Colorado River to peak this weekend

Flows are ‘cold and swift’

Runoff from Pack Creek left part of Sunny Acres Lane underwater on Monday, June 10, further bolstering the already heavy flow of the Colorado River, which is flowing at twice the usual rate for this time of year. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Based on historical averages, the Colorado River typically peaks near Moab during the first week of June. This year the river is projected to peak later; a forecast from the National Weather Service showed the river could reach its maximum on June 15.

Regardless of whether the peak is already behind, the river is high this year. On Monday, June 10, the United States Geological survey measured nearly 40,000 cubic feet of water per second flowing through the Colorado near Cisco, roughly twice the average for this time of year. The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory for the Colorado River near the Utah/Colorado state line in Mesa and Grand counties.

This graphic shows the forecast for the Colorado River levels near Cisco, as of 5:17 p.m. local time on Thursday, June 13. The live forecast is available on the National Weather Service website. Graphic courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Farther upstream, the National Weather Service issued a flood advisory on June 11 between Grand Junction and the Utah state line as a result of the river nearing flood levels that morning.“ Minor low land flooding is expected with impacts along recreation trails already being experienced,” the Weather Service said in its flood advisory statement. “Water levels and flows along the Colorado River in Mesa and Grand counties will continue to increase due to the recent warm trend. River levels will stay high through the week…The water is swift, [it is] cold and contains debris and snags. Know your limits if recreating on or near the Colorado. A life jacket and proper equipment is a must. Smaller tributaries in the area are also running fast and cold.”

Down the river, the water has been higher than typical, but not a danger to areas in the floodplain. At its peak, the U.S. Geological Survey gauged the height of the river near Cisco to be over 14 feet this week.

“If recreating or working in or near high flow waterways, use appropriate safety gear,” the Weather Service said. “Unstable banks along fast moving waterways may quickly give way and should be avoided.”

Between June 2 and June 9, Grand County Search and Rescue reported that they were involved with four river rescues on the Moab Daily section of the Colorado River.

“River safety is always a paramount concern,” said Jennifer Jones, assistant field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Moab Field Office. “Flows on the Colorado, Green, Dolores Rivers are all extremely high, so please be aware of hazards associated with high water and implement good river safety measures, including: always wearing a life jacket, scout out the river before running it, check on river flows before you go out, and boat with others making sure everyone is prepared with sufficient gear to assist one another,” Jones said.

Local Colorado River tributaries are also higher than typical for this time of year. Near the head of the Dolores River, the USGS measured the location’s highest instantaneous flow since 1987 at 4,360 cfs.

At Mill Creek, before the Sheley Diversion that flows into Ken’s Lake, a gauge measured an average flow rate of 88 cfs on June 8, three times the daily average for the same time of year.

As high as the waters may seem this week, they are far from a record for the area, which had much heavier flows historically due to a lack of damming upstream. In one day in 1884, more water flowed past Moab than the city has used since January 2000.

According to the USGS, the highest flow rate on record for the Colorado River at the gauging location near Cisco, just after the Dolores River junction, was measured on July 4, 1884. The flow rate that Independence Day was measured to be 125,000 cfs.