Fryingpan River about to sizzle |

Fryingpan River about to sizzle

The Fryingpan River will reach its highest level in 11 years and possibly experience minor flooding this spring when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation makes room in Ruedi Reservoir for melting snow.The agency announced Friday that it will release about 800 cubic feet per second from the reservoir around peak runoff, probably in late May or early June.Recent spring flows have been as low as 100 cfs in the drought year of 2002 and consistently in the 500 to 600 cfs range for highs. But peak flows vary with the winter snowpacks.Structures in Basalt aren’t expected to be affected, but that release level could flood yards and outbuildings along the river between the dam and town, according to Malcolm Wilson, a water resource engineer who oversees Ruedi operations for the bureau.Releases haven’t exceeded 800 since 1995, the last year when the snowpack was considerably above average. The peak release was 933 cfs that year, according to the bureau’s records.”When you get in the 700s, people get concerned,” he said. Low-lying areas along the river could be affected. No structures are believed to be imperiled, but Wilson noted there has been a substantial amount of development in the flood plain over the years.The agency informed Basalt and Pitkin County officials about its plans this week to increase releases to 800 cfs. It is also warning fishing guides weeks in advance so they know what to expect and don’t book clients for that period.”We don’t want to shock people. We don’t want it to come as a surprise,” bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb said.The agency weighed two strategies for clearing space in the reservoir. The preferred option is keeping releases at about 280 cfs for most of the spring and bumping it up to 800 cfs for two weeks. The alternative is running releases at about 400 cfs continuously for three or so months.One option or the other is necessary because the snowpack is so high in the upper Fryingpan Valley. The runoff would fill Ruedi Reservoir beyond capacity if releases aren’t bumped up and coordinated with inflows, Lamb said. In that case, water would rush down the dam’s spillway.”You have the possibility where you have uncontrolled releases,” she said.The snowpack in the Fryingpan Valley was consistently above average and higher than the Crystal or Independence Pass areas throughout most of the winter, according to the records of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Friday the snowpack at Ivanhoe Lake was 18 percent above average.Ruedi is currently at 61 percent of capacity, at 63,216 acre feet. Wilson and other bureau officials play somewhat of a guessing game in the spring to determine what level they want the reservoir at, given the snowpack level.Currently, about 300 cfs are being released from the Ruedi dam. It will stay near that rate until it takes a drastic jump up to 800 cfs, Wilson said.The timing of the release will depend on peak runoff on the Colorado River in the Grand Junction area. Ruedi water will contribute to a federal program designed to create flooding on the Colorado to benefit endangered species of fish.Lamb said the bureau’s plan for the Fryingpan this spring and early summer should be the least disruptive option for fishing. Fishing is virtually impossible when the water level soars to 800 cfs. The agency tries to keep flows below 300 cfs as often as possible to create ideal fishing conditions.The agency felt that flows of 800 cfs for two weeks was better than flows around 400 cfs for three or more months.Bureau officials will be in Basalt on May 11 to discuss Ruedi Reservoir operations. Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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