High water flows against bridge supports on the Colorado River.

Recreational dangers increase as water levels rise

May 23, 2023

In Garfield County, the Colorado River is reaching peak water flows. The Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers follow closely behind. These extreme conditions will continue over the next four to six weeks as the snow in the high country melts and water flows to the valley floors. This is great news for us in Colorado and along the Colorado River, and for those downstream who have been experiencing below average precipitation and run-off over the last several years. Many of our reservoirs and those downstream will begin to fill as the snow melts.

Understand these high waters of the Colorado River and contributing streams and rivers are intense with strong undertows and opportunities for even the best and most experienced river runners to find themselves in harm’s way. There are areas of the Colorado River in Garfield County that will reach category four or five during peak run off. Keep yourself and those around you safe. Remember that spring run-off conditions are very different from the quiet fishing waters that you may have experienced last summer or in the early fall.

Wear proper life jackets and head gear before attempting some of these areas. Educate yourself before you go out on the water. Travel with or speak to others who have made these runs, know what to expect. Even the best equipment cannot always protect you.

“Hazards can change day-by-day, including debris and tree snags that can trap people underwater and puncture rafts, dangerous currents, and cold water temperatures that can create dangerous situations for even strong swimmers,” said Colleen Pennington, Glenwood Canyon manager for the White River National Forest.

On May 21, 2023, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, EMTs from Glenwood Fire, and County Coroner Rob Glassmire responded to a tragedy involving a 34 year old male. The male, who was wearing a personal flotation device and a helmet, was rafting with a group of five people, in two rafts. They were on the Colorado River between the Shoshone power plant and Grizzly Creek. Two people went into the river from one of the rafts while they were navigating a rapid. Other members of the group were able to get both of them to shore and begin CPR, unfortunately, only one of the men responded.

“Water levels are predicted to come up even more in the next couple weeks and stay at a high level for over a month,” said Garfield County Emergency Manager Chris Bornholdt. “River safety should be our biggest concern right now. Navigating the river is tricky under normal conditions and when you add 3-4 times the amount of water and speed, things can happen really fast.”

Assure that your watercraft was intended for whitewater travel. Understand the capabilities and limitations of the raft, kayak, canoe, or other watercraft you are using. Enjoy the recreational opportunities our area presents but more importantly, stay safe and be responsible so you can share your stories with family and friends.