Below-average snow pack this year in the mountains that feed runoff into the Colorado and Green rivers will keep water levels low this season, says Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. But according to some local river rafting companies, low water also offers a safer and sometimes more enjoyable experience.
“Big water cuts the time on the river in half… washes out the rapids, and is a lot more dangerous if someone goes in the water,” said Arlo Tejada, an owner at Sheri Griffith Expeditions. “We also don’t run paddle boats when the water is that high. It kind of ruins the visitor experience a little.”
Tejada said trips down the popular Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River are typically more exciting for rafters during low water years.
“The lower level in Westwater makes it so there are bigger drops… The river slows down and makes the rapids more defined, making bigger waves,” said Tejada. “It’s the ideal trip for this year.. [participants are] going to have a blast and the owners aren’t stressing as much about sending people out there.”
On average, yearly water levels peak at about 21,700 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the Green River and 27,500 cfs for the Colorado River at Cisco. But due to significant snowfall in the winter of 2011, water levels last spring were among the highest seen in 20 years. The Green River peaked at 43,700 cfs and the Colorado hit 48,500 cfs, according to Strautins.
“Every time you had a trip last year, there was a chance of people not having fun because it wasn’t the whitewater they were expecting and we were concerned about guests getting hurt,” said Tejada. “If someone goes in the water during high levels, they can go downstream really fast and it is hard to catch them.”
Judy Christian, manager for Canyon Voyages, said she also believes the Westwater Canyon trip is more fun in low water because the lower levels in that section create more of the whitewater experience people expect when they think of rafting.
“Westwater should be a lot of fun, but the daily will be more of a scenic float, with maybe Class 2 rapids in low water,” Christian said. “I haven’t noticed a change in customer reservations or response, though. We let them know that the daily is not the whitewater they may be thinking of and will take a little longer. But it is still a wonderful float trip.”
Tejada said the daily trip on the Colorado River is still fun and a good rafting experience, especially for families with small children.
“It’s a good family splash trip, basically. The water is warmer at low levels and good for kids to get wet in,” Tejada said.
Currently, the Green River is running at 5,875 cfs and 2012 water forecasts show a 50 percent chance that it will reach 10,000 cfs this year, according to Strautins. The forecast for the Colorado River is much lower, only expected to reach 5,500 cfs from its current level of 3,873 cfs. However, given the current snow pack levels in the mountains, Strautins said he believes those forecast levels will still be hard to reach.