Record Water Year in Store for West


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Get your high-water boats out. From Colorado to California, record snowpack is fueling the biggest water season paddlers have seen in decades, and in some places the biggest ever on record. A PL rundown of where it’s all going to spike…

John Denver had it right with his Rocky Mountain High…only this year, it relates to high water.

On May 3, Colorado’s Buff Pass near Steamboat Springs, which feeds the Yampa River, clocked in at 72.6 inches of water in its snowpack, 240 percent of average and setting a new record for the entire state. The figure eclipses the 71.1 inches of water mark set in 1978. “It’s an all-time record for any snow-measuring site in Colorado,” says state conservationist Allen Green. “Even the old-timers have never seen some of the depths measured across northern Colorado this month.”

“It’s a remarkable year,” adds snow survey supervisor Mike Gillespie. “It’s going to be high runoff pretty much everywhere.”

Those flows will cascade down the Yampa and Elk rivers, eventually contributing to a gigantic year in Cross Mountain Canyon and Yampa Canyon through Dinosaur National Monument downstream.

Other parts of the state were equally creamed this year by Mother Nature. The Loveland ski area finished the year just three inches shy of its most snow ever; Copper Mountain, which drains into Tenmile Creek, the Blue and Gore Canyon, set a new record for snowfall; and Cameron Pass, which feeds Class V Big South Fork of the Poudre and Poudre drainage, has snowpack measuring 48 inches of water, crushing the previous record of 42.5 inches set in 1971.

The only area in the state not to get hit huge is the southern portion, with the Rio Grande drainage sitting at just 72 percent of average.

California Dreaming

Cali is also the place to be this year.

“It’s the best ever year we’ve ever had as far as snow depth,” says Gregg Armstrong of AOR Rafting, a guru for water flow statistics. “The last time we had a water year like this was in 1998, when the final episode of Seinfeld aired on NBC, and the founders of Google were at Stanford figuring out a better search engine for the Internet.”

When compared with the previous 35 years, the state tied for third place as far as water content, sitting at 165% of average on April 1 and 180% on May 1. “We are already seeing amazing flows on California rivers,” says Armstrong, adding that the Merced drainage is leading the charge. “As weather warms, flows will continue to increase until they reach a climax in mid-May and last through the middle of June or longer. As the summer progresses, flows will remain higher and flow longer into the fall. We have twice as much water stored in snow (water content) compared to this same time last year, which was another great year.”

“We actually gained ground in April as it stayed cold and kept the snowpack and water content intact,” he adds.

On April 26, northern California was clocking in at 205% of average as far as water content (46 inches of water, compared to 39 inches in 2010), with the central part of the state coming in at 176% and southern California 165%.
Info: ; (800) 247-2387; .

Elsewhere in the West

California and Colorado are far from alone in seeing shopping runoff. The whitewatwer hotbed of Idaho is registering snowpack at 125 – 190% of average across the state, fueling an epic season on such runs as the Payette system, Salmon drainage and others. Researches predict up to 250% of average streamflow in some parts of the state, adding that it’s at or near record levels in eastern Idaho as well as the upper Snake River Basin in Wyoming.

With the ski resort of Snowbird setting an all-time snow record, Utah, meanwhile, is currently at 200% of average, fueling a big year for Southwest desert canyon runs. Led by a strong La Nina pattern, Montana is also reveling in runoff, clocking in at levels not seen for years.

“It’s pretty much going to be epic everywhere across the West, especially in the northern sections,” says longtime kayaker Steve Conlin. “I think I’ll use my floatbags this season.”


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