While this recent snow storm has helped the state's snowpack, in many places it is still below normal, which could hurt the upcoming rafting season.
Tom Kleinschnitz has been rafting the rivers of Colorado and Utah for 35 years. He has seen his fair share of low seasons and has always gone with the flow. "I found my clients over the years, families are not looking for that monster waters," says Kleinschnitz. According to the Colorado River Outfitters Association, last year, rafting brought in about 1.44 million dollars to the states tourism economy. "It's an important piece that makes Colorado different from any other state," says Kleinschnitz. This year, the state's snowpack could take a chunk out of that number.
The snowpack is ten percent below average, with some basins in the north central mountains at 20 percent below average. This means stream flows are also expected to be low when rafters start heading out onto the water. "Some of the upper regions will have some challenges and maybe some shorter seasons," says Kleinschnitz.
The El Nino winter has pushed the bulk of the snow to the southern parts of the state, favoring the San Juans, causing the Upper Colorado basin to fall short. "As a result the southern mountains are 100% while the northern mountains are around the 70–80% range," says Meteorologist, Mike Chamberlain. The Green River, which feeds in to the Colorado is even further behind. "The upper and lower Green river is in the 50–60% range," says Chamberlain.
The lower snowpack means lower river levels for most of the state, causing outfitters to make adjustments from their larger rafts to stay afloat. "We might scale down that boat a little as we have a lower than normal stream flow," says Kleinschnitz. The rafting season here on the western slope 'is' expected to run its regular length. Some areas like Westwater actually benefit from weak flows. "In really high water it gets a little too easy, it washes out," says Kleinschnitz.
Rivers in the southern part of the state are already flowing as normal. While Grand Junction is looking to see sunshine as early as tomorrow, the higher elevations, are expecting snow straight through to next Wednesday. "The northern mountains will do a little better out of this storm,"says Chamberlain. With some areas seeing accumulations of up to two feet. Which might not bring them back to normal, but every inch helps.