The network of dams and tunnels that diverts water from the Upper Fryingpan River Basin will be shut down for the season this week after a bountiful haul this summer.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverted about 80,200 acre-feet of water under the Continental Divide to the Front Range this year, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the system.
That is about 67 percent higher than the average diversion of 48,000 acre-feet over the 52-year lifetime of the system, she said. More water was diverted this year because of a higher-than-average snowpack and lots of rain starting in mid-July, according to Lamb.
Nevertheless, river and stream water levels have dropped to the point where diversions must be stopped to maintain minimum stream flows.
“This week and next week, we are shutting down the diversion system,” she said Friday. “We can’t dry up the creeks.”
Ruedi Reservoir is about 93 percent full right now. That’s slightly above average, according to the Reclamation Bureau’s records. The amount of water currently being released from Ruedi Dam is 267 cubic feet per second, about average for Sept. 1.
Water is still being diverted from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System has diverted an estimated 59,400 acre-feet thus far this water year, which started in October 2013, according to water data on the Colorado Division of Water Resources website. Kevin Lusk, a water-supply engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities helped The Aspen Times interpret the data on the state’s website.
The average annual diversion over the past 79 years has been 42,000 acre-feet. This year’s diversion is already 17,400 acre-feet above average, or 41 percent higher.
The diversion system operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. taps a 45-square-mile area at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The system diverts water from the Roaring Fork River near Lost Man Campground. In addition, it diverts some of the water in Lost Man Creek, Lincoln Creek, Brooklyn Creek, Tabor Creek, New York Creek and Grizzly Creek, according to a description on the website of Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that monitors water quantity and quality issues.
The conservancy’s weekly watershed river report, released each Thursday, showed that Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting water at a rate of 80 cubic feet per second on Aug. 28 from the Roaring Fork River headwaters. The conservancy bases its report on a “snapshot” during the day in question. The average diversion for that day was about 44 cfs. Meanwhile, the average flow in the river in Aspen that same day was 51 cfs.
The Roaring Fork River is dammed near Lost Man Campground. The river immediately below the dam runs at a relatively low flow. It’s replenished to some degree by various creeks before it reaches Aspen. If the river wasn’t diverted at the headwaters, the average flow in Aspen on Aug. 28 would have been about 95 cfs.
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has superior water rights and the ability to divert water throughout the summer and fall.
“This week and next week we are shutting down the diversion system. We can’t dry up the creeks.”
Kara Lamb, Bureau of Reclamation