Low water ranges make recreation on VT rivers and lakes harder

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Winooski River Recreators found themselves walking the river more than water over the weekend.

Water levels in certain rivers, creeks and Lake Champlain have dropped significantly across the region, causing outfitters to cancel paddling and tubing tours or relocate them to less-affected areas.

“We’ve definitely seen lower water levels and more sustained water levels throughout the season than previous years,” said Steve Brownlee, owner of Umiak Outdoor Outfitters. The leisure company operates from multiple locations across the state and last Sunday and Monday moved some Richmond-area tubing tours on the Winooski to the Lamoille River and refunded other bookings.

Power levels are running low, especially in New York, said Robert Haynes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, as well as in Lake Champlain. The lake was at 94.33 feet as of Wednesday morning, which is about halfway between where it is usually found at this time of year and the lowest level recorded for the date. The average height is 95 feet while the lowest was 93.4 feet. “It’s not very common for lake levels to get that low,” Haynes said.

Values ​​could continue to fall

While levels may be low now, they may not have bottomed out yet. Haynes said the sun’s angle in the sky at this time of year makes for efficient evaporation and water levels may not rise again until the trees stop absorbing as much water as they lose their leaves. Therefore, late September is usually the lowest point of the year.

In addition, there have been drought problems in eastern and central Vermont, particularly in Windsor and Orange counties. While there have been recent rain showers, there have not been long, sustained, soggy rains sufficient to affect water tables, Brownlee said.

He said the Winooski often dries up from Middlesex to Waterbury in late August, but this year dry conditions have affected the river further north near Richmond.

He’s hoping the rains in this week’s forecast will be enough to keep tubes running in Richmond for the coming weekend and for the next two to three weeks before ending that particular trip for the season.

The closure of Lake Champlain’s beaches due to cyanobacteria has made river recreation more attractive this season, said another Umiak employee, who said it was a shame levels had been low.

What you should know if you’re planning to get on the water

Brownlee said that with a little preparation, you can still take your late-summer float, paddle, or boat trip. He suggests calling the outfitter to speak to their knowledgeable staff about what excursions are best doable depending on the water levels and how far you’re willing to commute.

Brownlee offered his services to anyone interested in getting on the water, regardless of whether they booked with the outfitter. He said her team is constantly monitoring levels and knows what’s considered passable by looking at data from the USGS, which can be confusing to read for those unfamiliar with interpreting the numbers.

Umiak plans to continue tubing trips in Richmond over the next few weeks but paddling trips on the Lamoille and particularly the Waterbury Reservoir will be held throughout the fall.

Call Umiak Outdoor Outfitters at 802-253-2317. Current river and creek levels in Vermont can be found at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/vt/nwis/rt. Lake Champlain water level monitoring is reported at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?04294500.

Contact reporter April Barton at [email protected] or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.