SMP Nuts and Bolts

Assess Conditions and Identify Risks

Evaluate Community Benefits

River-Based Recreation

Rafters enjoying the Blue River (Bill Linfield/Summit Daily)

River recreation encompasses an array of activities, but for purposes of SMPs, the primary activities are boating (whitewater kayaks, canoes and rafts, stand up paddle boards and tubers) and angling. These activities support a number of local economies and jobs (especially in mountain resort towns), as well as a desired quality of life for residents. Even municipal developers utilize the state’s natural environment as a primary marketing tool to attract businesses and high-income workers. Water management activities can have both positive (reservoir releases) and negative (diversions and channel spanning infrastructure) impacts to river-based recreation. River-based recreational opportunities identified in SMPs should not have negative impacts to stream ecology.

SMPs can assess boating opportunities (both existing and desired) by surveying user preferences for certain flow ranges and comparing those to existing flow conditions, examining the adequacy of access points, surveying for instream structures that impede safe boat passage, and cataloging the use/desire for in-river infrastructure like whitewater parks.

Angling recreation includes float fishing and wade fishing. Assessing angling recreation could involve user-preference surveys that relate flow levels to angling success or user enjoyment. Because the presence of desirable fish species is directly related to the angling experience, reductions in aquatic habitat quality or availability imposed by upstream water depletions may impair angling. Lack of river access points may similarly limit this use.

Data Types


Existing recreational flows for boating (known as Recreational In-Channel Diversion Rights)


American Whitewater ‘Boatable’ days analysis


Count and condition of river access points and impassable barriers


Interviews with local rafting and fishing outfitters and guide services


Angler preference surveys


Creel surveys

Potential Data Sources

American Whitewater’s ‘boatable’ days and flow preference analysis approach uses a web-based survey of recreational users to determine the acceptable and optimal flow ranges on certain stretches. These data are compared to historical hydrology to determine how many days on average (and based on year types wet, wet-typical, dry-typical, and dry) recreational opportunities are present. Contact AW staff in Colorado for additional information.

In this 16-minute “Ask a Practitioner” video, the Eagle River and Middle Colorado Watershed’s share their unique approaches to understanding their community’s preference on flow, uses and access.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife collects vast amounts of fishery, habitat and angling data that can be requested through a formal process


San Miguel River

Montrose County acquired conditional water rights to the San Miguel River in southwest Colorado in hopes of building multiple new reservoirs. In Assessing Instream Flows that Support Whitewater Recreation in the San Miguel River Basin, American Whitewater (AW) assesses the impact these conditional storage proposals would have on existing recreational opportunities. Using flow ranges that AW defined through a previous study and historic hydrologic data, AW determined the number of boatable days (days throughout the year when flows are above minimum and below maximum acceptable levels) in dry, dry average, wet average, and wet years. Montrose County supplied simulated daily depletions associated with three project alternatives and AW used these simulated depletions to recalculate the number of days when boatable flows would have been available with these reduced flows.

North Fork of the Gunnison

As part of its Environmental and Recreation Needs Assessment, the Western Slope Conservation Center assessed the current state of recreation infrastructure, activities, and opportunities. This information was gathered through interviews with riverfront landowners, river recreationalists, and other river stakeholders. For each river reach, conclusions and recommendations were developed and prioritized.


  1. A 2011 report for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Water and Its Relationship to Six Headwaters Counties in Colorado, discusses the economic benefits derived from boating and fishing (among other sectors that rely on water).
  2. CSU Water Center’s July/August 2018 edition of Colorado Water on recreation includes an article “Economic Contribution to the Colorado Economy and Benefits to Visitors from Water-Based Recreation” that reviews existing estimates of economic contributions to the Colorado economy and benefits to visitors themselves of water-based recreation in Colorado. It also explores how water management can impact recreation economies.
  3. Commercial River Use in the State of Colorado,” an annual report produced by the Colorado River Outfitters Association shows the total number of commercial user days and the cumulative economic impact of the rafting industry in Colorado going back to 1988.
  4. American Whitewater’s webpage on the economic impacts of river recreation includes links to several studies and methodologies.
  5. This August 2020 Ask a Practitioner Video provides an overview of approaches for using recreation surveys to understand community recreation preferences.

Explore other community benefits

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