Colorado: Hunting for whitewater flows in a drought

Collaborative planning helps sustain boating on the Arkansas River

Resource managers are cobbling together a plan to sustain flows for whitewater boating on the Arkansas River. PHOTO COURTESY BUREAU OF RECLAMATION.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite an emerging wave of publicity about the early stages of a major Colorado drought, stakeholders on the Arkansas River say a long-standing collaborative management effort should help salvage a decent boating season on one of the state’s most popular rivers.

“We’re working with the Bureau of Reclamation to figure it out,” said Rob White, park manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “We have a few different ideas … we’re going to meet May 22 and discuss more details,” he said.

A flow management program developed in the 1980s serves as a statewide model for cooperative agreements on how to meet recreational, environmental and municipal and agricultural needs during years when water is in short supply.

White said he’s hopeful the stakeholders will be able to make the agreement work to the benefit of boaters this year.

“What we’re focusing on is, last year, we had high-water advisories that kept commercial rafters and other boaters out of parts of the river. This year, it should be a great time for families, or maybe people who are trying boating for the first time,” he said.

The voluntary flow program was crafted in the 1990’s by what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association.

Administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Flow Program provides water management guidelines that benefit the fishery and provide for whitewater flows in the Arkansas River for recreation users, including commercial outfitters and private boaters, in the spring and summer months.

Meetings throughout the month of May will help determine how much water municipalities and other water managers will be able to contribute to this year’s program.

“We have fun, whitewater recreational opportunities available the entire season this year for families and everyone who loves river adventures,” said Bob Hamel of Arkansas River Tours, an outfitting company.

If you are planning to take a whitewater trip down the Arkansas River, pick a trained and licensed guide. The Arkansas River Outfitters Association,  has a list of expert outfitters and guides and great tips for enjoying whitewater experiences.

Additional information on the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is available at:


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