Salida, Colorado - Mountain run-off starts every rafting season strong, but later when many rivers are running too low for recreational activities, the Arkansas River keeps flowing thanks to the Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP).

This unique agreement is a real difference-maker for late summer vacationers to Salida and Buena Vista, according to Bob Hamel, executive director of the Arkansas Rivers Outfitters Association (AROA), "Being able to say you have a product when others don't is a big draw to the area," says Hamel.

The VFMP is a collaboration between the water owners and the recreational community, designed to use imported water to maintain optimum river flow levels. The innovative program's level of coordination makes it a model. This type of voluntary program is not done in other areas. Hamel notes the 'voluntary' part is very important because water owners are not under any mandate to augment the water flow. They agree to help because they recognize the economic importance of Arkansas River recreation industry.

Under this program, a flow of 700 cfs (cubic feet per second) is maintained through mid-August ensuring rafters and kayakers can ride those wild rapids all summer. The Arkansas River offers rafting for children as young as three to intermediate and experts-only whitewater experiences.  Year-round, the VFMP helps maintain optimum flows to help support the trout fishing industry, as well.

Some years the Arkansas River doesn't need water augmentation because snowmelt is sufficient. When it is needed, however, water is released from area reservoirs. The 47 river outfitters on the Arkansas pay 25 cents from every raft trip to the State Parks water fund to help off-set water supplementation expenses.

Groups involved include the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), the Bureau of Reclamation, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (SECWD) and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. It was originally initiated by the Arkansas Rivers Outfitters Association (AROA) and Trout Unlimited.