Peshtigo River Water Levels & Conditions
The Peshtigo River bridge gauge located on the NE corner of the bridge has become the standard means of measure for the “Roaring Rapids” section of the Peshtigo River. These numbers simply represent a “stick in the water” so to speak. Many summer rafters have never seen the river running in positive numbers and many spring rafters have never seen the river in negative numbers. Many people looking at the gauge numbers for the first time are often confused by the significant changes which can occur from day to day and week to week or by the “negative” numbers which are often seen in the summer months.
The gauge numbers themselves have changed throughout the years, each time the bridge had been replaced, so has the gauge. The original gauge was started many years ago by placing 1-inch marks up and down from the bottom of the first drain tile outlet on the bridge. Drain tiles are a series of discharge pipes that are designed to relieve the excess pressure against the retaining walls of a bridge by draining the water which seeps into the ground. Each time the bridge had been replaced so was the drain tile, and the drain tile was usually not in the same place so the gauge readings shifted a little. Fortunately the bridges aren’t changed that often so the gauge readings stay consistent for quite some time.
One other thing to note, the drain tiles are designed to drain the excess ground water into the river. These tiles are usually situated above the normal average flow level of the river. With the drain tile representing a zero on the gauge it is easy to see how or why we can run in the negative numbers. Think of negative numbers as the norm and positive numbers as a bonus!
Here is a picture of the actual bridge gauge with the water level at zero. Note the drain tile at the bottom of the numbers. The numbers that you see on the gauge are foot markers, so if the water were at the #2 on the gauge the river level would be at 2 feet or +24. The USGS has since placed a gauge of there own at this location which measures the river in csf (cubic feet per second) as well as height in feet (they also use a different benchmark which makes the translation between the two difficult). Their gauge is approximately 4 feet higher than the bridge gauge and although the USGS gauge has been in place for many years and can be accessed in real time via the internet, everyone still refers to the old bridge gauge as the standard for river conditions. We update our readings every morning during rafting season.
High Water Alert Peshtigo River
From time to time we may post a “High Water Alert” on our blog page. This High Water Alert refers to the Peshtigo River water levels and often times the Menominee River will also be running at higher levels as well. The high water alert does not necessarily mean that the river is at flood levels or that the rapid conditions are severe. It simply means that the water is at optimum levels for whitewater rafting. We will post the high water alert on our blog whenever the Peshtigo River water level reaches +10 or higher. This is the bank-full water level on the Peshtigo River.
To better understand what the water levels mean, just look at the river gauge chart above. As you can see, the high water alert level is just the beginning of some awesome water and great fun! There is no real way for anyone to accurately predict what the water level will be on any given day throughout the year. Typically the water is at it highest in the Spring months (April-May), then the level gradually decreases as the summer runs on. The river levels can rise as much as 4 inches for every 1-inch of rain that falls into the water shed and cam fall up to an inch per day when there is no rain. That is until the river reaches -3 on the gauge. Then the river only loses 1/10th -1/20th of an inch per day.
There are many other factors that effect the water levels such as snowfall, accumulated snow and ice on the ground, ice levels in the river, frost depth and the ground water table levels. We have seen high and low water at all times of the year and there is no time when the river will consistently be at a certain level. For that reason, we are always prepared to run a variety of different sized rafts to help ensure the best possible run at any level. The chart above is designed to give you an idea of the size of raft we are most likely to run with at different water levels. There are other factors besides water levels that we also take into consideration when determining the size of raft and number of people in each raft. Factors such as size, condition and experience levels of the rafters as well as the temperature, weather and water conditions also play a role in determining raft size and number of rafters per raft.
River Classification Scale
Very easy, small uniform waves with little or no obstructions and little or weak currents.
Longer series of waves, stronger currents with some obstructions, some paddle skills and river reading required.
More difficult with larger and irregular waves of 3 feet or more, powerful currents, eddies and more difficult routes to determine and navigate. Requires physical stamina and skill. Rafters should be experienced or under the supervision of an experienced outfitter.
Very difficult! Long irregular rapids with powerful waves and currents, dangerous rocks and/or hazards with boiling eddies, powerful and precise maneuvering as well as good physical stamina and advanced paddling and river reading skill required. Recommended portage!
Extremely Difficult! Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids following each other almost without interruption, riverbed extremely obstructed, large irregular drops, violent currents with strong hydraulics and souse holes, very steep gradient and unmanageable shoreline. Mandatory Portage! Only for the very experienced!