Streamflows lower than normal in Eagle County, but rivers can still present danger to users
Fast-moving water just ankle-deep can knock down a human
This news could be old by the time you read it, but: River-watchers aren’t expecting much in the way of high water this spring — on Tuesday, the Vail Rec District canceled its whitewater race due to low flows.
Below-average snowpack, combined with a cool, moist period in this stretch of May, has eased runoff into local creeks and rivers. All that could change with torrential rain, or a sustained warm spell could swell local streams. For now, though, streamflows up and down the valley are well below 30-year medians.
That doesn’t bode well for summer. Virtually all of Colorado’s Western Slope is in either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, and the long-range precipitation outlook isn’t good.
With all that in mind, Gypsum Fire Protection District Chief Justin Kirkland said his crew continues to train for swift-water rescues due to activity on the river. Still, he added, he isn’t expecting much in the way of high water on the river this spring.
Eagle County Emergency Manager Birch Barron said he isn’t expecting much high water, either. But, he added, “we’re monitoring water levels,” adding that if streams do start to rise, the county will establish sandbag distribution sites at the Gypsum town shops and at a county site in El Jebel.
The lower streamflows are decent news for anglers, though.
Nick Keogh at Minturn Anglers said the Eagle River usually fishes pretty well during runoff season. But, he added, the fishing has been good so far this spring.
While the river remains somewhat cloudy west of Wolcott, there are places on the river where anglers can float.
And, Keogh added, the shop has been busy lately.
“We’re usually really busy during the spring,” he said.
Still, even lower flows on the river can’t be taken for granted.
Eagle River Fire Protection District Community Risk Manager and public information officer Tracy LeClair noted that swift-moving water just ankle-deep can knock a person down.
LeClair said that department’s team continues to train for swift-water rescue. And, she added, lower flows may reveal hazards that don’t usually appear during high water season.
“People may be running into trees or rocks that were once under water,” LeClair said. “River familiarity is really important this year.”
Besides hazards that are often underwater, LeClair noted that the water remains very cold.
Some of the usual cautions also remain. LeClair said river users are encouraged to put their names and contact information on their equipment. That makes equipment and users easier to reconnect if lost.
And, LeClair said, someone losing a piece of equipment should call the non-emergency number of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center — 970-479-2200 — to report equipment that’s floated away.
LeClair said those reports can keep rescue crews off the river if they aren’t needed.
Streamflows at various points of the Eagle River, measured May 11 by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Black Gore Creek: 31% of the 30-year median.
Beaver Creek: 29% of the 30-year median.
Eagle River below Milk Creek (Red Canyon): 38% of the 30-year median.
Eagle River below Gypsum: 47% of the 30-year median.