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How Will California’s Drought Affect Rafting in 2014? (Hint: Dam-Controlled Rivers are Just Fine)

January 17th, 2014 Malina

AORafting_UpperSF_2014Problematic Precipitation!?

If you’ve been anywhere near a computer, TV, radio, or even–gasp–a newspaper lately, you’re probably thinking “I hope rafters love the smell of napalm in the morning, cuz that’s the biggest thrill they’re gonna get this summer.”

Our Saving Grace:

Ah, but not so fast, my cinematic friends, don’t hit the panic button yet.  It’s true this is a dry winter.  Very dry indeed.  And no, we’re not excited by the numbers anymore than you are. But here’s the thing.  Rafting in 2014 is going to be fine.  Because rivers in California tend to have a LOT of dams on them, and that is a big saving grace in years like this.  It’s a little awkward for tree-huggers like us because dams aren’t perfect, but in a drought year they are pretty much……well, they save our bootys!  And they mean you will have a lot of fun on the river this summer.

Prognosis For Dam-Controlled Rivers: No Worries!

For dam-controlled rivers, things are “no worries.” No need for concern about South and Middle Fork American trips, or the Tuolumne and Cherry Creek.  The reservoirs above these rivers have enough water to be in fine shape.  And, because of agreements with utilities like SMUD, the water they release anyway for power generation will be released at the times we need it to take you rafting.  So, even if there isn’t a single storm between now and June, trips on these rivers are protected.  That means: four rivers, class II-V, one to three-day trips, no problem. Whew!

Prognosis for Free-Flowing Rivers: Wait and See!AORafting_upperSF_2014

We’re taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to rivers without dams, like the North Fork of the American.  Without massive reservoirs upstream, rivers like the North Fork are dependent on snowmelt, so without a good snowpack, its season will be very short, or may not happen at all.  But, just a storm or two (and there is still time for that to happen) could dump enough snow to give us what we need.  So, we wait and see!  Like Gandalf says, there’s always hope.

The Bottom Line:

We would love to see a few great storms hit the mountains–not just for us, but for farmers, for ranchers, for reservoirs, for fish, for washing dishes–before the end of the winter.  If we do, we’ll get to visit all of our favorite rivers this year.  But if we don’t, if we don’t get even one more storm, we will still be able to raft on four rivers that between them run the gamut from mellow float trips to incredible class V challenge.  That’s pretty cool–you had me at hello on that one!

Now, before I mix anymore cinematic metaphors I’ll sign off with the promise that we’ll keep you updated as the winter continues.  Until then, pray for snow people, pray for snow!

(Photos: The Upper South Fork near Kyburz in December of 2013)

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