Parts of Colorado River east of Glenwood Canyon already ‘unboatable’

Megan Webber
Glenwood Springs Post Independent intern
Glenwood Springs residents and buddies Zach Johnson and Ian Lohman hang out on wakeboards at the Glenwood Whitewater Park on a hot Wednesday afternoon. The Colorado River below the Roaring Fork River confluence dipped below 4,000 cubic feet per second this week.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Lake Powell is expected to drop to just 45 percent full by the end of 2018, says Andy Mueller, the new general manager for the Colorado River District based in Glenwood Springs.

The lake, which Coloradans rely on as a water source when the rivers are low, will not have enough water in it to supply all of Colorado and its surrounding states, such as Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

“So the question that we’re all asking ourselves as we see that happen, and as we look at the predictions for a warmer and hotter climate, is, ‘What can we do as literally a community of water users to protect the economic viability of our communities?,’” Mueller said in an interview with the Post Independent this week. “Not to overstate it, but really, water is the lifeblood of any civilization.”

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and northern New Mexico are known as the upper-basin states, nourished by the water from the upper half of the Colorado River before it reaches Lake Powell.

The Colorado River District and other water-conscious groups in the upper-basin states are hoping to formulate a drought contingency plan to sustain Lake Powell. They are looking at three possible solutions.

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The first involves releasing water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Navajo Reservoir into Lake Powell, which would keep the levels up for up to two dry years.

If the drought were to last longer than two years after 2018, then non-native vegetation could be removed from the river beds to let more water into the river system.

“I would say that the science there is mixed,” Mueller said. “It’s not clear that it won’t work, so we’re still doing it, but we need better signs.”

Extra water in lake powell

The third possibility involves monitoring the amount of water actively consumed by Colorado and the other three upper-basin states. The extra water would be saved in Lake Powell as insurance for not only the upper-basin states, but also for lower-basin states and Mexico, should the need arise. City water can also be recycled for agriculture and recreation.

The River District is also committed to preserving the aesthetically pleasing areas of Colorado for agricultural and recreational purposes, Mueller said.

In order to preserve the beauty, reduced demand is once again necessary from all over the state. The Front Range sees 450,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water flow through it every year, which feeds cities and fields in eastern Colorado.

“And we feel like they should share the pain, if you will, that they should also reduce their uses over there. If we’re gonna be asked to, they should. Our cities should reduce their use through land-use controls,” Mueller said.

Locally, the Colorado River east of Glenwood Canyon was declared unboatable last weekend.

The Colorado River below the Roaring Fork River confluence dipped below 4,000 cubic feet per second this week, and hovered around 3,200 to 3,400 cfs on Thursday, June 14. That’s well below the historical 50-year mean of around 10,300 cfs for this week of June.

In this extremely low spring runoff season, the Colorado at Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park peaked at less than 7,000 cfs back in mid-May.

As temperatures rise upstream on the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and Basalt, particularly in July and August, the Parks and Wildlife Commission may prohibit fishing in the area due to overheated waters, which will endanger the fish.

Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is expected to release water on June 20, which will sustain boatable flows throughout Glenwood Springs for the rest of the summer, Mueller said.

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