High river flows happened early, challenging Colorado’s booming whitewater industry
Arkansas River managers cut a storage deal that should keep rafts, kayaks moving through the summer
The Denver Post
SALIDA — Normally, a smiling “Grinch” appears in the snow on 14,235-foot Mount Shavano around the June solstice, signaling to locals the arrival of the big water that boosts their fortunes along the Arkansas River, America’s most rafted waterway.
This year, however, the Grinch is already gone.
And climate change, combined with increasing tourist demands, is forcing adjustments in Colorado’s $193 million river recreation industry from installation of defibrillators to turning up artificial flows.
Peak flows on the Arkansas River apparently happened May 18, more than a month earlier than usual. The water levels peaked at 1,870 cubic feet per second, far below the average 2,500 to 3,000 cfs and have fallen to 1,500 cfs. That could mean trouble because higher flows bring more excitement.
Yet people increasingly flock to the headwaters, seeking a whitewater rush, ordered up last-minute — like burgers — from smartphones.
The number of commercial users on just the Arkansas River last year topped 278,500 (another estimated 30,000 private boaters add to the impact), with 578,338 rafting trips statewide, Colorado River Outfitters Association records show.