Ditch pitched as a means to preserve fishing on Fryingpan River | AspenTimes.com

Ditch pitched as a means to preserve fishing on Fryingpan River

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – The best way to preserve trout fishing on the Fryingpan River and a large chunk of Basalt’s economy might be constructing a culvert or ditch to deliver water purchased from Ruedi Reservoir, according to some observers.”Maybe we need to stop abusing our river channels as a water delivery system,” said Mark Lacey, a fish biologist for the U.S. Forest Service in the White River National Forest.His suggestion came Jan. 5 in a pow-wow among federal, state and local officials as well as anglers and other parties with concerns about releases from Ruedi Reservoir and their effect on the Fryingpan River. The town of Basalt and Ruedi Water and Power Authority called for the meeting because they were unhappy with the way water was released last summer.The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requires water from Ruedi, among other sources, to try to improve habitat on the Colorado River for endangered fish species. The timing of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s “call” for water last summer produced higher flows for a longer period than typical on the Fryingpan River. It affected fishing conditions, especially in August.Local officials wanted assurances it won’t happen again. Federal officials were reluctant to make promises.But the releases for endangered fish on the Colorado River appear to be a symptom of a larger, longer-term problem with high flows. Ruedi Reservoir has roughly 10,000 acre feet of water available for sale, or about 10 percent of its capacity. As demands increase in the growing West, more Ruedi water will be placed under contract. The problem that was an anomaly last summer will eventually be more common, said Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River District. The Glenwood Springs-based organization is dedicated to western Colorado water issues.”That’s the real dilemma that’s faced,” Birch said. Without a pipeline or ditch as a way to deliver contracted water from Ruedi to downstream users, it will be difficult to hold flows on the Fryingpan River below a level conducive to trout fishing, he said.A ditch covering the 12 miles from the Ruedi dam to the Fryingpan’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River could deliver most of the water demanded by purchasers. In theory, the presence of a ditch would allow flows on the Fryingpan to be maintained at a level favorable to the fishery and for fishing. Most anglers won’t wade the river when flows top 350 cubic feet per second. That threshold was topped 23 times between June 1 and Sept. 1 last summer.Another long-term concern is maintaining a high enough water level throughout the summer at Ruedi Reservoir for boating.The Basalt and midvalley economy depends in large part on fishing, boating and other water-related activities in the Fryingpan Valley during summers. Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane said the issue of Ruedi releases and Fryingpan flows is vital to the town.”Not to be combative, but this is an issue that’s not going to go away,” he said at the Jan. 5 gathering.Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, said a ditch or culvert was in the original design of the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion system, which includes Ruedi. It just never got built.The cost of constructing an alternative delivery tool may now be prohibitive, said Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The funding doesn’t exist, he said.The Forest Service’s Lacey countered that trout fishing has now become so important to Basalt’s economy that it might make sense to undertake the costly construction of a ditch. Even at a cost of $1 million per million, it still makes economic sense, he said.Talks didn’t progress to the point of who would foot the bill for the proposed culvert.scondon@aspentimes.com

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