If you've been on a California river this season, you probably owe Mike Koza. You probably should call him and thank him, stop by his house, and bring him some beer. Mike, we're in deep to you, buddy.
Even if you don't know Mike, you might know his phone number. More than 200 people a day have started to check river conditions with K-Flow. Most of the river-flow data in Adrenaline comes from K-Flow, a free phone and fax-back service that will give you flow data on every river in California. If you didn't check with Mike, your kayak is probably scraping or you didn't realize that some dam gate in another county would open the night before your trip.
K-Flow, which Mike says is either named after himself or named to sound like a radio station, started three winters ago, when he began analyzing groundwater level data as part of his day job as an environmental technician for the California Data Exchange Center.
When the the center got tired of sifting through data for him, it gave him full access to its computer bank. It was the motherlode of river intelligence. "I began to use the data and give it to my friends," says Koza, "and pretty soon, I was spending all my time on the phone."
So, the first glimpse of the future of boating came in the guise of an answering machine and a six-minute message that "sort of irritated some of the less-than-patient."
But when Ney Grant, a professional fax analyst and fellow boater, offered to bring over fancy fax-back equipment, K-Flow started to gain serious audience share. The service, which is partially sponsored by Whitewater Voyages, Pacific River Supply, Chico Canoe and Kayak, Custom Kayak Interiors, and OARS, Inc., barely breaks even and Koza pays phone bills as high as $900 a month. "I haven't figured a way to make money off of it, but then again I couldn't figure out how to make a living off being a professional river guide either."
Koza, who is a strictly inflatable kayak-and-raft kind of guy, has spent just about every weekend on a different river for the past decade. "I go down rivers that I don't ever see anyone on. I put them on K-Flow, hoping people will catch on," he says, with a bit of skepticism in his voice.
Mike collects the data from a variety of sources, including computers, phone calls to state agencies, and reading voluminous government tomes during his lunch hour. Since the data from the river gauges (which frequently break and go unrepaired) are often wrong, Mike extrapolates from previous data to give an estimate. "I've seen the state report the same flow for the Salmon for like three weeks in row, which is ridiculous."
Mike, I'm coming over - six-pack in hand.
Story by Seth Kaplan
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