A silly idea
I am a retired civil engineer as well as a lifelong fisherman. I have rarely heard ideas as silly and potentially wasteful as that of running a ditch and/or pipeline from the Ruedi Dam to the Roaring Fork River (Scott Condon’s article of Jan. 9 in The Aspen Times). The stated purpose would be to reduce the flow rate (and thus the velocity) during summer to make the Fryingpan River easier for people to fish. Such ideas invariably are promoted most enthusiastically by people who expect to pay very little of the cost themselves.
Such a conduit would actually need to be about 13 miles long, and not 12 as reported (unless constructed as a straight tunnel). Considering the ruggedness of the canyon and the high value of many properties that would be impacted, it would probably cost substantially more than the $1 million per mile that has been roughly estimated.
Most of the Fryingpan below Ruedi Reservoir is indeed challenging for people to fish, because its natural character is one of nearly continuous rapids. The velocity of the flow is accentuated where the channel has been constricted by the roadway embankment that was originally a railroad grade. While these rapids are scenic, they are not only difficult to fish, but generally are not very good habitat for trout. The water is too fast and shallow to provide “holes” where the fish can conserve energy by swimming slowly and also be concealed from predators.
A much more economical approach that would favor both fish and fishermen would be to bring in boulders to construct underwater weirs in places to create the “pool and riffle” habitat that is ideal for trout. This has been done on a privately owned reach of the river upstream of Mile 11. It has the effect of creating deeper pools where the water velocity is slower. Purchasing more public access rights along the river would also be a much more cost-effective use of public funds.
The problem of high-water velocity during fishing hours could be further mitigated by varying the releases from the dam diurnally, whereby more would be released between, say, 9 at night and 3 in the morning. That would allow the flow surge to mostly pass downstream by the next morning. It should be noted that unregulated streams in the area also experience diurnal variations in flow as the result of snowmelt increasing their flow rate in the daytime, and stream life adapts to such variations.
Carl Ted Stude
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Firefighting officials are on high alert in the Roaring Fork Valley as the dry weather continues, and Friday afternoon a wildland fire started by a lightning strike near Old Snowmass sent firefighters scrambling to the area on the ground and from the air.