Summer is here and people are getting out on the water in Colorado’s Rio Grande Basin. The Basin’s lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and other water bodies offer excellent boating, fishing, and other recreation opportunities for the public to enjoy.
The Rio Grande mainstem is an especially popular destination for boating and offers everything from “float fishing” (fishing from a raft or dory) and whitewater rafting to leisurely float trips on stand-up paddleboards or inner tubes. Boating opportunities on the Rio Grande vary with each section of river. For example, the river between the Town of South Fork and Hanna Lane (County Rd 17) offers world class float fishing while the Rio Grande in Alamosa is the perfect place for a leisurely afternoon tube trip.
Well-built and accessible boat ramps and other access points are critical for recreational boating, and great strides have been made in recent years to improve existing and create new river access infrastructure. For example, in 2019 a recreational playwave, boat ramp, fish habitat features, and safe river access was completed at the Del Norte Riverfront Park. The park provides a formal river recreation area and is enjoyed by residents of Del Norte, San Luis Valley communities, and Valley visitors alike.
Additionally, two boat ramps were constructed along the Rio Grande in Alamosa in 2020. This new river infrastructure enabled the City of Alamosa to host the first annual Rio Trio Adventure Race in 2021, which was a great success and had a significant economic impact on the community. The second annual event is set for June 11, and racers can register athttp://rioraces.com/. Additionally, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently improved three boat ramps within Coller State Wildlife Area by installing concrete blocks for ease of use and to reduce erosion.
The community benefits and positive economic impact of these river access improvements illustrate the value of well-planned and well-built river access. The improvements are a boon for all boaters who enjoy the Rio Grande, especially for Valley communities.
Along with river access, boater safety and hazard mitigation is also important. Low bridges, low head dams (LHDs), fences, and other navigational hazards pose a risk to boaters and it is important to know where hazards exist and plan river trips accordingly. A LHD is a structure built in a river channel, extending fully across the river’s banks. In the Basin, these are built to divert water from a river for irrigation. LHDs are particularly dangerous because they can produce a hydraulic jump, a phenomenon in which water recirculates at the base of the LHD, thereby creating a drowning hazard. Boats (and boaters) can become trapped in a hydraulic jump and, unfortunately, this has resulted in many drownings across the country.
However, state agencies, landowners, and other groups in the Basin are taking steps to mitigate these hazards. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently launched a statewide safety campaign to highlight and raise awareness of the risks associated with LHDs.
Locally, the Rio Grande Canal Water Users Association (RGCWUA) is working with the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and state and local partners on a project to improve recreational safety at the Rio Grande Canal, an irrigation diversion dam just upstream of Del Norte. The dam is dangerous for boaters, especially at high flows, so the RGCWUA is spearheading a project that will result in a new and safe boat portage around the dam. The project also will include robust signage to notify boaters of the hazardous dam and direct them to the portage. When complete, the project will improve public safety and greatly enhance the recreational boating experience on this section of the Rio Grande.
The Del Norte, Alamosa, and Rio Grande Canal projects described above received funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Colorado Water Plan grant program and were supported by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. Each of these projects, along with many others across the Basin, enhance recreational opportunities and make the outdoors more accessible. So, get outside this summer to enjoy the Basin’s exceptional water-based recreational opportunities, and stay safe!
By Daniel Boyes