Thanks to Scott Underwood of Mother Lode River Trips for this snowpack report and 2008 whitewater outlook.
Those of you who have visited Lake Tahoe recently know that something exciting is happening in the Sierras. Whether you were chaining up and crawling along in traffic, hunkered down waiting out a blizzard, sliding over a slope, or like my Dog Charlie, just sitting enjoying it, snow is happening up here! For those of us who are anticipating the spring thaw, the recent snow survey just pegged the water content at 125% of normal. It is going to be a great season for whitewater somewhere on the American River in 2008.
The North, South and Middle Forks of the American River all benefit from one of the heaviest annual snowfalls in the Sierras. Blue Canyon, their primary watershed, averages among the highest annual precipitations in John Muir’s “Range of Light.” Combine this with a system of large reservoirs on the South and Middle Forks of the American and you have the most reliable source of whitewater fun on the West Coast.
In 2006 the Sacramento Municipal Utility District finished a re-licensing process on its Upper American River Project (UARP) on the South Fork that made recreational flows a mandated priority for the first time. What this means is that the snow we are currently enjoying is more than sufficient to provide reliable, exciting flows on the South Fork from Memorial Day to Labor Day—guaranteed! This will be true most years in the fifty-year duration of this license.
The Middle Fork of the American also has a large upstream reservoir, Oxbow, which will also provide reliable flows if the current trends continue. I would be willing to bet a lot on it being a great season, but unlike the South Fork, there is no formal agreement that guarantees it. We will have to wait a bit longer to be absolutely certain.
The North Fork of the American has no reservoirs upstream of the whitewater runs. The melt on the North Fork is notoriously fickle and anyone betting heavily on the outcome now should probably stay away from the gaming tables. Nevertheless, all indications are this river will have a good season too.
What about the other rivers in the Sierra? They need to be addressed on a river-by-river basis depending on the location of their drainage, whether there are large upstream reservoirs or not, etc. Suffice it to say that if the snow keeps falling, it stays cold and the pineapple express doesn’t show up—it looks good.
So if you are interested in boating on the Forks of the American this spring and summer, Mother Nature has just refilled your prescription of aqua-Prozac. Make sure your gear is ready, or call an outfitter to book your reservations, the rate limiting factor is not likely to be water this season!
Scott Underwood, Mother Lode River Trips