Have Vail Valley streamflows peaked? | VailDaily.com

Have Vail Valley streamflows peaked?

Alan Braunholtz, back right, guides a raft of vacationers down the Eagle River on Saturday. The Eagle is at a prime level for commercial rafting and companies in the valley are striving to keep up with demand.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

By the way...

While the Eagle River Valley has only recently broken out of a cool, wet cycle, the folks at the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District are reminding customers that watering regulations are still in effect.

Diane Johnson, the district’s communications and public affairs manager, said that district officials have noticed that some irrigation systems are on and running, despite little need to do so right now.

“There’s just barely a need to water right now,” Johnson said.

“Downstream is in a world of hurt right now,” Johnson said, referring to drought conditions still prevalent along most of the Colorado River. “When we can let water go by, we ought to.”

For more information about snowpack, streamflow, water regulations and more, go to http://www.erwsd.org.

EAGLE COUNTY — Greg Kelchner has been in the river-running business for a long time. He’s calling this the “Goldilocks season” on local streams. It seems there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Kelchner, owner of Timberline Tours, said the high water along the upper Eagle River is perfect for more adventurous types. The lower river, while running strong, is still fine for families with kids who aren’t too young.

“It meets (families’) expectations and you don’t have to drive a long distance,” Kelchner said.

Still, the rapid waters on the upper Eagle could pose some dangers to the inexperienced.

At Alpine Quest Sports, co-owner Cory Glackin said people there recommend classes for those who are just discovering kayaks or stand-up paddleboards.

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“But people who are experienced are loving this,” Glackin said.

Many Front Range streams are still running near their flood stages. And water managers have released water from both Ruedi and Dillon reservoirs in the past few days, boosting streamflows on the Fryingpan and Blue rivers. But the Eagle and upper Colorado rivers, while running strong, aren’t in danger of flooding with current conditions — although a strong isolated thunderstorm can cause local flooding just about any time.

Take Caution

While the upper Colorado seems to be running smoothly, Kelchner cautioned inexperienced boaters to take particular care in stretches. The stretch of river above State Bridge, while relatively flat, has a rapid that can overturn a raft.

Kelchner said he’s heard second-hand about a family with a 6-year-old and a puppy whose raft flipped at the rapid. No one was injured, but it could have been a dangerous incident, Kelchner said.

While the river’s running fast, a lot of fishermen are tying flies or doing yard work, waiting for the water to clear.

But Dallas Thomas, a manager at Gore Creek Fly Fisherman, said people just need to be willing to adapt to current conditions.

“The river’s still all fishable,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to be willing to change up your strategies,” he said.

Thomas said his company is still leading a number of both floating and wading guide trips — all along public waters.

“We’re rarely turning down business,” Thomas said. “But customer safety is our top concern.”

Local streams have peaked weeks later than usual, thanks to a cool, wet May. While Kelchner said his company’s business was “as slow as it’s been in 25 years through May,” but has picked up smartly this month.

Local water managers are also happy with the way the spring and early summer have turned out, especially the way the winter ended, with much of the state in drought conditions.

May Provides Relief

Area snowpack, which remained below historic averages through much of the past season, started to melt in earnest in April, a disturbing reminder of 2012, when the snow measurement site on Vail Mountain was melted off in late March.

But May provided a lot of relief. Snowmelt and streamflows both stayed low throughout the end of that month. Even then, some cool weather in early June slowed streamflows and left snow on the mountains. That’s important, since the upper valley’s water supply depends largely on snowpack.

As of June 17, there was still 7.3 inches of “snow water equivalent” in the remaining snowpack at the measurement station atop Fremont Pass, near the headwaters of the Eagle. That means a good bit of snow remains in the higher elevations.

While conditions can change quickly, Kelchner said there’s probably another week to 10 days of high flows left along the Eagle. He expects the water to start to clear in the next few days — good news for fishermen — and then the easy boating and fishing days will be upon us.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

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