Feds to coordinate releases from Ruedi
BASALT ” The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will manipulate water releases as best it can to avoid contributing to potential flooding in the Roaring Fork Valley this spring, but its abilities are limited, agency officials said Monday night.
The reclamation bureau has some flexibility in the amount of water it releases from the Ruedi Reservoir dam, said Carlos Lora, a water resources engineer. The agency will work with emergency management officials in the valley to try to coordinate flows.
High snowpack is raising anxiety about flooding. The Roaring Fork Valley’s snowpack is 78 percent above average, according to measurements by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
If the Roaring Fork River’s flow peaks in late June, the reclamation bureau could theoretically limit the releases from Ruedi into the Fryingpan River at that time to limit flooding below the confluence in Basalt.
However, Lora said other factors weigh into the decision on releases. The reclamation bureau cannot limit releases too much this spring because it would risk overfilling the reservoir with uncontrolled flows from the spillway.
On the other hand, if it releases too much water before peak runoff, it risks not filling Ruedi to its practical capacity of 102,369 acre-feet.
Kara Lamb, public involvement coordinator for the reclamation bureau’s district that includes Ruedi, noted that the dam shouldn’t be counted on to influence runoff in the valley.
“The project’s not authorized for flood control,” she said.
Bureau officials held their annual meeting Monday night at Basalt Town Hall to discuss annual operations of Ruedi Reservoir. About 20 interested members of the public attended.
“Ruedi is expected to fill by the middle of July,” said Lora. “Of course, we’re expecting to fill the reservoir without any problem.”
In fact, operators began releasing more water from the reservoir earlier than usual to make way for the anticipated deluge during runoff season. Releases into the Fryingpan River have topped 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) for about one month. The reservoir is down to about 55,000 acre-feet. By comparison, its lowest level last spring was 69,000 acre-feet.
By drawing it down so low, the reservoir will fill later than usual. It likely will reach capacity in the middle of July, according to the bureau’s projections.
“We’re two or three weeks behind,” Lora said.
The projections could be thrown off by weather that causes the snowpack to melt earlier or later than anticipated. Right now, the expectation is for dual peak periods ” one in early to middle June and one in late June. All told, the agency anticipates the inflow from the upper Fryingpan Valley to be about 119,000 acre-feet or 34 percent higher than average from April 1 through July 31. Since that’s higher than the reservoir’s capacity, much of that water will pass through.
In addition, the upper Fryingpan Valley will supply about 100,000 acre-feet to the Eastern Slope via the Bousted water diversion tunnel. That amount is unusual but not unheard of, officials said. It’s about 110 percent above average.
Water is diverted as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The upper Fryingpan water goes to the Pueblo and Colorado Springs area for municipal and agricultural purposes.
Anglers got some good news at the meeting. Ruedi Reservoir water probably won’t be needed this spring for a program to improve endangered fish on the Colorado River. Nature will take care of the habitat with high flows this year.
Releases on the Fryingpan River will probably peak at 550 cfs to 600 cfs for as many as 12 days in June and possibly into early July, Lora said.
Sailors on Ruedi Reservoir might have to be a little more patient than usual this season. The Aspen Yacht Club needs the water level to reach 85,000 acre-feet to use its boat ramp. Graphs presented at the meeting indicated that level will be reached before mid-June, possibly a week or so later than usual.
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Three longtime residents of the lower Roaring Fork Valley talk about the sinking feeling that built Monday and Tuesday as the Grizzly Creek Fire grew. They are hoping the threat to their neighborhoods has passed.