Keeping a keen eye on the Colorado River

Only a fish watches the Colorado River closer than angling guide Jack Bombardier.

Bombardier and his wife, Terena, live in and work out of their home a double-haul from the Colorado, a few miles downstream of Burns.

A double-haul, that is, when the river isn’t advancing up the front lawn at full gallop, driven by advancing snowmelt.

Bombardier (, 970-524-1440) recently shared a few thoughts on spring along the Colorado River from his entertaining blog, Jack’s Mountain Blog.

The section of the Upper Colorado River that I live and guide on is usually a pretty mellow section to float, with only a couple of rapids and bridges to navigate.

Once the level gets over 5,000 cubic feet per second, though, it’s a different story. The sheer volume of the water creates numerous fun waves and wave trains, and the whole trip from Derby Junction to my backyard takes half the time it normally does.

When river levels rise, so does the speed of the water, which is why a river’s height doesn’t double when its cfs does.

Cubic feet per second is a measure of a river’s volume and not height. Because it’s moving faster, there is more total water volume traveling past any given point on the river without being twice as high.

It’s one reason that I like to look at cfs numbers instead of the gauge height figures most USGS gauges also display.

The gauge height number will vary from one part of the river to another, depending on how wide the river channel is and the gradient.

A rise of four feet in the narrow section of Jack Flats upriver would probably be only a foot and a half at my house, where the river channel is a hundred yards wide.

In 2011, I didn’t know if I’d still have a house to live in by summer, let alone what it would do to the fishing. Turns out that they both did just fine.

The Upper Colorado River is in many ways one of the most drought-proof and flood-proof rivers in the state or even the U.S.

Since the river is the lifeblood of the southwest, there are a lot of local, regional and even international commitments that ensure some water flowing all the time.

There are several storage options upriver that can be used to manage the flow here, but all are more than 50 miles away.

The river usually has more water in it down here than one might think, because of all the little streams between here and the nearest gauge upstream in Kremmling.


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