewide snowpack shrank by 29 percent. By April 1, the statewide snowpack was 52 percent of average, said Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Also, March snowfall was 29 percent of the historical average, Phillipps said.

Statewide snowpack conditions have not been this low since 2002, when the snowpack on April 1 was also reported to be just 52 percent of average, Phillipps said.

"Luckily, Colorado's reservoir storage is in better condition than it was in 2002; storage volumes statewide were reported at 108 percent of average at the end of March," Phillipps said. "This stored water should help alleviate late-summer shortages."

The Colorado River Basin is at 49 percent of the historical average snowpack.

Snowpack traditionally peaks on April 12, Phillipps said.

"At this point, all major basins in Colorado are expected to receive well below average runoff this spring and summer," Philipps said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated May 2, 2012 05:14PM Published Apr 29, 2012 09:32PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.