Vail Valley streamflows may peak in the next few days

Streamflow on the Eagle River at Avon is running significantly above the seasonal average right now. Streamflows could peak in the next several days.
By the numbers: 0%: Percent of June 1 normal “snow water equivalent” at Vail Moutain measurement site 166%: Percent of May 31 normal streamflow on Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek. 134%: Percent of May 31 normal streamflow on the Eagle River near Minturn. 139%: Percent of May 31 normal streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon. Source: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

A just-about-average snow year in Vail is melting quickly into local streams.

Streamflows are running significantly higher than normal right now, and could peak this week. That’s bad news for water supplied later in the summer. But there are encouraging signs for local businesses that use those streams.

At Timberline Tours, owner Greg Kelchner said he’s been somewhat surprised that the company has had trips booked every day recently. Those parties are small — usually just four or six people. But, Kelchner said, that’s more business than he expected just a month ago.

Kelchner founded Timberline Tours in 1970. He’s familiar with wet years, dry years and every kind of season in between. The company has over the years acquired permits for streams all over the northern and central mountains.

Right now, the Eagle River from about Wolcott to Eagle is “great,” Kelchner said.

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The flows are “high, but not too high,” he added.

Adapting to conditions

Runoff season usually isn’t great for fishing, but those companies also know how to adapt.

At Minturn Anglers, Nick Keogh said that company is leading trips every day. Given current flows, guides taking fishing enthusiasts to higher elevation streams, lakes or the tailwaters where dams empty into rivers.

Again, a company has to be ready for what comes.

Kelchner said the best way to judge the state of runoff isn’t so much by looking at data from various gage stations, but looking at the water.

Streams running with a lot of sediment are virtually opaque. That water means runoff from high elevation snow is “fully engaged,” Kelchner said. When the river is running high but more clear, runoff season is nearly finished.

At this point, runoff season seems just about at its peak.

Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District said she expects the peak to come this week, or soon after. The weather forecast for Vail this week calls for warm temperatures and little chance of precipitation.

Snowpack fading fast

The winter just past had virtually-average snowpack at Vail. Snowpack at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, the closest measurement sites to the headwaters of Gore Creek and the Eagle River, respectively, snowpack was significantly above average. But all three sites are melting quickly.

At Vail, the measurement site is melted off, about a week sooner than average. The Copper Mountain site should be melted off by early June, a couple of days later than normal. The Fremont Pass site, the highest-elevation site among the three, should be melted off by mid-June, a few days earlier than normal.

All that adds up to what could be a dry summer, Johnson said.

The district has already ramped up its messaging to customers about outdoor water use. That use takes the most water from streams, since virtually all inside use makes it back into the Eagle River.

Johnson said the district’s message to users is constant in wet years and dry: Use water efficiently.

“We live in a semi-arid place, with landscapes that are reflective of where we live,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that she’s received more calls about water bills than usual this spring — perhaps a result of people spending more time at home.

The district has tools to help users with their water use, Johnson said. That could be important in the next few months.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

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