Spring Storms Boost Snowpack, Improve 2022 Rafting Outlook

A “Game-changer for the good” for popular whitewater trips in the West 

Angels Camp, Calif. — Spring storms and mild temperatures in several drought-stricken states have dramatically improved the outlook for rafting outfitters as the 2022 whitewater season ramps up in the Western U.S.

“While the early April snow survey measurements in the Western states are typically a fairly good indicator of what we can expect from the upcoming rafting season, April is always a wait-and-see game,” according to Seth Davis, OARS Operations Director. “In below average snowpack years, late season snow storms and cooler temperatures can greatly improve the outlook, and that’s exactly what we are seeing this year for a number of key river basins, especially in California and Idaho.”

In California, the Central Sierra received 76 new inches of fresh snow in April—almost double what the region measured from January through March—plus 10 additional inches so far in May, according to the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab. Because of the late boost to the snowpack, local water management agencies on popular dam-controlled rivers like the American and Tuolumne Rivers are more confident about providing consistent recreational releases for rafting throughout the summer.

“Between Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends, we’ll be able to offer rafting trips six days per week on the South Fork and Middle Fork of the American River, and both rivers should also see reliable flows continuing four days per week through September,” according to Jess Wallstrom, OARS California Regional Manager. “This is better news than we initially received at the start of our rafting season this year, so we’re now gearing up for much busier days ahead.”

In Idaho, the snowpack has improved substantially since April 1. Key river basins like the Salmon jumped from 82 percent to 120 percent of average in recent days and conditions in the Snake River basin improved, as well. “This spring wet weather has been a game-changer for the good,” says Curt Chang, OARS Idaho Regional Manager.

In the Upper Colorado River basin, where the snowpack has already started to diminish and record-low Lake Powell levels have been widely reported, outfitters received positive news recently, too. The Western Area Power Administration has increased its average water release from Flaming Gorge Dam from 850 cfs to 1,800 cfs until further notice, according to Nicole Lavoie, Dinosaur Operations Manager for OARS. While this move is meant to help bring water levels up in drought-stricken Lake Powell, the unanticipated silver lining is solid rafting conditions on the Green River through the Gates of Lodore, Desolation Canyon, and even slightly elevated flows in Cataract Canyon as that additional water makes it way downstream for the foreseeable future.

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