Pitkin County is five months into the construction of a whitewater park in Basalt. Crews with excavators and hand shovels are at work in the empty riverbed, below the surface water level.
Jason Carey is the river engineer at River Restoration in Carbondale. He’s overseeing construction of two wave features in the Roaring Fork, just up-river from downtown Basalt. The Roaring Fork has been dammed for months above the construction site, and water is being diverted through a side channel.
Carey said they are on track to open the river to boaters with the spring runoff, but there have been delays. In late December, an ice dam in the river broke and flooded the site.
“The flooding of the site wasn’t too bad but what that did was create a 3 foot layer of frozen ground that was very difficult to work with, and so that slowed down the project a little bit,” Carey said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife requires that work in the river is completed by mid-March, when rainbow trout spawn. About 90 percent of the structures and construction will eventually be under water, so crews will need to be out of the river bed before levels start to rise.
Crews from Diggin’ It Riverworks company have installed the concrete structures that will sit below the surface of the river and form the waves. They have also made progress on stabilizing a section of the bank that collapsed in a flood in the mid-1990s.
The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board has been working for about a decade on securing the rights for a recreational in-channel diversion, saying this project will keep water in the river.
“We will have successfully protected flow rates in the river,” Carey said. “I think water is probably the number one measure of health of a river.”
Carey and Pitkin County officials hope to complete the entire project, including restoration of the river bank and the staging area, by the beginning of May.
There are still details to work out with the Town of Basalt regarding access and improvements on Two Rivers Road.