Bureau: Little flexibility on releases of water from Ruedi
November 25, 2009
BASALT – Trout fishing suffered on the Fryingpan River above Basalt for six weeks last summer because water from Ruedi Reservoir was needed to assist endangered fish, federal authorities said Monday.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it released water purchased from Ruedi by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when the agency demanded, or “called,” it in August.
“We don’t have a lot of flexibility there,” said reclamation bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb. “That’s their water. They can call for it when they want.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is running a recovery program for four species of native fish in the Colorado River: the pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail club and humpback chub. Water is needed during dry times to enhance habitat in what’s called the 15-Mile Reach, a stretch of the river in the Grand Valley near Grand Junction.
The reclamation bureau’s data shows there were 33 days with flows at or above 300 cubic feet per second on the Fryingpan River between Aug. 5 and Sept. 24, when the water was needed for the recovery program. The flows exceeded 400 cfs on 21 days and topped 500 cfs on eight days. Anglers prefer flows below 250 cfs. Wading into the river is nearly impossible at higher flows, and fishing the gold-medal trout stream is difficult when it exceeds that level.
The Ruedi Water and Power Authority, which monitors water issues in the Fryingpan Valley for local governments, sent a strong letter of protest about Ruedi Reservoir operations to the reclamation bureau on Nov. 2. “In short, the six weeks between approximately July 26 and September 6 was a disaster for water-related recreation in the Fryingpan Valley,” the letter says.
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The water and power authority, along with Basalt town government, invited the reclamation bureau to a meeting to discuss the operations. Lamb said the bureau accepted the invitation and is waiting for the local governments to set a time and place.
“These are important concerns, and we know that,” Lamb said.
But she also stressed that the reclamation bureau doesn’t have a lot of control over the issues that upset anglers, fly shops and the local governments. The Fish and Wildlife Service has contracts for Ruedi Reservoir water. It can use 5,000 acre feet annually, and an additional 5,000 acre feet four out of any five years. There is also a special agreement that allows the federal agency to use an additional 10,825 acre feet for the endangered fish recovery program.
All told, the Fish and Wildlife Service can call up to 28,825 acre feet of Ruedi water per year for the recovery effort. It’s not unusual for that entire amount to be demanded, but the timing varies. The tendency is for the water to be called in late summer and early fall, Lamb said. This year was different because the water was demanded earlier.
Work at the Shoshone Power Plant created lower flows on the Colorado River at the endangered fish habitat at the same time that hot, dry weather was reducing flows, Lamb said. As a result, the Ruedi Reservoir water was required earlier.
To the chagrin of anglers, the process for demanding water for the recovery program doesn’t include an assessment of how higher-than-usual flows will affect trout fishing – or the economy of Basalt.
However, the amount water available for the recovery program will likely be reduced starting in 2013. The reclamation bureau is analyzing a new, 40-year proposed agreement to reduce the 10,825 acre feet of water for the recovery program to half that, 5,412 acre feet.