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Rivers running fast and furious

Joey Bunch
The Denver Post
Aspen, CO Colorado

Most of Colorado’s rivers Monday were flowing fast, deep and dangerously – some at near record flows for the date – as warm temperatures quickened the pace of the snowmelt.

Rivers were running at more than twice their historic mean, and the Eagle River below Gypsum and the Arkansas River near Parkdale were nearing records. In Summit County, the Blue River below Dillon Dam was running at 1,420 cubic feet per second – not quite the 1984 record of 1,890 cfs, but high nonetheless. Tenmile Creek in Frisco was running at 540 cfs Monday.

Divers were looking for the body of an Indiana man who was swept from an inner tube in the Cache La Poudre River in Larimer County on Sunday afternoon.

Flows on the Poudre were nearly three times faster than normal for the date.

“I’m afraid we may not have reached the high-flow period yet,” said Heidi Koontz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado “Typically, the high-flow period comes in the middle of June.”

A USGS report published last week in the Journal of Climate indicated snowmelts in Colorado are occurring two to three weeks earlier than they were in the late 1970s because of climate trends.

Rivers are being fed by the rapid melt-off, which will continue with warm weather this week. Temperatures are expected to climb into the upper 60s or low 70s from Durango to Steamboat Springs today.

In southern Colorado, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning Sunday afternoon for low-lying areas in the Canon City area, as the Arkansas River and tributaries became gorged with runoff.

The city of Boulder issued a bulletin Sunday morning urging caution, with Barker Reservoir by Nederland expected to spill heavily into Boulder Creek during the next few days.

Boulder Creek was flowing at 120 cfs Sunday and 282 cfs Monday, but as the spill begins, flows could spike as high as 420.

“A flow of 300 to 400 cfs is considered dangerous for swimming and wading,” the city warned in its bulletin.

“Parents are encouraged to keep their children from swimming, wading or playing near the water’s edge.”

Rafting company operators said Sunday the high rivers were attracting a large number of whitewater enthusiasts.

“We’ve got the melt-off now, so the numbers are way up,” said Patty Snodgrass, the office manager for River Runners on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista and Canon City, of flows across the region.

Brenda Worley, owner of Colorado River Guides in Yampa, said the Colorado and Eagle rivers were a study in contrasts. She operates tours on both.

The Colorado River is regulated by dams, meaning it rarely gets too mild or too wild, and the season can last until August.

The Eagle is fed by snowmelt, which means frigid temperatures and gushing flows in June, Worley said.


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