Published May 18, 2017 11:22 am

Rafting • With water levels running high, the whitewater season promises to be one of the best in recent memory.

This is an archived article that was published on in 2017, and the information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Rafting expedition companies are gearing up for a big season, with water running high on Utah’s rivers and tributaries. Holiday River Expeditions is able to offer trips on the Dolores River in Colorado, pictured, for the first time in 20 years. Courtesy Holiday River Expeditions

As one storm after another rolled into Utah this winter, rafting enthusiasts probably guessed they’d be in for a banner spring of fun.

But now, with the melt in full force, Utah’s whitewater lovers are realizing Utah is having a season unlike few others in the past.

“It’s definitely not your average water year in Utah,” said Lauren Wood, a guide and granddaughter of the founders of Holiday River Expeditions. “There has been so much snow, this is an exceptional year.”

Heather Patno, a hydraulic engineer with the Green River Operations for the Upper Colorado Region, Bureau of Reclamation, said the region is seeing historic numbers.

Normally, Flaming Gorge Reservoir receives 908,000 acre-feet from April through July.

The previous two high marks were in 1997 when it received 1.67 million acre-feet, and in 1986, when it received 2.2 million acre-feet.

This year, engineers are forecasting 2.26 million acre-feet.

“We are at 231 percent above average,” Patno said. “We received significant amounts of snow last fall that saturated the soil up there and then froze. In mid-January we saw significant storms come through the system so it has made for the biggest year of snowpack and runoff for the upper Green.”

The power plant started running at full capacity in early March and was increased to full bypass releases on March 30 to accommodate the water.

Normally the spring peak is around May 27, but Patno is estimating the current releases will remain through May and into June.

“There is a lot of water,” she said.

What all this means for rafters is some unique opportunities.

Wood said her company was able to offer trips on the Dolores River in Colorado for the first time in 20 years with water levels averaging 2,000 to 4,000-plus in cubic feet of water per second.

The 33-mile route was a must-do before McPhee Dam was built in 2000, decreasing water levels to the point planning commercial trips was difficult.

This year was different.

“It’s exciting to be able to run this,” Wood said. “We’ve never known if it was going to be runnable again.”

The Green River through Lodore Canyon is also running strong with the 8,000 CFS flow expected to continue, while the Yampa river and Cataract Canyon section of the Colorado through Canyonlands National Park will deliver big thrills, too.

Of course, the big thrills do come with cautions.

Jen Callantine, co-owner of Dinosaur River Expeditions in Vernal, said the number of rescues goes up in years of high water.

“Everything gets bigger in years like this,” she said. “If you are experienced, it is probably OK, just make sure the kids have good life jackets and you have a good game plan. But if it is your first or second time, it’s a different beast for sure.”

The good news is there is still time to plan adventures and plan correctly with safety in mind.

“What we are hoping to see is a nice, long high-water season,” Wood said. —