What exactly is “high water,” and how much water is that?

High water is not just how high but how much and how fast the water is rushing through a stretch of river. Flowing water is one of the most powerful forces on the planet! Let’s say the water flow in the Snake River is 17,300 cubic feet per second (cfs). That means that the river is moving 129,404 gallons of water each second at a total weight of 1,079,229 pounds (or 540 tons, and I won’t bore you with that equation!).

What about high water, specifically on the whitewater section of the Snake River in Jackson Hole? The general rule is anything above approximately 16,000 cfs is considered high water. How does the water get that big, and sometimes in the matter of 1 day, even hours? Snow melt, warm weather, rainfall and water releases from the Jackson Lake dam – these are the four biggest factors that make the water levels climb quickly. The largest high water season on record was in 1997, when the canyon flow hit 35,200 cfs, according to the Bureau of Reclamation website. That being said, some guides recall it hitting 39,800 cfs! Last Friday, the water was around 7,000 cfs; Saturday, it was in the teen thousands; Sunday night, 17,200.  While things could change as the Bureau of Rec makes dam release decisions, the peak this week, and possibly for 2010, hit yesterday (Tuesday) at 24,200 cfs.

Safety is our highest priority always, but in high water, we take extra precautions when explaining the reality of high water.  We don’t want to scare anyone because it can be quite exhilarating; we simply want to teach and inform!

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