Pete Zimowsky: Low snowpack means more floats on the Boise River

A lack of high water means we can get on the water earlier.

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comMay 9, 2013 

0509 out zimocol

Look closely ahead on the Boise River. Do you see anything? The wind can knock down trees or blow branches into the river. When you’re floating, you have to keep a sharp eye for hazards. This limb is located below the footbridge at ParkCenter.


The Boise River has been flowing at a good canoeing and rafting level for the past couple of weeks.

It's a surprise because we're used to having the river filled to the banks in the spring and having to wait until late June for casual paddling flows.

In big snowpack years, the river can be dangerous to float from February or March until late June or even early July.

I paddled the river several weeks ago and had a good float. Believe me, I watch the flows in the Boise River like an osprey, and any time the flows are right, my wife and I take in an afternoon of paddling.

I get constant flow alerts from the U.S. Geological Service for the Boise River and a bunch of others. I'm a flow geek.

(You can track river flows in real time by going to and clicking on the "Outdoors Resources" link.)

Anyway, flows in the Boise River this spring and summer are going to be lower, so I'm expecting a longer float season than in recent years.


It's all because we have a snowpack 71 percent of normal and lots of room in the upstream reservoirs for water storage.

Heck, Arrowrock Reservoir is only 60 percent full. Lucky Peak Reservoir is 78 percent full and Anderson Ranch Reservoir is at 66 percent.

Since water managers with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation don't expect to release water from the reservoirs for flood control, we are able to get on the Boise River earlier.

Watch out! There will be bumps in the flows.

Besides water for irrigation, the Boise River drainage has to provide for water downstream to increase river flows for salmon.

Baby salmon need high flows to push them downstream to the ocean. That probably means an increase in flows this month, but nothing like the flows for flood control.

Water managers expect the river to be about 1,500 cfs from May 15 to June 1. Then it will go to 800 to 1,000 cfs into August.

To put that in perspective, the river usually flows between 1,000 and 1,500 cfs during summer when people are tubing. My favorite flow in the Boise River is 1,000 cfs. When it gets closer to 1,500 cfs, the flow is faster and pushy. But rafters, tubers and canoeists have normally run it at that flow.

Even though the flows might be good for boating, it doesn't mean the temperature will be good for resting your rump in the water riding a tube. The river temperature this time of year is typically in the low 40s, which is numbingly cold even on a hot, sunny day.


That's also a cautionary note for canoeists or rafters to be properly dressed for the possibility of a cold-water swim. Also wear a life vest, which besides keeping you afloat, keeps you a little warmer in the water.

The other thing about early floating is watching for hazards, such as overhanging trees on the bank, stumps in the middle of the river and logs piled up on bridge abutments.

I did a quick survey of the river a few nights ago and spotted some overhanging branches right below the East ParkCenter Bridge and the footbridge near ParkCenter.

One huge tree branch was blocking the river in a bottleneck above Municipal Park last week. It was cut out, and the run is clear. That's really great because that area always gets floaters in trouble.

The section of the river between Broadway and Capitol bridges has a few overhanging branches that seem to be in the same place every summer.

If you're an experienced canoeists or rafter who can deal with cold water, take advantage of the lower flows in the Boise River.

But when it comes to snowpack, runoff and the weather, anything can happen with river flows.

Double-check them before you launch.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

Statesman writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate Thursday columns. Look for Roger next week.

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