EAGLE COUNTY — River levels on Gore Creek and the Eagle River have peaked and are on the decline after weeks of roaring runoff.
The Eagle River peaked May 30 and Gore Creek peaked June 3, although both rivers still are boasting water levels that are above normal compared to other seasons in the past decade. In Vail, town workers collected sandbags from the banks of Gore Creek in Vail Village as the water receded on Thursday. No major flooding was reported, but the town monitored culverts nightly for blockage and flooding from mid-May to mid-June.
Water levels were still 143 percent of normal as of Friday on Gore Creek in Vail. According to town of Vail measurements, stream flows — which are measured at cubic feet per second — peaked at 1,430 cfs. Compared to previous years, that’s slightly above average, but doesn’t get anywhere near 2010 levels, when stream flow spiked to 2,260 cfs.
As of Friday, the Eagle River in Avon was at 155 percent of normal, and the Eagle River below Gypsum was at 136 percent of normal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
During the next few weeks, rivers will level out to their “base flows” — levels that will generally hold steady into July and August.
According to Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, water levels seem to be staying high thanks to soil that is still moist from last year’s heavy rains.
“We want to go into winter with really saturated soils. We didn’t see flooding last summer like a lot of the state did, but we still got a lot of moisture, and that’s keeping things from melting out now,” she said.
She compared the situation to this past summer, when heavy rains helped raise the river at healthier levels, but then the levels would drop just as quickly as the dry soil, suffering from a very dry winter, sucked the moisture away.
Now that most of the area’s snowpack has melted, rivers will be depending on rainfall to keep things flowing.
“Now, it’s really about rain that we get,” said Johnson. “You’ll see a rapid decline (in river levels now), followed by a steady hold — hopefully.”
Even though water supplies are in good condition, the water district reminds residents to use water responsibly, especially when it comes to outdoor use.
“Our local streams and aquifers are the source of our community water supply,” Johnson said. “Whatever the community uses directly impacts the amount in local waterways. Outdoor water use creates very high demand in the public water system.”
See the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District water use regulations at http://www.erwsd.org/wise-use/normal-water-use-regulations.
Boating and fishing season Continues
Meanwhile, boaters and fishermen are still enjoying the strong flows.
“I’ve been kayaking on the Eagle and conditions are awesome,” said kayaker and Alpine Quest Sports employee Phil Porter. “Dowd Chute is still around 5 feet, which is a great challenging level. Now that levels are going down, it’s still big, but more reasonable for people of all skill levels to get out there.”
The next few weeks will also be a good time for beginning boaters to get wet. Alpine Quest just started running kayaking courses. A children’s course was postponed a few weeks ago due to dangerous conditions, but now that the river is calmer, it’s a great time for people of different abilities to get in the water, Porter said.
Fly-fishermen will also be making their way downriver from the more shallow headwaters in the coming weeks. The upper Colorado River is already seeing a stone fly hatch that has trout rushing to the surface, said Logan Johnson, general manager of Minturn Anglers.
“We’ll work our way down through Minturn and we’ll be running more float trips on the Eagle River starting now,” said Johnson on Friday, adding that fly fishing conditions should remain good through the summer. “With the high water we have this year and increased precipitation, it should stay good all summer.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.