Colorado rafting businesses adjust to low water levels

Arkansas Rafting Water Levels

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. - With 2018's droughts and last winter’s lack of snow, the Southern Colorado rafting business has been forced to deal with low water levels all throughout rafting season.

Rafting experts in Fremont County along the Arkansas River say low waters haven't hampered business, but the rafting experience has changed, especially when compared to past years.

"This would be my third summer out here," said Joe Roman, a rafting guide for Whitewater Adventure Outfitter. "We've had ‘water years’ the past couple of years, and this one is the opposite." 

Water levels on the Arkansas have been high the past three rafting seasons. Despite the lower waters, business remains steady.

"Our revenue numbers are about exactly the same that they were last year," said Whitewater Adventure Outfitters Owner Tony Keenan. “[The low water level] affects business in some ways. I think the biggest effect is we had fewer people from the Front Range this year because they are a little more knowledgeable of snowpack numbers.”

The low waters are noticeable, and some of the guides say more boats are likely to tip over with shallower waters. 

Many state agencies have taken notice, and have taken action. 

Kennan says the state will add 10,000 acre-feet of water to the river during the summer months to help the rafting business. However, this past summer, various state agencies have added roughly an additional 16,000 acre-feet. Just last Tuesday, Colorado Springs Utilities donated 1,000 acre-feet to keep the waters higher through August.

The increase in water also helps keep the flow of the river moving at an acceptable rate for rafting. Officials say it’s been a struggle to keep the river at about 550 cubic feet per second; the preferred flow is about 750 CFS.

“Cooperation has been extraordinary this year to keep flows at a reasonable recreational experience and at a level that is manageable for our guides to get down river,” said Keenan. 

With just a few weeks left in the rafting season, attention has turned to the winter months. Rafters are keeping their fingers crossed for a lot of packing snow.

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