Drought presents Ausable Chasm challenges

ROBIN CAUDELL/STAFF PHOTODrought conditions have left Rainbow Falls without a rainbow at Ausable Chasm. The recent weeks with little to no rain had its impacts on the chasm’s operations, like rafting, which opened up the week before Memorial Day. “Certainly low water is not a friend of ours,” Manager Tim Bresett said. “It’s difficult. It causes a slow down of operations. When the river is slow, everything, at least in the rafting department, will go much slower.” 

KEESEVILLE — Passersby may have noticed little water crawling over the falls at Ausable Chasm, something Manager Tim Bresett blamed widely on the recent dry spell.

"Really, we're in a drought," Bresett said Tuesday morning, noting the day's expected showers. 

While he recognized possible impacts from upstream dams and tributaries, he said, "the bottom line is we all need rain."

"Everybody's yards are dried up around here. It's a unifying problem; we just need more rain." 

GOOD YEAR

Bresett is working his 20th season at the scenic canyon business and, as a Keeseville native, said he "grew up on the river."

"I've been a part of this river pretty much my whole life." 

Ausable Chasm operations have welcomed tourists since 1870.

Its current list of attractions include river tours by raft or tube, hiking and adventure trails, as well as rappelling and rock climbing. 

"Volume has been wonderful," the manager said of 2021 business. "We're tracking ahead of even 2019 numbers."

BELOW AVERAGE

Bresett described Ausable River's June water flow as "significantly less than a normal." 

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) tracker, it was well below average in the first two weeks of June, flowing around 200 cubic feet per second (cfs). On some days, the data registered more than 300 cfs below the recorded 89-year average. 

This week's precipitation sent the river past 300 cfs and nearly in line with that average. 

"After the rains, I'm happy to report that the river is running at normal volume," Bresett said Wednesday. 

RAFTING IMPACTS

Still, the weeks with little to no rain had its impacts on the chasm's operations, like rafting, which opened up the week before Memorial Day. 

"Certainly low water is not a friend of ours," Bresett said. "It's difficult. It causes a slow down of operations. When the river is slow, everything, at least in the rafting department, will go much slower."

The department has annual staffing levels of about 40 employees with about 25 to 30 of them working as raft guides. 

While the rafts, mostly restricted by weight, can typically fit between 10 to 12 guests, in times of low water, Bresett said they are limited to about 6 to 8 guests. 

Depending on the day's water flow, tour times could as much as double. 

"In some ways it's good, because you get a longer tour of the chasm, but it can cause a back up for our guests waiting to get on the river for a tour. That's our biggest problem."

Raft guides also have more obstacles to navigate, he added. 

"Certain rocks on the riverbed are exposed and the rafts have to navigate around those to avoid bouncing off the rocks or getting hung up on rocks. Our guides are great. They're highly trained and they can navigate these things, but it does make it extremely difficult."

TUBES COMING SOON

Water flow was typically lowest around August, Bresett said, adding that the chasm wasn't a stranger to the recent challenges.

"The water is lowest at the time of year that we are the busiest and we've always made it through."

The manager noted river tubing would restart around July 1. 

"About half of the people who want the river trip will take the tubes, so that lightens the load on the raft operation. That will divide that up."

Email McKenzie Delisle: 

mdelisle@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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