Colorado whitewater update & thoughts

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13 Mar 2012 - 13:0023870
Colorado whitewater update & thoughts
Hi all,

The latest (March 2012) Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press. Paddlers are starting to get an idea about how, when, & where the quality of paddling might be in Colorado for summer 2012. Here are a few excerpts:

Summary
The month of February brought improvements to snowpack percentages in all major basins in Colorado. Unfortunately the snowy month was not enough to boost the snowpack to average conditions; as of March 1 the state snowpack was at just 81 percent of average. With only four to six weeks remaining in the typical accumulation season the odds of the snowpack obtaining average conditions are diminishing. Runoff forecasts remain below average across the state, with slight improvements over last month in the northern and southwest portions of the state. A majority of basins have considerably dry soils beneath the snowpack which can reduce surface water supply. Thanks in part to a good water supply year in 2011 reservoir storage volumes for the state are currently at 107 percent of average.

Snowpack
Despite above average snow accumulation during the month of February the statewide snowpack remains below average. The good news is that last month's snowfall was very beneficial to the Yampa, White and North Platte basins. These basin’s snowpacks have been well below average for the entire season and previously reported just 65 percent of average conditions on February 1. As of March 1 the basins snowpack percentages had improved to 78 percent of average. The combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins also benefited from above average snowfall in February. These basins saw a snowpack increase from 73 percent of average on February 1 to 86 percent of average measured on March 1. Across the rest of the state snowpack improvements were more nominal. The South Platte basins' snowpack increased 8 percentage points over the last month from 81 percent on February 1 to 89 percent of average on March 1. In the Gunnison, Colorado, Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins only slight increases in snowpack percentages were measured compared to last month’s readings. For the state overall, the March 1 snowpack was reported at 81 percent of average, this is only 71 percent of last year’s readings at this same time. Comparisons to last year show indicate that the current snowpack is well below last year’s readings for all basins except for the Rio Grande and the combined basins in the southwest.

My initial thoughts & interpretation is as follows:

Paddling should be decent in June. Late June might be ideal, depending upon your skill level. July will start dropping but still should be fun. As some of you remember, last year's high flows left a real challenge for many of us as trip leaders to find some sane novice Class III water in July. I was lucky and had schedulely my "club of choice" trip for late July, so we had some good options. This might also be a good year to try a SW Colorado & NM river trip. One year, I led a group starting on the Rio Grande near Taos, NM, running Pilar (III) and Lower Box (IV). We went from Taos, NM north to the Conejos on Pinnacle Gorge (IV) (CO), then to the Piedra, 1st Box & 2nd Box (IV), then to the upper Animas (V), then to the Upper Rio Grande (III), and back to the Arkansas (III), my home river. You also add the Lake Fork (of the Gunnison) and Taylor River on your way back around. Lots of options. Just a few ideas to spur the planning process. That said, there should be plenty of decent rivers to paddle in June & early July. Don't expect things to hold through late July-August, however.

Who knows what Colorado snowpack might look like by April, but things are starting to firm up now. Not much opportunity for big changes now.
Link below:
http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/fcst/state/current/monthly/data/reportselection.html
Paddlingly yours,
TJ


__________________
KANSAS PADDLER
http://www.kansas.net/~tjhittle/
(719) 539-6909
13 Mar 2012 - 21:0023875
Good infor from TJ
"New" water will be low. But there is good level in the holding lakes.

If you are a newer paddler you can be confident that there will be good levels in both the Arkansas river until Aug 18 and constantly in the Taylor.

By good levels on the Arkansas I mean in the 650-850 cfs range, which in my opinion is excellent.

I also agree 100% with TJ about the Rio Grande and its tributaries as a very good choice.

TJ, see you in the summer.
Chris Kelly


09 Apr 2012 - 13:3324495
The latest (April) Colorado Basin Outlook Report is now out. Mostly bad news.

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Summary
March was a very dry month across Colorado, marking the fourth consecutive month of below average snowpack and year to date precipitation totals for the state. Statewide snowpack percentages declined dramatically after a brief boost on March 1, leaving the state with the lowest snowpack percentage reported since 2002 and the second lowest in the entire 45 year historical record. Forecasts for spring and summer streamflow volumes are well below average across the entire state. While many water users may have a feeling of déjà vu remembering conditions in 2002, reservoir storage provides a little optimism going into this runoff season. Most of the state's major river basins are reporting above average reservoir storage with the notable exceptions of the Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins. Judicious use of existing supplies will be critical in minimizing impacts and there is always the potential for unexpected late season snowfall and above average spring precipitation to help ease impacts.
Snowpack
Colorado's statewide snowpack percentage took a huge hit during March. The current readings are now only 52 percent of average down 29 percentage points from the report on March 1. The current snowpack is just 46 percent of last year's April 1 snowpack report. Not since the memorable drought year of 2002, when the state also had an April 1 snowpack that was 52 percent of average, has conditions been this poor. Exacerbating matters is the fact that by this date, nearly 100 percent of the seasonal snowpack has accumulated in an average year. Currently, the lowest snowpack percentages occur in the Colorado and combined Yampa and White River basins which are 49 and 47 percent of average respectively. The combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins are reporting only 54 percent of average. This past month, the Upper Rio Grande basin saw its snowpack percentage decrease sharply from last month’s reading of 83 percent of average and is currently only 53 percent. The state's best snowpack percentage occurs in the North Platte basin which is reporting a snowpack at 57 percent of average, the Arkansas and Gunnison basins follow close behind, both reporting 56 percent of average. All basins have percentages well below those reported last year at this time; ranging from only 38 percent of last year in the Colorado basin, to a high of 69 percent of last year in the Upper Rio Grande basin. During March, warm temperatures induced snowmelt at a number of SNOTEL sites. Across southern Colorado, some lower elevation sites have already melted out and earlier season melt is even occurring at the higher elevation sites. At current melt rates; many sites will be completely melted out about a month earlier than normal.
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So from my perspective, the Ark snowpack is at 52%, the same as '02, but I hear the reservoirs are in good enough shape to give the outfitters a 600 cfs minimum into August. Could be a harsh summer for boating. 600 cfs is fun on the Ark, but don't expect much more. A lot depends upon water rights demands downstream, but everyone is going to suffer proportionately.
Paddlingly yours,
TJ


__________________
KANSAS PADDLER
http://www.kansas.net/~tjhittle/
(719) 539-6909
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