Drought relief pumps up Fryingpan
Three months after most rivers and streams in Colorado hit their peak flows, the Fryingpan River is approaching its highest levels of the season.
Such is the paradox of water management in a drought year.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that the Fryingpan will run at about 300 cubic feet per second for the next several weeks. More water is being released from Ruedi Reservoir due to an agreement between various agencies to use it to provide up to 10,000 acre feet of water to the parched Western Slope.
The Fryingpan below the Ruedi dam had been flowing at about 210 cfs recently. It was bumped up by 90 cfs to enact the new drought relief agreement, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
“Originally, releases for this agreement were to begin August 1,” Lamb wrote in a press release. “However, because the agreement was not signed and finalized until [Thursday], we are starting releases three weeks later than originally planned.
“Losing three weeks means we have less time to release the up-to-10,000 acre feet of water per the agreement. The result is a higher rate of release than what was anticipated,” her statement continued.
While the higher flow will bring relief to ranchers and landowners with senior water rights on the Colorado River, it also makes fishing tougher on the Fryingpan. Anglers have complained that flows in the 300 cfs range make it difficult to stand in the water.
“Reclamation understands the concerns surrounding Fryingpan flow levels,” Lamb wrote. “That is why we are continuing our efforts to keep flows in the ‘Pan around 300 cfs.”
She said that the pressure on Ruedi Reservoir to provide water under a federal program to save endangered fish on the Colorado River near Grand Junction may be eased due to the drought-relief agreement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aware that Ruedi is providing water for drought relief so it will seek releases elsewhere to keep the Fryingpan River’s flow from going even higher, according to Lamb.
Ruedi is providing the 10,000 acre feet at the request of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is the sponsor agency of a water diversion system that includes Green Mountain Reservoir in northern Summit County.
Green Mountain was not able to provide all the water users have contracted, so its sponsor agency sought it elsewhere. That reservoir was built to compensate the Western Slope for water diverted east from the headwaters of the Colorado River.
When the reservoir couldn’t honor contracts for Western Slope water users, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District applied pressure to provide the water from elsewhere, according to district spokesman Peter Roessmann.
He said that Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Green Mountain Power Generation beneficiaries will pay for the Ruedi water at a rate of $62 per acre foot.
Multiple entities, including the town of Basalt, that have water contracted but unused in Ruedi donated their share for drought relief. They won’t be compensated for that water.
Roessmann said the Bureau of Reclamation requires payment for the extra releases.
The Basalt Town Council donated 100 acre feet, or water worth $6,200 under the agreement.
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