Steamboat Springs Shallow flows on the Yampa River this summer have curtailed recreation like tubing and fishing, but the river rafting business is thriving on the nearby Colorado River where it flows out of Gore Canyon just south of Routt County’s border with Eagle County.
Despite the prevailing drought, the Colorado River just above Gore Canyon in Kremmling was flowing at 1,070 cubic feet per second Wednesday morning, 97 cfs greater than its historic July 18 average of 973 cfs.
How can that be when the Yampa, even with supplemental conservation flows, is flowing at half its seasonal average?
Jim Pokrandt, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, confirmed Wednesday that agricultural water rights holders near Grand Junction who made a call for their water last month are the explanation behind the boosted flows on the Colorado.
“It’s been fantastic for us,” Jarett Duty, of Bucking Rainbow Outfitters, said Wednesday morning. “Our trips for (Thursday) are already full with 60 people.”
Lauren Quinn, of the Colorado River Center, formerly the Steamboat Rafting Company, said her company’s guided rafting on the Colorado is down this year, but rentals are up. Confident river runners can rent a two-person duckie kayak for $60 or a one-person duckie for $50 for the float from Pumphouse to Ranch Del Rio.
On June 11, before the water call was made, the Colorado River in Kremmling was flowing at 271 cfs. According to Pokrandt, just a week before the agricultural calls in Grand Junction kicked in, the Water Conservation District together with Xcel Energy and a large consortium of water interests had arranged to release a combined 450 cubic feet per second of water from the Wolford Mountain, Williams Fork and Green Mountain reservoirs to boost flows in the Colorado to support the river environment during the drought. That water was available because Xcel’s Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon could use only about half of its water rights because of ongoing repairs.
It was known as the Shoshone Outage Protocol.
In the end, that unprecedented step to boost the mighty Colorado had become moot.
“As it turned out, the protocol operated for less than a week before a Grand Junction area irrigation water right came active on the river and accomplished the same result under the water rights system,” Pokrandt wrote in an email.
Ironically, Bucking Rainbow, with a storefront on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs, has had to turn away business at times this month. Earlier in the summer, when flows on the Colorado were unusually low, it advised some of its longtime rafting guides that they would be wise to look for alternative employment. If it hadn’t been for the slow start this summer, Bucking Rainbow might have 15 river guides on staff.
On Tuesday, Duty's company was able to scramble and call in guides who have been working elsewhere in order to send out 110 rafters, mostly on full-day trips that cost $93 for adults and $75 for children.
Bucking Rainbow typically offers a few raft trips through the town stretch of the Yampa in early summer, as does Backdoor Sports, but by this time of year, all of Bucking Rainbow’s trips are on the Colorado. They launch from a Bureau of Land Management river put-in park just below Gore Canyon and float 15 miles to State Bridge, where the river flows beneath Colorado Highway 131. Along the way, floaters encounter safe thrills in a couple of Class III rapids like “Eye of the Needle” and “Yarmony.”
“People still want to get out on the river,” Duty said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com