Colorado’s rapid snowmelt equals big rapids |

Colorado’s rapid snowmelt equals big rapids

Scott Willoughby
The Denver Post
Andrew Lacy, from Parker, enjoys the high water at the Clear Creek Whitewater Park on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31, 2010. Judy DeHaas, The Denver Post

VAIL, Colorado – It’s been nearly 30 years since Vail kayaker Steve Boyd replaced the iconic river gauge he installed on a bridge abutment at the confluence of Gore Creek and the Eagle River. Striped in graduated measures of green, yellow and red, the measuring stick is an indicator for kayakers and rafters about to test the rowdy Dowd Chute whitewater run.

Or at least it was, anyway, before a wild spike in the surrounding mountain streams washed away any trace of the “beginner” and “intermediate” water levels the Eagle River had seen leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

Thirty years generally serves as a baseline for the span of time used to measure historic averages for things like river flows and snow depths. So perhaps there’s a correlation of some sort behind the length of time since Boyd re-bolted his handmade river gauge in 1982 and last Friday, when the raging river claimed everything below the experts-only 6-to-9-foot measurements that still remain. For 2010, at least, consider it a new water mark.

After a cold, wet spring that lingered just long enough in Colorado’s high country to salvage an otherwise underachieving winter snowpack in much of the state, the solar radiator was turned up to “11” seemingly overnight.

The typically tranquil Gore Creek, for example, shot up from a mere 450 cubic feet per second at its primary USGS measuring station Thursday to a whopping 1,300 cfs by midnight the next day. That’s nearly triple the flow coming down a creek that begins and ends above 8,000 feet.

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