Dry conditions drain rivers, Ruedi Reservoir | AspenTimes.com

Dry conditions drain rivers, Ruedi Reservoir

After experiencing its worst year ever due to the drought in 2002, Ruedi Reservoir filled almost to a normal level this summer – much to the delight of boaters, water skiers and the like.

The reservoir’s water level peaked at 98,162 acre-feet on July 24, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Kara Lamb. Average storage is 100,000 acre-feet, and capacity is about 102,000 acre-feet.

Last year the storage level didn’t even reach 80,000 acre-feet, according to bureau records.

The reservoir’s water level is going down by a little bit every day now because downstream demands mean more water must be released than is flowing in, Lamb said. However, the three public boat ramps should remain in use throughout the summer.

Calls for water this dry summer have affected Ruedi in two ways. First, there have been direct demands by users with senior water rights. Satisfying those rights requires releases from the reservoir.

Second, users with junior rights have contracts for Ruedi water to augment their other supplies.

The bureau typically tries to keep the Fryingpan River flowing at 110 cfs below the dam for as long as it can. The flow shot up as high as 270 cfs to answer demands the weekend of July 25.

Rainstorms eased demand, and the flow dropped back to 110 cfs for much of last week. Lamb said it is impossible to tell what will happen to flows over the next two months.

“Water rights calls on the Colorado River come on and off due to hydrology – how much water is in the river – and by demand – how much water diverters need,” Lamb wrote in an e-mail. “Hydrology and demand are driven largely by weather.”

After a fairly impressive peak runoff, the flows in local rivers have plummeted due to the dry weather in June and July. Only 0.69 inches of rain fell in Aspen for all of July. For the year-to-date, precipitation is only 60 percent of average.

Loads of spring snow followed by warm temperatures created an unusual runoff season. The snowpack didn’t reach its peak until mid-May, about one month later than usual, according to Brian Avery, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Warmer than usual temperatures in late May sent water levels skyrocketing.

“The runoff kind of came down all at once,” Avery said.

The Roaring Fork River peaked near the confluence with the Colorado River on May 31, then surged close to that peak level again on June 2, according to National Weather Service data. The peak was near 6,900 cfs. The average peak is about 6,150 cfs, according to the National Weather Service.

The Crystal River peaked at levels that caused minor flooding of lowlands. The Crystal above Avalanche Creek was flowing at 1,900 cfs in late May, well above the median of 1,200 cfs.

Lamb said inflow to Ruedi Reservoir from the upper Fryingpan River peaked on June 2 at 1,267 cfs. The average peak is 1,153 cfs, she said.

Avery noted that high water levels didn’t last for long. Dry conditions this summer have led to lower levels than average.

The Roaring Fork River was flowing at 33 cfs just east of Aspen Friday. That is about half of the 38-year median of 70 cfs for that date.

The Crystal River was flowing at 163 cfs above Avalanche Creek on Friday. The 47-year median is 240 cfs for that date.

Avery said the rivers should experience some relief due to the return of the summer monsoon. High pressure parked over Four Corners kept the state dry throughout July. That high is breaking down so wetter conditions can be expected, he said.

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

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