Balancing act at Ruedi Reservoir
June 29, 2011
BASALT – The Roaring Fork Valley’s heat wave forced the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to boost releases from Ruedi Reservoir again this week in anticipation of the lake filling to capacity on or around July 4.
The agency faces an interesting balancing act at this time of year following winters with a big snowpack – it needs to capture enough of the inflow to fill the reservoir but it doesn’t want to hold too much and send water over the spillway, said reclamation bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb.
Recent warm weather increased the flow of water from the upper Fryingpan River into the reservoir to about 1,300 cubic feet per second (cfs). The reclamation bureau reacted by increasing releases from the dam by 100 cfs on Monday. That bumped up the total release below the dam to 838 cfs, including Rocky Fork Creek.
As of Monday evening, Ruedi was within 5,000 acre feet of filling, Lamb said. That is about 4 vertical feet from being full. Ruedi’s capacity is 102,000 acre feet.
“We’re at our upper limit of storage,” Lamb said. The forecast is for the lake to fill July 4 or 5, she said, and the agency’s engineers do not anticipate that water will top the spillway.
However, once Ruedi is full, the reclamation bureau must “pass through” the inflow, Lamb said. In other words, what comes in must go out. If the inflow remains around 1,300 cfs, that could create a problem with flooding on the lower Fryingpan River.
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The snowpack that remains is at a high elevation, located higher than most automated measuring stations in the Roaring Fork River basin, Lamb said. That makes it difficult to gauge how much snowpack and runoff remains. “It’s anyone’s guess on how much snow is left,” she said.
Basalt officials are at ease with the way the snowpack has melted out. Mayor Leroy Duroux said he doesn’t anticipate a problem with flooding. The flows in the Roaring Fork River have stabilized or maybe even dropped a little in the midvalley in recent days, so it can absorb higher flows from the Fryingpan River.
“Unless we get a major rain event, we’ll be fine,” Duroux said.
Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane credited the reclamation bureau for the way it handled releases this spring and summer, especially given the huge snowpack. He said flooding won’t be an issue as long as releases don’t exceed current levels by a great amount.
“Eight hundred fifty [cubic feet per second] we can handle, 950 is really tough,” Kane said.