Two days on the Colorado River

Nov 04, 2022 by Alexandra Nicolopoulos
3 Minute Read
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Upstream Tech teammates Alexandra and Miles take us down the Colorado River while contemplating the application of HydroForecast along the way.

Last weekend I went paddling down the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon in Utah with Miles, our Customer Success Manager for Lens. The first day of paddling was mostly what we call flat water, a calm, easy stretch with minimal rapids. It was a beautiful sunny day, the sky was a crisp blue and we floated past the colors of the changing season. 

That night while we were eating dinner at camp, it started to rain. We rushed to put everything away, ran straight to our tents and went to bed. It poured through the night, and with the continuous sound of raindrops hitting my rainfly, I caught myself wondering how the rain would impact the river and the rapids we would be paddling through the next day. 

Gradients and rocks in the river form rapids, which create various hydraulic scenarios. Rapids can vary greatly in difficulty based on the flow rate – exposed rocks and boulder gardens can turn into massive waves, and a class III rapid can become a class IV. The impact that a weather system will have on a river and its rapids is dependent on a variety of factors, like the length of the storm, how hard it’s raining, soil characteristics, vegetation cover, and more. Higher flows can often mean a more challenging trip. There were 11 named rapids on this section of river, and the crux of the section is a rapid named Skull, either a class III or IV depending on the flow rate.

Source: unknown.

Here at Upstream, I work with customers that use our model, HydroForecast, which predicts streamflow. One of my favorite things is learning how different customers use our forecasts. Our model has a variety of different use cases: from hydropower operations, water supply planning, and flood control, the list goes on! During the downpour, I couldn’t help but think how helpful it’d be to use HydroForecast for planning a river trip. The flow rate of a river is one of the first things you research when you embark down a section of river and, the farther out you plan, the harder it is to know what that will be.


The next morning, it was still raining, and we noticed that the water level rose a few inches overnight, at least. We started down the river, paddling through a rainy haze, which then turned into snow – a stark difference from the day before. We were slowly but surely making it through the rapids, even though they had some surprisingly big hydraulics. A couple of the rapids tossed me out of my small packraft and even flipped one of our larger rafts. It was intense.

We scouted Skull, the hardest rapid on this section of river. Taking a look made me way more nervous to go down it. From the scout location you could see there’s a massive hydraulic hole right in the center of the rapid that is known to flip rafts. We all sent it down and thankfully, we all made it through safely – high fiving and cheering on the other side. Another river trip in the books down the mighty Colorado River! 

I’m not sure if river runners will ever be a main customer base of HydroForecast, but it sure would be of use to them. I’m excited about all the different applications that HydroForecast has, and I can’t wait to watch our product grow and expand. Visit our website or get in touch with our team if you’d like to learn more about HydroForecast and how it could assist you and your organization.

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