Basalt sends message on water | AspenTimes.com

Basalt sends message on water

The Basalt Town Council agreed in a split decision last night to donate a modest amount of contracted but unused water it holds in Ruedi Reservoir to relieve the drought-stricken Western Slope.

But while agreeing to be a “good neighbor,” the council also unanimously agreed to send an angry message protesting the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s management of water in Ruedi and water use in general in the West.

“I’ve got to tell you, I’m not voting for this,” said Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens. “I can’t in good conscience. The bureaucracies make me sick.

“I can’t see that the water we send down will make a difference,” Stevens explained. “The message that we send might.”

Basalt only has 100 acre-feet to contribute to a proposal that would make 10,000 acre-feet of Ruedi water available for Western Slope users. The Colorado River Water Conservation District and other entities are piecing together a deal to get contracted but unused water and uncontracted water out of reservoirs and into the hands of people who need it.

In some cases, the water will help agricultural interests. In other cases, it will help individual homeowners whose wells might go dry without augmented water supplies, according to Tom Kinney, Basalt’s water attorney.

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“If this agreement doesn’t go into place, a lot of people will be hauling water,” Kinney said.

Basalt’s contribution amounts to a puddle, but officials agreed there is more philosophical significance to the decision. The board demanded that the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls releases from the Ruedi dam into the Fryingpan River, act in a way this summer and fall that wouldn’t hurt the trout fishery.

The bureau is considering two options for releasing the 10,000 acre-feet. One proposal is a “flat rate” release of 250 to 300 cubic feet per second from now through October. The other option is to release 200 to 250 cfs through September, then bump it up to 400 cfs in October.

For comparison, the river is flowing at slightly more than 200 cfs now.

Kristina Crandall of the Roaring Fork Conservancy said the higher flow in October could be devastating. Brown trout will pick places to spawn in October and will search based on the higher flows. Then, when the water drops to its normal 40 cfs in November, areas where fish spawned could be high and dry.

Scouring of the river bed and other ecological problems could arise from the higher flow, Crandall said. The steady flow through October would be best, she said, with a slow drop in the flow in November.

Stevens claimed the Bureau of Reclamation has repeatedly ignored concerns about the effects of its operations on the Fryingpan fishery.

“We’ve said it 100 times over the years, and they just don’t get it,” he said.

Councilwoman Tiffany Gildred agreed with Stevens that the vote could be used to object to water practices. They voted against a motion to donate the town’s 100 acre-feet to the drought relief cause.

Supporting the motion to share were council members Tracy Bennett, Leroy Duroux, Anne Freedman and Jacque Whitsitt. However, they also agreed that the water should be released in the most ecologically friendly way and that, if possible, Basalt and other water donors should be paid for their water by users.

“When people start treating it like it’s gold is when they start paying like it’s gold,” said Whitsitt.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com