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A year of ebbs and flows for area river levels

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post Independent fileHigh water on the Colorado River draws Craig Klunker to the Glenwood Springs whitewater park in June. Most rivers in the Colorado basin are now running at about average, despite a dry fall.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Despite a low snowpack last spring and a dry fall, stream flows in area rivers ended up being better than expected through most of the year, according to the lead water resource official with the Colorado River District.

“It was a roller coaster year,” said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer for the River District. “We had a pretty dry late winter and early spring, which led to a low snowpack.”

What snowpack there was also melted in a quick runoff, due in part to a heavy layer of dirt in the higher elevations from a series of spring dust storms and hotter-than-normal temperatures in late May and early June.



“Then we had a big monsoonal season, especially in the upper Colorado basin where we got quite a bit of rain,” Meyer said. “It was a real mixed bag, but in general it was a much better water year than we anticipated back in the spring.”

Currently, most rivers in the Colorado Basin are running at or near average for this time of year, despite a dry fall.



The Colorado River below Glenwood Springs was running at 1,770 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Tuesday, slightly below the 43-year average for that date of 1,920 cfs.

Since mid-August, the Colorado below Glenwood was running at or above average, before dropping off in late October as dry weather persisted.

Two major tributaries of the Colorado have been running below average for the past 60 to 90 days, however.



The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs was running at 593 cfs on Tuesday, compared to the 39-year average of 678 cfs. The Roaring Fork has been flowing at below-average levels since early September.

Likewise, the Eagle River at Gypsum has been running below average since about that same time period. On Tuesday, it was running at 244 cfs compared to the 64-year average of 252 cfs.

With this week’s wet weather, river levels are expected to rise again. However, how that plays out into the winter remains to be seen, Meyer said.

Climate scientists are predicting a La Nina weather pattern through early 2011. The resulting cooler sea surface temperature in the eastern Pacific Ocean sometimes, but not always, delivers more snow to north-central Colorado.

“The La Nina and El Nino [warmer surface water] patterns both kind of control things in this region,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to say, though, because we’re often right on the line.”

River flows in the Colorado below the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon for the past two years have also been impacted by the fact that the power plant has been out of commission. As a result, Denver and other Front Range water users placed a call on the Shoshone allotment.

Still, downstream water interests have been able to work out an agreement that has kept near-historical flows in the Colorado River, intended for protection of endangered fish species as well as recreation interests.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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