Colorado’s rivers are experiencing some of the lowest levels ever recorded. However, the drought has not affected one river. Guides and children bob along with water as it splashes into their inflatable rafts.
Northeastern Colorado’s summer activity on Cache La Pue River reflects the fragile state of rivers and lakes in dry areas. Rafting and boating enthusiasts are eager to take advantage of the remaining oases, and businesses are trying to survive a drought.
Kyle Johnson, who runs Rocky Mountain Adventures whitewater rafting company has been booked seven days a weeks and said, “Anytime that you make your livelihood off Mother Nature, you definitely partners with a pretty turbulent environmental.”
Johnson stated that the surge in river rafting is a result of the “redemption” from last year’s rafting season which was cut short due to the wildfires and pandemic. However, the river’s healthy water levels may not last for long. Johnson mentions that the drought could also end this season early.
Savannah House, a Fort Collins resident, said that it was a bittersweet feeling, given the extreme conditions found in other parts.
People who depend on streams and rivers for their livelihoods struggled for years with the warmer, dryer weather caused by climate change.
Due to rising temperatures, the mountain snowpack has been less reliable and is now dwindling. This snowpack normally drains from high elevations to replenish water levels. The water that does trickle down will be more likely to reach the river than the dry, thirsty ground. This is a problem many areas have been experiencing for years.
Karl Wetlaufer (a federal hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service) said that “we really are seeing the effect of the dry conditions last years impacting all our watersheds, water resources.”
The heat wave that is currently sweeping the region is causing serious concerns. It has even affected simple recreational activities that were once considered routine.
Because of below-average snowpack, increasing dry soil and hot, dry springs, the Yampa River in northwest Colorado has some of its lowest stream flows ever recorded. The river’s recreational hub of Steamboat Springs has seen rafting and kayaking end a few weeks back. Fishing and tubing may soon cease if the water drops further.
“We know that the climate is changing to a warmer and drier future since 2002, when the mega-drought began. The future is now,” stated Kent Vertrees of Friends of the Yampa. The Walton Family Foundation has provided funding for the conservation group, which supports The Associated Press’ coverage on water and environmental policy.
Conservation groups and water agencies developed a way to release water from an upper reservoir in order to alleviate the situation. Vertrees stated that this helped to “keep the fish alive, cool the river and increase oxygen levels in the river.”
To shade the river and cool it when it is low, cottonwood trees were also planted. It is not clear how these measures will affect water levels.