Local streamflows have peaked for 2016
By the numbers
1,730: The June 10 flow, in cubic feet per second, of Gore Creek near Red Sandstone Creek.
3,580: The June 11 flow, in cubic feet per second, of the Eagle River at Avon.
0: Snowpack measurement at Copper Mountain June 8.
5: Snowpack measurement, in inches, on Fremont Pass on June 13.
EAGLE COUNTY — After a warm weekend that saw very high streamflows in places on area creeks and rivers, it looks like the streams have peaked. But those streams will still run high and fast for a while.
According to data provided by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Gore Creek and the Eagle River above Avon have hit their peaks for the season. In addition, the snow measurement sites the district uses have either melted completely or are expected to by the weekend.
[iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/170717795?autoplay=1″ width=”640″ height=”360″ style=”border: 0px;”]
The measurement site at Fremont Pass — the headwaters of the Eagle River — was down to 5 inches as of June 12. The site at Vail Mountain was down to bare ground June 2, a couple of days earlier than normally. At Copper Mountain — which is close to the snowfields on Vail and Shrine passes — there was bare ground at the measurement site as of June 8. That site usually goes to zero around May 30.
While the streamflows seem to have peaked — barring a severe thunderstorm or two that could cause isolated flooding — local streams are still running well above their average flows for this part of June.
As of June 12, the Eagle River at Dowd Junction was running at 217 percent of its normal flow for that date. Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek was running at 142 percent of normal — median flows over a 30-year period.
The high flows are good news for rafting companies. Sage Outdoor Adventures is the only local company that runs raft trips on Gore Creek. Those trips depend on healthy streamflows, and don’t happen every year.
Weather rules streamflow — heat shrinks high streams more quickly and cool extends flows — but Cole Bangert of Sage said it’s possible the company could be rafting the Gore until the end of June or so.
That will leave the Eagle River, but only for another few weeks, Bangert said.
But while local streams are running fast, Bangert said the Eagle River has some of the “best whitewater in the state.”
“There’s a stretch between Kayak Crossing (in Eagle-Vail) and Edwards that’s 10 miles of Class 3 and 4 rapids — it’s great,” Bangert said.
John Packer is the owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters in Avon. Packer said while local streams are largely too fast to fish, a solid runoff season is a benefit for those who want to cast a fly later this season.
“The runoff cleans out sediment, and stuff that comes off the roads, and moves it out of the system,” Packer said. “It improves aquatic insect habitat, and healthy bugs mean healthy fish.
Packer said some of the most important insects are mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies. Green drakes, another type of insect, used to be abundant on the Gore, Packer said, adding that those bugs have gone into decline over the past several years.
That’s why Packer and others are big fans of Vail’s “Restore the Gore” creek rehabilitation effort.
“I’m hoping one day we’ll see big (insects) on the Gore again,” Packer said. “They’re the indicator species of a healthy river.”
But that’s in the future. For now, Packer and other guides are hosting float trips on the Colorado River now, and expect to be on local streams within the next few weeks.
“We want to be ready to go by the end of June,” Packer said. There, too, the season is short, with the rivers able to host float trips for just four to six weeks.
“We’re looking forward to a great season this year,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.