High Waters Pose Risk to Anglers, Boaters
The Colorado Division of Wildlife is urging anglers to take extra precautions on the water as rising temperatures and deep snowpack make for dangerous runoff conditions in the state.
State flood engineers are predicting that streams and rivers in northern Colorado could experience the highest water levels in 30 years, with the runoff season extending into early July. Flood warnings have already been posted for numerous streams and rivers in the northwest region and forecasters are warning that seasonably high temperatures this week will cause flows to ramp up quickly on both sides of the Continental Divide.
"This weekend, we expect the highest water so far this year," said Kevin Houck, a flood engineer with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. "There may be a cooler period next week, but then it's very likely the water will go back up and we may see a second peak that's higher than the first."
Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins of Steamboat said while stream and river angling won't be optimal, many anglers will tempt their luck fishing streams that have spilled over their banks. With the high water, the contours of even familiar streams and rivers may not be recognizable, setting up the unwary anglers for an unexpected dunking.
"I've seen guys wading into shallow water step right off the bank of the stream not knowing it was there and be totally submerged," Haskins said. "In a year like this, it pays to be extra, extra careful."
Once in the water, even fit anglers can be quickly overmatched by the supercharged currents, cold water temperatures and submerged debris like tree trunks and shifting boulders - all of which can create life-threatening conditions.
Houck said that hydrologists predict Colorado River flows will peak at about 50,000 cubic feet per second, about 50 percent higher than last year.
Conditions are not likely to be as extreme in the southern part of the state, where snowpack is near or slightly above average in the Arkansas, San Juan and Dolores basins and right at average in the Rio Grande drainage.
However to the north, snowpack in the South Platte basin, which waters the Denver-metro area and northeastern Colorado, is at a remarkable 323 percent of average for the date. Snowpack in the Gunnison, Yampa and Colorado River basins - all popular with anglers - ranges between 230 percent and 284 percent of average. Statewide, Colorado's snowpack sits at 247 percent of average for the date.
Ken Kehmeier, the Northeast Region senior aquatic biologist said that the long duration of the runoff may frustrate fly-fishermen waiting for low, clear water, but flows like these are important to the long-term health of trout streams.
"These sorts of years have the ability to reinvigorate the stream channel by moving sediment, cleansing substrates, putting water and sediment into riparian areas," Kehmeier said. "From that standpoint, these are great years to have. They'll do good things for fish in years to come."
For more information on boating and water safety, please see://parks.state.co.us/Boating/BoatingSafety/Pages/BoatingSafetyHome.aspx.