From mega-drought to massive snowpack, the Colorado River has been in the news a lot lately! It’s an incredibly complex and dynamic situation, but how does it all impact upcoming Grand Canyon river trips? Surprisingly, less than you think. The vast majority of the snowpack will melt into the Upper Basin of the Colorado River and flow into Lake Powell, which backs up behind Glen Canyon Dam. The dam sits just 15 miles upstream from where all Grand Canyon river trips begin – Lees Ferry. The Bureau of Reclamation controls how much water is released through the dam to flow through the Grand Canyon.
Here’s the simple answer about how your trip will be impacted.
Even prior to the epic snowfall, projected releases from the dam were only slightly lower than in previous seasons, which would have a minimal effect on your experience. With the increased water flowing into Lake Powell this season, it’s possible that the Bureau may now release near-normal amounts. Either way, the 2023 rafting season will look much like it has in recent years. Your river guides navigate rapids differently depending on how much water is in the river, but even if you’ve rafted the Grand Canyon before, your ride through the tumultuous waves will feel much the same.
One change you may notice is a warmer river temperature. In 2022, the river was between 45-63 degrees during our rafting season. In 2023, those temperatures were about 55-70 degrees. This may not sound like much, but it’s very noticeable to our repeat guests. Thankfully, the river water is still chilly enough to help you keep cool during the intense heat of the Arizona summer, and bathing is a bit more pleasant because it’s easier to stay in the river for a few minutes. There is one drawback, however. We chill sodas and beer in drag bags in the river, and they are noticeably warmer also. Check out our BYOB blog for more info.
Bureau of Reclamations projects< that water levels being released through the Glen Canyon Dam to the Colorado River will remain near-normal for the 2024 season. Great news for river rafters!
Make no mistake; one good winter certainly doesn’t solve the West’s long-standing drought. But we are thankful to see the canyon look, well, grand. We can’t wait to see you on the river!
For more information about how the Bureau determines release flows, check out this previous blog post which explains the challenges of balancing vast amounts of data with a multi-state river law from 1922.