Vail area streamflows low, but still potentially deadly |

Vail area streamflows low, but still potentially deadly

It’s going to be warm and dry for the next week

Jerry Oliver of Eagle surfs a wave at the Eagle River Park just after 6 p.m. on Monday in Eagle.
Nate Peterson/

Area streamflows seem to have peaked for the season and are running lower than normal, but river users still need to be cautious.

As of June 4, data compiled by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District shows streamflow measurement stations along Gore Creek and the Eagle River at Avon and Gypsum running between 67% and 73% of their seasonal norms.

The news is more dire continuing west. The station at Cameo, near Palisade, was running at just less than 42% of its norm for June 4.

Tracy LeClair, the community risk manager for the Eagle River Fire Protection District, said the lower flows present some new dangers for river users.

The biggest potential problem is that rocks and other obstacles usually are now exposed instead of covered by running water, and can hang up a rafter, kayaker or stand-up paddleboard rider.

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A Summit County man was pronounced dead Sunday evening after being pulled from the Eagle River near Eagle in a suspected boating accident. The official cause and manner of death have yet to be determined, an Eagle County spokesperson said Monday.

Two other men on paddleboards discovered the unresponsive man, who was wearing a life vest, just before 6:30 p.m. Sunday and pulled him from the water. The two paddleboarders called police and administered CPR before emergency responders arrived to transport him by ambulance to a local hospital. He was pronounced dead by medical professionals upon arriving at the hospital, according to a news release.

The stream’s still dangerous

In addition to the new danger, LeClair said river users still need to observe standard safety tips, including wearing helmets and life jackets. Knowing the water conditions is always important, but even more so this year.

River users should also carry identification, as well as dry clothes in a dry bag to stave off possible hypothermia. New users should take classes, and all users should carry basic first aid gear.

While streams are running less heavily than usual, LeClair noted that water running just ankle-deep can take down an adult human. Going into the water to rescue a person or a pet can result in another injury or death, she said.

LeClair also cautioned people separated from their gear or their boat to report the missing items to the Vail Public Safety Communications Center at 970-479-2200. That will keep rescue teams from risking their own safety, she said.

Lower streamflows may be a harbinger of a warm, dry summer.

The National Weather Service forecast for Vail shows almost no precipitation for the next week, along with high temperatures in the 80s.

That pattern isn’t likely to break for a while.

Megan Stackhouse, a forecaster at the weather service’s Grand Junction office, noted that a high pressure ridge has set up over the desert southwest. That will keep most moisture out of the region, she said.

Little relief seen

The news doesn’t get much better in coming weeks. The national Climate Prediction Center is forecasting dryer than normal conditions into August.

That’s not encouraging for the summer monsoon season. In normal years, that pattern will bring frequent afternoon thunderstorms to the region. That pattern hasn’t developed for a couple of years now.

The predictions for continued drought mean residents need to adjust their watering habits.

Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, wrote in an email that users are being asked to not water on Mondays in that district, which stretches from East Vail to Edwards.

A dry summer could lead to fishing restrictions on the Eagle River, especially without afternoon showers to freshen up streamflows.

A dry summer will also create potentially hazardous fire conditions. Stackhouse said the National Weather Service is ready this week to issue red flag fire weather warnings for much of the Western Slope and eastern Utah. Those warnings are issued when a combination of strong winds, low humidity and dry fuels create conditions in which wildfire can quickly spread. The Vail area is so far not in the red flag zone, Stackhouse said.

Be careful out there

Here are some tips for staying safe on the water from the Eagle River Fire Protection District:

Wear a life jacket and proper head gear.

Make sure your raft, kayak or stand-up paddleboard is intended for whitewater use. Understand the limitations of your equipment.

Know the water conditions, which can vary from day to day.

Look out for “strainers” — fallen trees, bridge pilings, undercut rocks and other obstacles that allows the current to flow through while trapping a boat or person.

If you’re separated from your boat and are safely on shore, call the Vail Public Safety Communications Center so rescue crews aren’t dispatched to look for you. The nonemergency number is 970-479-2200.


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