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Jul 08

Rush Hour on the Colorado River

Posted on July 8, 2019 at 10:53 AM by Michael Churchill

What a difference a year makes! This time last year, we were busy putting out information about open burning, fireworks bans and wildfire prevention. It was so hot and dry it seemed the entire state was on fire. In fact, according to the Forest Service, by July last year, 200,000 acres were burning versus 8,000 this year. The tremendous snowfall and wet spring helped get Colorado completely out of drought for the first time in decades. The cool temperatures also slowed the snowmelt which has helped prevent widespread flooding although the water in our rivers and streams is still running high and fast.

Everyone has their own benchmark of water levels. In Rifle, many residents watch the retaining wall right under the I-70 bridge waiting to see if the Colorado River will actually breach the top. It has been getting close in recent days. 

So how fast is it actually going and how much water is there? Since the City of Rifle gets its drinking water from the Colorado River, it makes sense to get these answers from the expert. According to City of Rifle Utilities Director Robert Burns, the current flow is around 21,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) which is 9,424,800 gallons per minute. 

“Roughly five days worth of water treatment flows by every minute,” explains Burns. “That is equivalent to 565,488,000 gallons per hour or 13,571,712,000 gallons per day. From 1998-2018 the City has treated 12,735,842,321 gallons of water. Just to put that in perspective, in one day at current flows there are approximately 835,869,679 more gallons of water flowing down the river than the City of Rifle treats in 20 years.” Wow. More water going by in 24 hours than we treat in 20 years. 

River flows should be slowing in the next few weeks. In the meantime, keep your eye on that retaining wall, Rifle Creek or the water levels near grandma’s garden. And remember- this information can be utilized many times in the future when you regale friends and family members with memories of 2019 “when the water came up to gram gram’s tomatoes!” 

Rifle Rapport is a periodic article featuring the people and projects of the City of Rifle. If you have suggestions for future articles, please contact City of Rifle Public Information Officer Kathy Pototsky at 970-665-6420 or


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