With water levels on the Arkansas River rising rapidly the last few days, sections of the river have started to become hazardous.
With the increased water, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area issued a high-water advisory for three sections of the Arkansas River, advising people not to boat there. The three sections affected by the advisory are Pine Creek, The Numbers and the Royal Gorge.
“You can still boat those sections, but we advise against it,” Rob White, AHRA park manager, said, adding that commercial rafting companies will usually avoid sections with high-water advisories.
The river’s flow reached 3,240 cubic feet per second near Salida and 3,800 cfs near Wellsville on Monday. On June 3, the flow near Salida was at 1,040 cfs. Part of the reason the flow has risen, in addition to some warm days, is that Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake both have to match their outflow with the inflow.
When the water gets this high, White said, “Everything becomes a little more difficult,” and he advised boaters to adjust their plans accordingly. Class 4 rapids, for instance, become Class 5 rapids, Class 3 become Class 4 rapids and so on.
For private boaters still planning on floating the Arkansas, White recommended never boating alone. He said boaters should be experienced, have run the river before and run it at these levels and have the right gear with them, noting that the water is colder and faster now with the increased runoff.
For novice boaters, White said he strongly recommends going with a commercial company because they know the river and how to adjust to the water levels.
High water also recently closed a section of the Gunnison River from Almont to the Gunnison Whitewater Park. On Monday, it was flowing at 4,420 cfs near Gunnison. White said he talked with officials there, and the reason the sections had to be closed was that boats couldn’t fit under some bridges.
Here, White said, there are a few bridges over the Arkansas, but they’ve been successful at working with landowners to provide alternate routes around the bridges, and he didn’t believe sections of the river would need to be closed.
When the water levels will peak is uncertain, but White said a safe bet is that the peak will come within the next month.
“So much depends on how hot it gets, how long it stays hot and if there’s any rain associated with it,” he said.
In 1995 when the river reached 6,000 cfs, White said the conditions included a cool spring followed by hot days and lots of rain.
In 1957, it reached 9,000 cfs.
“I don’t think we’ll see that,” White said. “We could see 5,000 (cfs) or higher. As long as it stays in the 5,000s, that’s no problem.”
If people are careful, the high flows can be enjoyable.
“Be a little extra vigilant near the river, especially with children,” White said. “It’s a lot of fun right now – we just want people to be prepared for it.”