Fishermen left high and not very dry
September 4, 2003
Anglers on the Fryingpan River received an unpleasant surprise Wednesday when the flow more than doubled to a level that stranded some on the far bank and forced others to swim across.
The flow shot up from about 250 cubic feet per second, which is typical for the Fryingpan during the summer, to 720 cfs in a couple of hours due to increased releases from Ruedi Reservoir.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir and dam, planned to increase the flow by only 50 cfs, from 250 to 300, according to Dawn Wiedmeier, deputy area manager for the agency.
“We released a whole lot more water than we intended,” she said.
The release occurred while the agency was conducting maintenance work at the dam. The releases were switched back and forth among the main outlet system and the auxiliary system, Wiedmeier said.
Bureau managers went to the dam Thursday to investigate why so much more water was released than planned. Wiedmeier said the team will try to determine if human or mechanical error was responsible.
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“It caused some fishermen to be stranded on one side or the other, or they had to swim across,” Wiedmeier said.
The water level was decreased down to the intended level of about 300 cfs by late Wednesday afternoon. An increase of 50 cfs was necessary to raise the water level in the Colorado River for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife endangered species recovery project near Grand Junction.
The wildlife agency has contracted with water from Ruedi to help with the recovery of five endangered fish species. The water is demanded or “called” from Ruedi when the Colorado River dips to low levels.
The Bureau of Reclamation didn’t receive any reports of injuries to anglers or damage to property due to the drastically increased flow, according to Wiedmeier. Anglers consider 350 cfs to be the limit for wading easily and safely.
The Fryingpan River has what is known as a “safe channel capacity” of 1,100 cfs. That’s the level that the banks will hold without flooding and potential damage to property.
Although there were no injuries, there were “lots of very unhappy anglers,” said Malcolm Robertson, a guide with Taylor Creek Fly Shop of Basalt.
Several customers complained Thursday that the flow kept rising at a fast enough rate Wednesday that they were stranded on the bank opposite of Fryingpan Road, Robertson said. Visitors were caught completely off guard by the drastically higher flows.
Locals are used to higher water releases coming periodically from the reservoir, but the Bureau usually limits them to 50 cfs. An increase of 235 percent from 250 cfs to 720 cfs was totally unexpected.
“It threw off the fishing, definitely,” said Robertson.
In a handful of cases, anglers might have benefited, he added. The increased flow sent higher numbers of mysis shrimp that live in the reservoir shooting into the river right below the dam. That created a feeding frenzy for the trout.
Throughout the Fryingpan, the higher flow changed the habits of the fish. Instead of fighting the strong current in the center of the stream, they headed to the banks where the flow is slower, and they didn’t have to expend so much energy, Robertson explained.
Weidmeier said the Bureau’s investigation should reach preliminary conclusions by Friday. She said the study was needed so the agency can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]