Not much water left in local rivers | AspenTimes.com

Not much water left in local rivers

Jeremy Heiman

Last winter’s feeble snowfall and this summer’s hot and dry weather have caused local rivers to run lower than they have in many years.

The dryness doesn’t approach the seriousness of a drought in 1977. But streamflow measurements show that water levels are considerably below normal everywhere except the Fryingpan, which is inflated by releases from Ruedi Reservoir. And there, high water is said to be hurting the fly-fishing industry.

The river most affected by low flows and by water removed for irrigation is the Crystal, according to information from the Division of Water Resources, an office of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“You can probably keep your feet dry if you cross it above the fish hatchery,” said Alan Martellaro, assistant division engineer for the Division of Water Resources. The hatchery is just south of Carbondale.

At Penny Hot Springs, the location of the only gauging station on the Crystal, the river is flowing at only about 92 cubic feet per second. River flow is generally measured in cubic feet per second, or cfs, indicating the amount of water passing a given point on a river.

On Aug. 15, 1999, the flow at that point was 221 cfs, and in 1998, 171 cfs. “That might be closer to normal,” Martellaro said. Last year, water levels were a bit higher than normal due to a wet spring.

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The Crystal isn’t gaining anything from Thompson Creek, which joins the river three or four miles south of Carbondale.

“Thompson Creek is dry right now,” Martellaro said. “Irrigators have got that dried up.”

The upper Roaring Fork is also low. A gauging station above Aspen, before water is diverted into the Salvation Ditch, is showing 48 cfs. At that point the flow was 108 cfs last year and 59 cfs in 1998. The river is beefed up considerably by the addition of water from Hunter, Castle and Maroon creeks, though. Below Maroon Creek, the Roaring Fork is flowing at 179 cfs.

But the Fryingpan River is a different matter altogether. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Ruedi Reservoir, 13 miles up the Fryingpan from Basalt, has been releasing 361 cfs, more than three times the usual summer flow, from the reservoir.

The usual summer flow below the dam is 110 cfs, Martellaro said. The flow was reduced to 300 cfs Wednesday night, to make wading safer for fishermen.

Ranchers and fruit growers in the Colorado River Valley have the right to take the Fryingpan’s entire standard flow out of the Colorado River. The additional flow is required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered fish recovery program, which is being conducted in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

The added release amounts are intended to help with the recovery of small populations of four endangered fish species in the Fifteen Mile Reach of the Colorado. That’s between the dam in DeBeque Canyon and the Colorado’s confluence with the Gunnison River, 15 miles downstream. Roughly half the water in the Colorado River now is from releases from Ruedi and other reservoirs.

The extra Ruedi water hasn’t helped fishing-oriented businesses based in Basalt.

“It makes the water colder, and slows down the dry fly fishing,” said Art Rowell, shop manager at Frying Pan Anglers. The water comes from the bottom of the reservoir, where it is coldest.

The cold water also slows hatches of aquatic insects such as mayflies and caddis flies, which trout feed on, Rowell said. And the added depth makes wading the river more difficult.

“The Bureau of Reclamation has a mandate to sell the water, to pay for the reservoir,” Rowell said. “That’s their job. But it’s sure killing us.”

With only 57 cfs in the Fryingpan as it enters the reservoir at Meredith, and a bit more from creeks which flow into Ruedi, the reservoir is being drawn down rapidly, leaving dry mud flats along the shores.

“There’s dust storms, when the wind blows,” Rowell said.

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