A watershed year for the Dillon Reservoir bodes well for another season of rafting on Summit County’s Blue River
The Dillon Reservoir had a record-breaking year as consistent precipitation helped keep the reservoir full through much of the summer and allowed rafters to enjoy more than three weeks on the Blue River.
The water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year, was the 11th-wettest on record for Denver in 2023, according to a recent newsletter on Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir operations.
That record-breaking precipitation translated into the lowest June water use among Denver Water’s customers since 1969, just six years after the completion of the Dillon Dam. Denver Water’s service area has added 540,000 people since 196
For Performance Tours Rafting, the precipitation meant one of the longest commercial rafting seasons on the Blue River — the only commercially raftable stretch of river in Summit County — since 2019.
“It was fantastic. It’s a great run and it’s just nice having a local option in Summit County,” Performance Tours Rafting president Kevin Foley said. “It’s a great Class 3 run, moderate-level whitewater run, suitable to all different ages and abilities. We get a lot of that demographic in the summer.”
Foley said Performance Tours hadn’t offered commercial options on the Blue River since 2020, when the company was able to raft for about only about a week on the stretch that offers “beautiful scenery” with the Eagles Nest Wilderness as a backdrop.
Inflow to the Dillon Reservoir peaked at 1,248 cubic feet per second on June 8, and reservoir outflow peaked at 1,068 cubic feet per second on June 24, according to Denver Water. In total, there were 22 days of raftable flows on the Blue River below the reservoir.
While there was a relatively strong snowpack last year, Foley noted that the reservoir started out pretty low and snowpack went mostly to filling the reservoir. Still it was not only cool and wet up in the mountains through the spring and early summer, but also down in Denver, which he said helped to keep demand low.
Due to extremely low demands in the Denver Water service area, the Roberts Tunnel that sends water down to the Denver metro area was closed from May 12 to July 17, which helped support the rafting season and kept the reservoir full.
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At one point in the summer, a massive downed log fell across the Blue River creating a life-threatening hazard to rafters and prompting the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to close the river to all watercraft on June 19.
The log appeared to have brought an early end to the rafting season, though the Blue River still flowed strong. The season was saved when a local towing company, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and rafting enthusiasts came together to haul the log from the river.
The Dillon Reservoir was full and spilling from June 14 to Aug. 10. Denver Water was able to meet and exceed, its goal of maintaining the reservoir elevation of 9,012 feet from June 18 to Labor Day, which also allowed both the Dillon and Frisco marinas to be fully operational.
As of mid-October, the reservoir was 91% full, according to Denver Water. With an El Nino year on the horizon, Denver Water said in its newsletter that it is looking forward to another potentially record-setting year in 2024.
The high reservoir levels heading into next year could be a good sign for another season of rafting on the Blue River, Foley said. And perhaps the El Nino year will also help stave off drought and keep the river flowing for next season, he said.
“We sure hope so. We always remain optimistic that we will have a good snowpack year,” Foley said. “Obviously there are a lot of factors out there. But if conditions are fairly normal with a solid snowpack we’re hoping for the Blue season of 2024.”