Blue River will see commercial rafting operations for a short period of time, a unique opportunity not seen since 2019
The Dillon Reservoir is officially full as of Friday, June 17, and above-average rainfall this spring is bringing a unique opportunity not seen since 2019 in Summit County.
On June 16, 2021, outflow into the Blue River from Dillon Reservoir remained steady at 55 cubic feet per second, which is equivalent to 411 gallons flowing from the lake every second. That’s nearly enough water to fill 18 standard hot tubs every minute.
On Friday, roughly ten times that amount of water was flowing into the Blue River, which is nearly enough water to fill two cement trucks with water every second, 4,166.65 gallons per second to be exact.
Denver Water expects the rate of water to increase steadily over the coming days to levels well above 500 cubic feet per second, the common level that supports commercial rafting operations, and officials expect the flows to remain above that threshold for more than two weeks, a feat not seen since 2019.
Within three days, Denver Water says forecasts call for the rate to double to more than 1,200 cubic feet per second, and rafting guides across Summit County are preparing to get visitors and locals out on Summit County’s only commercial whitewater area.
“When it’s running, there are a lot of local people that love the run. … Since it’s right in our backyard, so to speak, it’s very accessible, and it’s a very fun run,” Performance Tours Rafting president Kevin Foley said. “It’s a really nice Class 3, moderate-level whitewater trip, and what that means — loosely translated — is it’s going to be exciting but won’t be overwhelming. Your background scenery is the Gore Range in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Area, so it’s a spectacular trip. It really is.”
With warmer weather and blue skies expected to hit Sunday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina, snowmelt is expected to pick up in the coming days. With the snowpack sitting at 200% of the 30-year median and following an above-average winter in terms of precipitation, flows could hit above 1,800 cubic feet per second, bringing the chance for at least three weeks of raftable conditions on the stretch of river leading from Silverthorne north to Heeney and into Grand County.
Foley and his wife has been running Performance Tours Rafting for 37 years now out of Breckenridge, and he said the Blue River has fluctuated every year since the Dillon Reservoir controls the amount of water sent downstream. A major source of the Front Range’s water supply, the reservoir has been under high demand in recent years due to widespread drought in the region up until late last year.
“What we’ve seen over the years is a pretty wide spectrum,” Foley said. We’ve had seasons where we don’t operate at all. We’ve had seasons where we’ve operated well into mid-August and everything in between, so we’re always excited when we have raftable flows on the Blue. When we have a longer season, obviously, we’re more excited about that, just because you get four or five weeks out of it, and people love it.”
Thanks to persistent, above-average precipitation in 2022, Summit County’s drought status was lifted in September 2022, and near-record precipitation this spring in Denver has cut down demand dramatically, causing Denver Water to allow the reservoir to “fill and spill” since it has reached capacity.
The Green Mountain Reservoir, which is downstream of Dillon Reservoir, is expected to fill in late June, leading to increased flows on the Blue River all the way up to the confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling. Outflows from the Green Mountain Reservoir will reach between 500 and 1,500 cubic feet per second from mid-June to mid-July.
“Thanks to an abundance of precipitation on the Front Range this spring, cities and irrigators are using less water from transbasin diversions and water managers have prioritized filling east slope reservoirs with water available from rivers on the Front Range,” Bureau of Reclamation eastern Colorado area manager Jeffery Rieker said in a statement. “As a result, many east slope reservoirs have filled, and additional water will remain in the Colorado River.”
According to U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer David Boyd, five companies have permits to operate rafting on the Blue River: Performance Rafting Tours in Breckenridge (PerformanceTours.com), Kodi Rafting in Frisco (WhitewaterColorado.com), Arkansas Valley Adventures in Breckenridge (ColoradoRafting.net), Colorado Rafting Company in Silverthorne (ColoradoRaftingCompany.com) and The Adventure Company in Buena Vista (TheAdventureCompany.com).
If another spell of rainy weather descends on Summit County, Foley recommends folks seek out morning reservations since the summer monsoon season typically brings storms after noon.