2013 water diversions larger than expected from Fryingpan, Roaring Fork rivers

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Times file photo
Aspen Times file photo

The amount of water diverted east from the headwaters of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers this year was down significantly from near-record levels in 2011, but better than anticipated at the dry start to the summer.

The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System diverted about 40,500 acre feet in 2013, according to Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. in Ordway.

That is in line with the 40,000-acre-foot annual average diversion of the project over its 78-year life. However, it’s only about 79 percent of the nine-year average, according to Campbell.

“It was just steady enough to make it a decent year,” he said. “The late rains kept us in longer than I anticipated. We did OK.”

“The late rains kept us in longer than I anticipated. We did OK.”
Scott Campbell, general manager of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverted 46,669 acre feet from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Eastern Colorado office. The average annual diversion over the life of the project is about 48,500 acre feet.

“It’s just a little bit below average,” Lamb said of the 2013 diversion.

The average diversion since 2000 is about 54,000 acre feet, so by that standard, 2013 was much lower.

None of the water managers complained with 2013’s haul. Snowpack levels ran well below average until late in the winter. That made for bleak forecasts for water diversions.

“In February, before the snow, we thought we were going to get a repeat of last year,” Lamb said.

Only 14,000 acre feet of water was diverted from the upper Fryingpan River basin in 2012. The agency forecasted in February that it would only divert between 15,000 and 16,000 acre feet this year, Lamb said. Then the snow started falling. The forecast in March and April was increased to 25,000 acre feet. A wet spring further boosted the projection to 47,000 acre feet.

The amount of water diverted from the upper Fryingpan River has varied drastically in the last three years. The 2011 diversion total was 98,000 acre feet, the second highest ever. The 14,000 acre feet diverted in 2012 was the second lowest amount ever. And now, the 2013 amount is about average.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project first started diverting water in September 1975, according to the reclamation bureau’s website.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project uses 17 dams and diversion structures to capture water from numerous streams above Ruedi Reservoir. The system also taps Hunter Creek in the Roaring Fork River basin. Nine tunnels with a combined length of 27 miles funnel it into the collection system. The water is forced through the Charles H. Boustead Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Lake near Leadville.

The plumbing system in the upper Roaring Fork River basin also experienced extremes in diversions in recent years. The maximum amount, 68,000 acre feet, was diverted in the wet 2011. Only 25,000 acre feet was diverted in the dry 2012. This year’s 40,000 acre feet was about average.

The diversion system operated by the Twin Lakes 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 Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river diversion systems are two of the five largest transmountain diversion systems in Colorado, according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy. About 38 percent of the Roaring Fork headwaters and 41 percent of the Fryingpan River headwaters are diverted on average each year, the conservancy’s website says.


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