Heaven-sent solutions | AspenTimes.com

Heaven-sent solutions

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD CANYON ” Plentiful rains have come to the rescue of the valley’s whitewater rafting industry, reducing the need for human intervention to maintain adequate river flows in Glenwood Canyon.

In July, rafting companies worried that a problem that forced the shutdown of the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in the canyon could cause Colorado River flows to drop so much that they would have to cease operations before Labor Day.

“It seems like what’s happening isn’t been what we’ve been expecting,” said Susi Larson, a partner in Whitewater Rafting LLC in Glenwood Springs.

In fact, flows have been higher than average in August, she said.

“There have been some great rains that have bolstered the flows. Mother Nature has been generous,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District.

The plant, which Xcel Energy owns, has a senior water right on the river. Normally, its ability to exercise that right guarantees enough flows in the river to let rafting outfitters continue operating all summer. However, the rupturing of a penstock at the plant caused extensive damage, and repairs aren’t expected to be complete until the spring.

As a result, the river district and other agencies scrambled to piece together an agreement to release water from their reservoirs to maintain adequate flows for Glenwood-area rafters and for endangered fish in the river in the Grand Junction area.

Pokrandt said the moisture in higher elevations reduced the need for those entities to dip into their reservoirs to maintain river flows.

“Nobody had to go too deep because the rains saved us,” he said.

The groups had agreed to shoot for flows of 1,200 cubic feet per second in Glenwood Canyon through Labor Day and 810 cfs for endangered fish through October.

Rafting representatives had said they couldn’t run the Colorado River if flows were to fall below 1,000 cfs.

As it turned out, Larson said, flows in the canyon in recent weeks have been about 1,600 to 1,800 cfs.

“Even if it dropped some, it would just be down to normal,” she said.

Normal flows are about 1,100 to 1,200 cfs this time of year, she said.

Rafting companies had hoped at least to be able to continue operating on the river through their busy season, which ends this holiday weekend.

“It’s a pretty light amount of use after that, but we normally run through the end of September,” she said.

Enough additional rain, combined with water releases for the endangered fish and for irrigators in the Grand Junction area with senior water rights, could be sufficient to meet rafting outfitters’ needs through the end of the season.

Today, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is scheduled to begin releasing from Lake Granby for those irrigators and the endangered fish. The releases, which eventually will total 1,000 acre feet, also are intended to bolster flows in the upper reaches of the Colorado River, Pokrandt said.

Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also agreed to participate in this summer’s coordinated releases to offset the loss of flows from the shutdown of the Shoshone plant.