A wealth of water

Abundant snow in high country means more water in reservoirs

A family of Canada geese has much of Crawford Reservoir to itself Sunday morning as the weekend crowds were slow to appear. With plenty of snow still remaining in the high country above the reservoir, the forecast is for the reservoir to fill.

A look up Anthracite Creek past its confluence with Muddy Creek just below Paonia Reservoir.  The snowy peak of Mount Gunnison is on the horizon.

The Smith Fork of the Gunnison River is diverted near Crawford to feed Crawford Reservoir, which is rising at nearly 5 feet per week. Recent years of drought and low water haven’t been kind to the reservoir, which is the main attraction at Crawford State Park, a popular destination for anglers and other outdoor recreationists.

CRAWFORD STATE PARK — On a recent Sunday, Canada goose goslings here outnumbered anglers 3-1.

Except for a few fishermen scattered along the bank and a solitary kayaker paddling a canary yellow open-water craft across the choppy water, there was little to disturb the goslings, several of which paddled quietly between the adults bookending them to safety.

The quiet day, being a Sunday, and Easter Sunday at that, probably was but a brief interlude at the reservoir, a popular spot for anglers and campers.

It likely will be even more popular this year, if forecasts of a surfeit of water come true.

Abundant snow in the surrounding mountains, much of which remains after recent storms, signals a return to the years when water levels didn’t drop until late-summer irrigation demands required some drawdown.

After a few days of warm weather, some of that snow already is headed into the 400-acre reservoir.

“The reservoir is rising at about 5 feet week,” said Kelly Beauchamp, administrative assistant for the park and regular weekend staffer, leaning out to check a visitor’s parks pass. “It was coming up about a foot and a half week a month ago, so the runoff has really picked up.”

She leaned farther and eyed the snow still covering Land’s End and the peaks beyond.

“There’s still a lot of snow to come down,” she mused. “If the weather gets hot ...”

There is plenty of water everywhere.

The North Fork of the Gunnison River at mid-day Sunday was brown and roiled and running at close to 2,750 cubic feet per second, high enough a couple of rafters had parked their inflatables below the bridge at Hotchkiss.

Coming or going, “It’s going to be a fast ride,” yelled one of the boaters, eyeing the turbulent flows.

Even Paonia Reservoir, drawn down last year to help in a fish removal pro-ject, is said to be coming up, although as of Monday the reservoir was only 4 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s data.

The Smith Fork of the Gunnison was carrying much of the snowmelt, the diversion into the reservoir spitting enough water through the culvert under Colorado Highway 92 to boil the reservoir and push bits of old trees through the inlet.

The promise of high water, or any water, if you remember the reservoir levels of the recent past when one had to drive a ways out on the old highway grade to wet a line, should please the local anglers and the many visitors who use the park’s two campgrounds as stopping-off points for adventures here and elsewhere.

“We’re usually pretty busy, especially on weekends,” Beauchamp said. “If you’re going to stay here in July or August, you might want to have reservations.”

Downstream, where all this water may eventually wind up, Lake Powell has shown some life, reports Utah fisheries biologist Wayne Gustaveson.

“Lake Powell water level increased a fraction of an inch this week,” Gustaveson wrote in an email. “It wasn’t much but it is a step in the right direction.”

Here is what Gustaveson said about rising water levels and warmwater fish, such as bass and crappie, both of which are found in Crawford along with perch, northern pike and rainbow trout:

“Bass and crappie both spawn in two to three of water so the tumbleweeds will provide some protection as spawning begins. That will improve as the lake rises and covers more weeds.”

Substitute the “vegetation” in Crawford for the “tumbleweeds” in Lake Powell and you have an idea of where to fish as the waters rise and warm to 62-64 degrees.

That could be a month or so off, depending on the speed of runoff and the day temperatures.

So much snow yet remains in the high country that several ski resorts, including Crested Butte, are extending their seasons for this weekend. It’s the first time in that resort’s history that it has re-opened after closing for the spring, according to a resort spokesperson.


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