2014: A Good Year for Rafting

Written by Ben Sack, 01.08.2014

It’s still early but the snows Colorado saw in later November and early December certainly got us off to the right start. The impressive ice buildup in the Arkansas River attests that we’re seeing plenty of cold weather to insure that snow stays put. But let’s look at how we as rafting outfitters and whitewater enthusiasts get a bird’s eye view of the river season flows.

How do you know if it’s a good year for rafting?

The way we assess the future of summer river flows is by looking at key river drainages in the upper Arkansas River Valley over the course of the winter. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is our main source for this information. On a daily basis the drainage sites provide updated snowpack details. But don’t get too excited or too disappointed when you look at the overall basin percentage. Some of the river drainages and associated reporting stations listed are downstream of the any section of whitewater we raft, so you have to throw those numbers out. We focus on the following basins: Brumley, Fremont and Porphyry Creek. These are the big 3 that feed the upper Arkansas River. It’s as simple as averaging the 3 drainages to see what the upper Arkansas River drainage is looking like. So as of January 8th, the Water Year-to-Date Precipitation is at about 84%. Don’t worry, early winter is often quite dry in Colorado; we’ll see a lot more of the white stuff that will translate into beautiful whitewater coursing the canyons and gorges of the Arkansas River.

So when do you know when it will be a good water year?

We usually know by the beginning of April, and it depends on a variety of factors. Just to name a few:

  • The obvious one – what percent of average snowpack is the upper basin
  • How soon will it get warm adn the melt-off begin
  • What are the reservoir storage levels on the upper and lower end of the river
  • What are irrigatation and municipality water needs for the near future
  • What are the water needs for the health of the fishery – the Arkansas River has incredible fishing, in case you didn’t know

By early April we at least have some of the above information, and we could even have some long term climate data to offer insight as to when it may start warming up. Yes, there are a lot of predictive factors here, but I hear a lot of questions from guests over the phone asking about how were looking for river flows.

Now you know a little more about it. And of course, we’re happy to share this info and our river flow forecast with you when you call us here at Echo Canyon. So enjoy the snow now, and let’s play on it this summer!

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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