Here we go for 2015!
Not much snow pack out there for the Colorado River Basin to utilize, but we’re starting to see the effects of snow melt from this past warming trend. In the last few days we have seen a rise of about 10,000 cfs, which is impressive by anyone’s standards.
What is cfs
Well, that is a measurement of water flow that we use quite a bit out here on our fat, desert rivers. Cubic feet per second or “cfs” relates to how much water is moving thru a designated, measured flow section on the river. One way the USGS calculates this information uses a suspended cable car over the river that a hydrographer could move along the cable to designated markers and then send a current meter gauge into the water; with the information they get from this they can calculate how much water is moving thru that flow section.
Here’s a Visual for ya: 1 cubic foot measures about the size of a basketball. So visualize the site of 10,000 basketballs moving across a line per second. Impressive, right? They don’t call it the ‘Mighty Colorado’ for nothing.
Where to find river measurements
Nowadays most streamflow measurements in the Colorado River Basin are calculated thru automated gauging stations, and that information can be viewed online. When you click on the river dots on that site you’ll see that they post a forecast for the upcoming 10 days, and as with any ‘forecast’ information, you have to take it with a wee bit of salt. A forecast can supply useful information to give boaters an idea of what the rapids might be doing, how many of the beaches are showing for camping options, and how fast you might be able to float a particular section of river (Westwater Canyon, Fisher Towers, etc.).
What does cfs tell you about runs on the Colorado
The rule of thumb would be that the higher the cfs, the faster the river flow and the bigger the rapids would be in a given section. I say ‘rule of thumb’ because, when you get to a more narrow section of the river, such as Westwater Canyon, you actually get a bit more punch when the water is lower due to the fact that it is then closer to the bottom of the river & closer to the rocks. At higher flows, some of the rapids can be considered ‘washed out’, but even at high water that run is still lots of fun! Then you have the more open, wider kind of river channel that you’ll find in Cataract Canyon and as the water comes up it covers the huge rocks in the river bottom and the waves get bigger, and bigger, and bigger; truly world class whitewater!
High water flows in the Southeast Utah area historically happen anywhere between May 15 and June 15 as the snow melts out of the Rocky Mountains. And with these past few spring snow storms, perhaps that will help sustain our higher flows for a bit; fingers crosed.
See You on the River!